Monday, March 30, 2009

18 years ago this week - the big twitch

This extract from my diary concerns a six-day twitching road trip made with two friends from college (Tony Blunden and Mark Thomas) and another birder from Sheffield (Liam Cox) in 1991. We covered 2,500 miles in Tony's Mini Metro and I got ten UK ticks (11 when you count the black scoter we found)! The 24th March was without doubt the best day's birding I have ever experienced in the UK.

Staines Reservoir
Evening session on the way to Holyhead! Lovely weather. A few duck still present including: ruddy duck (11) and stacks of goldeneye. Other highlights: black-necked grebe (3 summer-plumage) and chiffchaff (1).

22/3/91 Holyhead (Anglesey), Seaforth (Merseyside) and Marton Mere (Lancs)
Slept poorly in the car overnight in Holyhead. Got to grips with the white-billed diver in about ten minutes. Blustery, clear day with big movements of meadow pipits noticeable. Moved on to South Stack fairly swiftly; stonechat (2), chough (3), raven (1) and the auks had returned to their breeding ledges.

On our way to Merseyside, stopped at Llandulas to check the scoter flock, but only distant views in choppy seas. No sign of the surf scoter. Had peregrine (1) from the car nearby.

Stopped off at Seaforth in the hope of yesterday's Bonaparte's gull but no joy. Plenty to look at though with little gull (13), Mediterranean gull (adult) and scaup (6) being the highlights. Kept moving, arriving at Marton Mere to spend five hours looking for, and failing to see, the American bittern. Mark was not best pleased when he discovered that the Bonaparte's gull had arrived at Seaforth 45 minutes after we left! Did see; ruddy duck (1), long-eared owl (1), water rail (1) and Cetti's warbler (1) during our vigil, as well as mink (1).

Got back to the car park to find the gates had been locked. So we moved a bollard and drove out. Drove to Sheffield to pick up Liam and then spent from midnight Friday to midday Saturday driving a fully-loaded Mini Metro to Wick! Only highlight during my shift was a nice badger (1) somewhere in the Borders.

23/3/91 Wick and Embo
Arrived to find the bird, a female harlequin, had gone missing! The harbour was a cracker however, chock-a-block with birds; Iceland gull (2nd winter), purple sandpiper, black guillemot (8), shag and loads of seaduck. Finally Mark went off for a walk and found the harlequin sitting on rocks and occasionally feeding. Superb little bird, much better than I thought it would be.

Moved onwards towards the Cairngorms, stopping at Loch Fleet and Embo. At the latter site had some lovely seaduck at very close range, mostly velvet scoter and long-tailed duck. The big surprise here was a male black scoter just offshore, I found and identified it, but getting the boys to look at it was difficult... To be fair at the time it was just a sub-species, but this record went on to become a 4th for Britain! My first mega. Drove through to Aviemore and slept at the black grouse site.

24/3/91 Cairngorms
Awoke at Tulloch Moor to the sound of male black grouse lekking "choo-EESH". Did not take long to get up and on to the birds. Saw only two males in total, before heading for our next stop - Grantown Forest. Walked in after the golf course and found the abandoned car after a short search. Had three capercaillies in quick succession, all males. Also here Scottish crossbill (2), woodcock (2), crested tit (1) and red squirrel (2). Scottish crossbill was my 500th Western Palearctic bird. [I wonder if we identified it right?].

Whistle-stop stuff this, straight on to the Findhorn Valley, the day now glorious both weather and tick-wise. Common crossbill (1) and I finally unblocked golden eagle (1 adult, 1 sub-adult), also here buzzard and sparrowhawk.

On the way to the ski-lifts, stopped at Loch Vaa for Slavonian grebe (3) and Loch Morlich for red-throated diver (3) and goosander (3). At Glenmore had the only dipper of the trip. Up around the skiers (lots of these) we eventually find ptarmigan and also lots of red grouse (well above the snowline). Also snow hare (2). Could not believe the day at this point, we had cleaned up all the Cairngorms specialities in just 7 hours. So off we went to the coast. Stopped off at Lossiemouth for a Ross's goose. A really wild bird, in with a flock of very wary Icelandic greylag. Good-looking chap, but will it ever be tickable? Next stop Banff harbour for Kumlien's gull, which has no chance of being split but is good to see. We did not find it as obvious as others made out.

Finally after a hectic dash before dusk we whacked over to the Ythan Estuary and picked up a fine male king eider. Spectacular as it was, the sheer volume of eider packed into such a small estuary was more impressive.

The day did not stop there though, because we then drove to Largo Bay, which was very tiring after such a day. Slept on the sea front at Elie.

25/3/91 Largo Bay (Scotland), Seaforth and New Brighton (Merseyside)
Searched long and hard but could not locate any surf scoter, plenty of seaduck however and the odd Slavonian grebe. Eventually we called it a morning. Found out later that they were two miles west of Largo). Hammered down to Seaforth in good time. Not much doing though - wheatear (1) and scaup (3). The Bonaparte's gull had been regular at New Brighton during our stay in Scotland , so it seemed like the place to check next. Eventually I located it and we got great views. Two little gulls in the area too. Drove up to Blackpool and spent the night near Marton Mere.

26/3/91 Marton Mere, Preston Docks and Greater Manchester
Started off with a short session looking once again for the American bittern. No joy, but did have a nice barn owl (1) and ruddy duck (2). Eventually the bitterly cold wind got the better of us. Tried Preston Docks again, this time we connected with the second-winter ring-billed gull. On the way back to Norfolk we checked a few sites without success.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

LIzards on Saint Lucia

Anolis extrenius - introduced from nearby Barbados

Not getting troubled by a huge diversity of anything here, so plenty of time for other taxa. Typically for a small, much-altered island ecosystem, many introduced species are present here in Saint Lucia. Of the two reptiles so far encountered, both are introduced (see photos). Of the three amphibians recorded, only one is native!  

Anolis wattsii - introduced from nearby Antigua

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Birding - 28/3/09 - down the marsh

A new dragonfly for me - Micrathyria didyma

Back down to the Cul de Sac River Marsh this morning - it is a great little patch and presumably very under-watched. Surprise birds this morning were a flock of 12 black-bellied whistling-duck (scarce in this neck of the woods). The Eurasian spoonbill put on a good show too and the first yellow-crowned night-heron of the trip (an immature) flew by. Up to three osprey were in the area, at least two were of the migrant race.

Osprey on migration (?) - no doubt passing over the garden at home too at the moment

Could not ignore the small number of dragonflies present this morning and working through them produced two new species.

Brachymesia herbida - this might be the first record for the island of this otherwise widespread Neotropical species, certainly new for me!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Whaling - 27/03/09 - Saint Lucia

The view south to the Pitons along the west coast

A brace of spanking laughing gulls

Magnificient frigatebirds are frequently encountered here working the coastline and close inshore

This morning saw me aboard a whale-watching boat. Conditions were poor with a 6-8 foot swell and a brisk northerly wind. Despite these less than ideal conditions we did manage to get good, but all too brief, views of two sperm whales and had an equally brief encounter with a small group of busy, feeding pantropical spotted dolphins. Birding was poor however with just a single adult pomarine skua being of any significance.

Birding - 26/03/09 - St. Lucia

A huge marine (or cane) toad Bufo marinus loafing on the hotel lawn - a loathsome introduction to the fauna of the island

The tiny piping frog Eleutherodactylus johnstonei is actually native

Today saw us make a leisurely start and head down south to Soufriere. Birds en route included my first Saint Lucia oriole - another one of the endemics. We also saw our first laughing gulls along the coast. The afternoon was spent checking out the volcanic vent (lots of steam and bubbling mud) and then snorkelling (in the sea!). Light rain after dinner created ideal conditions for a spot of frogging and we quickly tracked down the ridiculously small piping frog as well as the huge marine (or cane) toad. Another amphibian called from the sub-canopy and remained unseen, presumably the introduced tree-frog Scinax rubra.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Birding - 25/03/09 - St. Lucia

Ischnura ramburii - a new damselfly spotted at Pigeon Island NP today

Female Ischnura ramburii

Erythrodiplax umbrata - one of the libellulids photographed yesterday and identified last night by consulting this site 

Settling into a Caribbean pace here quite nicely. Spent the hour after dawn going around the hotel grounds and nearby patches of remnant forest. The easy highlight were two very showy mangrove cuckoos - my first.

We spend the afternoon taking an easy stroll around Pigeon Island NP in the north of the island. Here we get good views of yellow warbler and Lesser Antillean saltator. Offshore rocks held our first brown boobies, royal tern and even two Sandwich tern (the latter a scarce bird in Saint Lucia). A small pool holds our first damselfly of the trip - a bluetail. We also see plenty of small Indian mongooses - an unwelcome introduced species in this neck of the woods.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Birding - 24/03/09 - St. Lucia

Saint Lucia warbler (not one of mine this! nicked it from here)

The taxi arrived one hour late to meet me this morning, which was a bit tedious, I walked down the hill to meet it and scored a mating pair of American kestrels on overhead wires. We left Castries at 0630, picking up a small flock of Caribbean martins over town. Driving through Dennery we had two little green herons over the road. Nearby, the driver suggested the 'Eastern Nature Trail' (which starts at the top of the hill to the south of Dennery) - this proved to be a good idea. The habitat consisted of thick, dry coastal scrub and cliff edge and looked good for the endangered white-breasted thrasher. They took a while to find but eventually two flew into view briefly. Other birds here included more lifers - Lesser Antilles saltator (1), Caribbean elaenia (4) and the cracking St. Lucia warbler (2), as well as more black-whiskered vireo and another noisy flock of Caribbean martins.

The driver bought me breakfast in a roadside bar in Dennery by way of compensation for his late arrival and we got on famously after that. On the way back we stopped just south of town at a good-looking wetland (the Cul de Sac River Marsh). This produced some great birds - the easy star was the long-staying Eurasian spoonbill, found in April last year, this is a cosmic rarity on this side of the Atlantic (first record?). Other highlights were little blue heron (2), snowy egret (1), great egret (1), greater yellowlegs (+), lesser yellowlegs (+), solitary sandpiper (1), Wilson's snipe (2), Caribbean coot (1), moorhen and osprey (1 - of the resident race). At least two libellulids were photographed but remain unidentified at present.

Eurasian spoonbill - this one must have caused it's finder a momentary loss of cool I imagine

One of four libellulids (this one is Orthemis 'Aruba-form') seen at Cul de Sac River Marsh (Castries)

Lesser 'legs

Birding - 23/03/09 - St. Lucia

The rather dull black-faced grassquit

An hour's birding after dawn in the garden produced more of the same, plus a single purple-throated carib and a scattering of black-faced grassquit (overlooked yesterday?). At lunch a magnificient frigatebird nonchalently cruised the coastline heading south. Afterwards headed into town to check out the two bookshops (nothing), walked back up the hill to the hotel and checked out the forest patch just beyond it. Here in short order I found my first black-whiskered vireo and a beautiful bare-eyed thrush popped up briefly to have a look at me. A Tramea was flying over my room when I got back, but no sign of any clean, freshwater habitat around the hotel sadly. Finally a quick walk about before dusk produced my first grey trembler - a striking bird.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Birding - 22/03/09 - St. Lucia

Green-throated carib - a common and widespread endemic in the Lesser Antilles

The smaller and sneakier Crested Antillean hummingbird, this one is a female/immature. This species is endemic to the Caribbean. 

Lesser Antillean bullfinch - an immature male, another Lesser Antillean endemic

Well after a short flight from the UK, I walked out into the warmth and sunshine of the Caribbean - a pleasant change from weather in Sweden. The hour-and-a-half drive to the hotel was done without stopping. Birds seen en route though included a new one for me - Carib grackle, a species that is common and widespread here. After settling in  had an hour before dusk, so I thrashed the hotel garden. Flowering trees held great interest in the form of two new hummingbirds (see photos). Less obvious were the scaly-breasted thrashers, grey kingbirds and tropical mockingbirds. A few Lesser Antillean bullfinches were noisy residents and colourful and obstreperous bananaquits were everywhere (usually chasing other birds away). Zenaida doves called from the trees and were easily approached. Looks like it is going to be a pleasant trip.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Garden birdwatch

Last morning at home before the off. The bird table produced the first dunnock of spring. We have had odd over-wintering birds along the coast but they are obviously on the move now. The TV aerial had three starlings, these are also new in and probably include the resident pair, which will no doubt be nesting in the garage on my return. Fly-by red kite (1) and sparrowhawk (1) added a touch of menace.

Friday, March 20, 2009

More birding - 20/03/09

The view south from Salomonhög

Had an hour up on the hill behind the house this afternoon. A brisk wind from the south kept things decidely cool. Nothing much doing until the last fifteen minutes when 52 cranes went through north in three groups. The peak of the passage through our area is next week, which I will miss sadly, so glad to see some before I go. Common crane is a widespread species (recorded in over 80 countries) but I never tire of watching these magnificent birds heading to the breeding grounds.

Common cranes going north

Birding - 20/03/09

Spent an hour-and-a-half in the field with Mrs B and Number 2 & 3 this morning. We walked a circuit around nearby Vasaltheden. We were greeted on arrival by a couple of mistle thrushes (year-tick) bouncing about in a ploughed field. A brisk southerly kept things on the cool side during our walk, but linnet (year-tick) and yellowhammers were in song. A wet flush held a small flock of meadow pipit and a single white wagtail. A lone snipe was 'chipping' when we arrived and we went on to flush at least four birds. The sea produced a reasonable number of eider to look through. Along the coast teal (15) numbers were up but wigeon have obviously moved on north. Surprisingly very little vismig this morning.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Last-minute deal to the Caribbean

Time to dust off a few field-guides and do some revision

It was not all illness and woe last week. The 'bird' phone rang with an invitation to spend two-and-a-half weeks in the Caribbean! Couldn't say no of course, so off to Saint Lucia at the weekend. Hopefully internet access will not be a problem and the blog updates will keep on rolling out regularly. But for now it is back to revision and tracking down bird calls.

Birding - 19/03/09

Still not feeling 100% but we all got dragged out to Torekov for some fresh air this afternoon. A brisk NW wind kept things on the cool side. Forty-five minutes of searching produced the first white wagtails (2) of the year, in amongst a gang of rock pipits that were undergoing the transformation into summer plumage. The only other notable birds were a pair of gadwall. Otherwise eider (20) numbers have dropped away and teal (25) are on the increase.

It was obvious this morning that chaffinches were on the move, small flocks migrating north low over the garden. The feeders were busy too with up to three chaffinches in attendance.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Birding - 15/03/09 - UK

Dersingham Bog - currently hosting a well-watched great grey shrike

Team Benstead have been cruelly struck down by a winter D&V virus that has knocked them all for six on their spring holiday. I had an important meeting though in West Norfolk today and so dragged my feverish carcass off to West Norfolk. After eating nothing all day and surviving the meeting without hurling, I headed out with the chaps for a short team-building session at nearby Dersingham Bog. Here we quickly connected with the wintering great grey shrike and enjoyed numerous flyover siskin and common crossbill.

Birding - 13/03/09 - Norfolk (UK)

Back in the UK for a week recently visiting Mother Benstead - no rares about so contented myself with seeing a few birds not represented so frequently in the Scandinavian avifauna. Nipped out early in the morning to look for barn owls at nearby Burgh-next-Aylsham. This produced the goods in the form of a fine barn owl - they really are good and they are one of the things I MISS about Norfolk (along with real bacon and good English sausages).

Other things that caught my attention were a fly-by little egret (never seen one in the Upper Bure Valley before and it shows the extent of the infiltration into the UK) and the presence of jays in open farmland habitat.

Nipped up to Cley later and especially enjoyed about 45 brent geese, another glorious barn owl, a pair of stonechat and pied wagtails. Also here marsh harrier (1) and a fly-by rock pipit (1).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Beast of the Decade Nomination No. 6

Yes, mountain gorilla. We had a group in Uganda feeding on eucalypt bark just behind our hotel at Bwindi. Seeing them quickly like this gave us the rest of the day birding but it slightly devalued the experience. I have also seen (lowland) gorilla in Gabon in much more exciting circumstances - a 30 second encounter in which we were mock-charged twice by a large ginger-nut alpha male. Definitely something worth making the effort to see before you go.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Allemansrätt or Reason No. 2 Why I do not miss Norfolk

Gone are the days of trespass

Allemansrätt or the right to roam the countryside. I still look over my shoulder guiltily when entering agricultural land, but here in Sweden you have the right to access any land (outside of some protected nature reserves and military areas). Peoples gardens are off limits too obviously. You can camp pretty much anywhere too for one night and light fires - Team Benstead enjoys these rights greatly during the winter and summer.

The only trouble with access to all areas here is you realise how much habitat there is near you that deserves attention.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Birding - 09/03/09 - cranes!

The big twitch - there was scarcely room at the end of the pier!

Torekov rev today - two migrating common cranes and three gadwall were the highlights, if you do not count the sausages we BBQ'd on the beach.

Ripagården - looking a bit gloomy but a great site. Not much doing today though.

Checking Salomonhög last thing produced these four cranes heading north, I think it will be a good vismig site (better than the garden which I can nearly see from there).

My big plan to check out Salomonhög (just up the hill behind my house) at dawn for vismig purposes failed when I woke to frost and heavy fog. I tried to climb above the fog but ran out of hill. I had hoped for a flock of disoriented cranes but had to settle for a few skylarks! As I came down the fog lifted of course.

Took Team Benstead to see the male king eider at Rammsjöstrand - and got the videoclip below for my troubles. It was showing really well (honest) - my videos always turn out very Blair Witch.

Headed to Torekov rev for our lunch and quickly had a small charcoal fire going on the beach and the sausages on the go. This allowed me to check through the denizens out on the rev. The usual flock of 14 purple sandpipers was present, spooked into a countable flock by a passing sparrowhawk. Three gadwall were new in. Migration was much in evidence during our two hour stint, with 47 whooper swans in total, 13 barnacle geese and best of all my first cranes of the year (2).

After dropping off the team I headed back out to Ripagården but things here were very quiet, the highlight being two reed buntings. Driving home checked Salomonhög again and in half an hour had eight whooper swan, four cranes and three starlings through. I think this will prove to be a great spot and I cannot wait for the raptors to start moving.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Two months ago this week

Approached to one metre for this photo!

Two months ago I had my first encounter with a hawk owl in the Western Palearctic...

11/1/09 Vist, Västergötland
Finally got to grips with the long-staying hawk owl at Vist. I found it eventually and walked in for close views. I could hear a vole gnawing behind me so I moved back five metres and the owl whacked it almost at my feet. It then flew to a low tree 5 metres away and dropped the vole accidently. It spent 45 minutes trying to retrieve it before I walked in (it flushed at less than 1 metre) and found the vole. I threw the vole onto the path and the owl swooped down and nabbed it. Priceless.

Patch tick!

A dawn twitch produced the goods - a superb male king eider feeding 150 metres offshore with a large group of common eider. Great views and a great patch bird. Just wish I had found it myself, I have been looking hard enough through all the eider this week. It is on part of the coastline I rarely watch though! The weather was pretty bleak, cold southerlies and snow on the cards, so I packed it in after searching out a possible vismig venue near the house. Just after I got back the snow came on strong for an hour, vindicating my wimp-like behaviour.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Patch grip!

Well I predicted it here. You can see it here, now all I have to do is see it myself! Was going out birding tomorrow morning anyway, now will have to try and relocate the king eider - it was flushed by a boat at 1700. I am pager-less here (for peace of mind) but sometimes it is painful, must get a local grapevine going.

Birding - 07/03/09

Ranarpstrand has a jumble of offshore rocks much favoured by roosting gulls and waders, it is also on the north-south flyway up the coast and is excellent for coastal vismigging.

Spent the morning working on the house... The wind finally settled down in the afternoon, so we all headed out. An hour and a half at Ranarpstrand/Grytskaren produced a few good birds. The easy highlight for me was a flock of a dozen snow buntings that flew in from the south and pitched down in a jumble of rocks right in front of me. It's only my fifth record on the patch. Out on the distant Grytskaren skerries were at least two purple sandpipers and three shags. A total of three Slavonian grebes floated about offshore - one starting to colour up nicely. Winds shift to the south tomorrow which should result in some migration.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Birding - 06/03/09

A very grey dawn and a wicked NE wind, nearly kept me in bed but I am a sucker for birding. Tried Ripagården for an hour and a half this morning, the day never got started really and it stayed grey and chilly throughout. The morning session was enlivened by a singing male dunnock (scarce on the patch in winter, not moving yet I do not think, so this one probably over-wintered). Also singing were yellowhammer and wren. Twenty-three coot were migrants and that was about it bar a snipe kicked up from a wet flush.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Birding - 05/03/09

Påarps Mal, Torekov - a real magnet for migrating plovers and wintering shags. Currently hosting two wintering water pipits.

Got out this morning for a three hour session around Torekov. A brisk easterly had put paid to any vismig though and there was little moving. Which left time to catch up with a few winter visitors. Påarps Mal had three shag on offshore rocks, the seaweed banks had two water pipits and a few recently arrived waders including a resting flock of 99 lapwing. Worked the area towards the sewage works hoping for grey partridge - which I still need for the year! Did not get any though. [Looking through my records I find that I have only recorded grey partridge on seven occasions in Sweden - a scarce bird therefore].

Torekov rev - one of my favourite local sites. We get negligible tides here strangely. Instead water levels are dependent on wind direction. During easterlies (as pictured here) a lot of rock is exposed. During strong westerlies it can be rather disappointing to find the site is under water! The island of Hallands Vädero is visible in the background.

Spent the last hour around Torekov rev. Wader numbers were on the increase, with 25 oystercatcher and six redshank, together with the regular flock of ten purple sandpipers. The offshore eider flock received plenty of attention but no sign of any interlopers.

Two years ago this week

White-billed diver and close!

Spotted sandpiper

Part of our UK farewell tour included a couple of days birding in Cornwall, during what was definitely a bit of a purple patch. The haul included white-billed diver, gyr falcon, spotted sandpiper, Franklin's gull and dusky warbler.

5/3/07 Hayle, Newquay and Stepper Point, Cornwall wet and windy, gale S
A quick three hour session with the girls around Hayle produced spectacular results. En route we had a single raven over. First off we hit the spotted sandpiper and got excellent views. Also here we had a single grey wagtail. Next stop was Lelant Station where we searched for the Franklin’s gull but it appears to have gone. We did get three Mediterranean gulls here though (two first-winters and one second-winter), little egret (1) and greenshank (5). Nearby we had brief views of the possible halimodendri lesser whitethroat. Moving round the estuary into Hayle we stopped off by the viaduct for an excellently close adult white-billed diver. Superb. Then it was back to the hotel for lunch, great morning.

After lunch I headed north, stopping briefly to try for the dusky warbler at Newquay. No joy. Last stop of the day was Stepper Point (just north of Padstow), walking down to the quarry I spotted some rock pipits feeding in fields. Presumably driven off the shore by the incredible waves being generated by the gale force southerlies (it was raining too!). At the quarry I was surprised to find that the gyr falcon was in residence. Superb bird. Also here a stonechat for the year. Good end to a great day.

6/3/07 Penzance, Hayle, Stithians Res. and Falmouth sunny, SW brisk
Kicked off by the boating lake at Penzance where a blackcap was hanging around near where we parked the car. On Love Lane the yellow-browed warbler performed well and here also my first chiffchaff of the year. The weather had drastically improved overnight and we actually got a bit sunburnt! We worked the seafront to Jubilee Pool hoping for the Pacific diver but no joy, just brief flight views of a Slavonian grebe and six superb great northerns.

At about eleven o’clock the pager informed us that the Franklin’s gull was again available at Hayle so we nipped up there and caught up with it from the platform at Lelant Station. A fantastic first-winter bird. Whilst in Hayle we sampled the excellent pasties and caught up with the white-billed diver (1), spotted sandpiper (1) and had the first common sandpiper of the year. Stopped off at Stithians on the way back to the hotel and had a superb adult summer red-necked grebe.

Seawatching from the balcony in the evening after a swim with the kids produced black-throated diver (1) and slavonian grebe (1). Another great day.

7/3/07 Newquay and Falmouth, Cornwall
An early morning visit to the dusky warbler at Newquay failed again so we all went to the beach and had a picnic on the clifftop. Eventually news drifted in on the pager that the bird was showing, so we drove up and after about 20 minutes I heard it calling in a nearby hedgeline and there it was. Great bird. Drove back to the hotel for more swimming and had a black guillemot (1) and great northern diver from the balcony in the afternoon.

8/3/07 Otterton and Beer (Devon) and Avonmouth (Avon)
The big drive home was punctuated with plenty of stops in the south-west. Managed to dip the cattle egret at Otterton (it had moved a mile away), but did get little egret (8) and kingfisher (1)) and the surf scoter at Beer (just four common scoter). Finally stopped off at Avonmouth but no sign of the ring-necked duck! [A ring-necked duck turned up a mile from our Falmouth hotel the next day!].

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Beast of the Decade Nomination No. 5

Another shot from Chris Gardener - I was holding the spotlight as usual. Always the bridesmaid...

Wallace's flying-frog Rhacophorus nigropalmatus! This animal encapsulates the excitement of frogging in Sabah for me. It's big, it glides and breeds in animal wallows. It is a stunner and is also named for my all-time hero - Alfred Russel Wallace. If you have not read The Malay Archipelago, then go and order it now!

Birding - 04/03/09 - patch tick!

Buzzards are on the move!

A half hour walk around the village in the morning revealed calling green woodpecker - a localised breeder on the patch. Migration much in evidence with skylark and lapwing moving. Small flocks of whooper swans flew north, we had 32 in total. Six grey geese (almost certainly bean) slipped by high without calling.

The weather being so good we decided to get out of the house and head for the coast. Ten minutes later we were at Ranarpstrand. The Grytskaren skerries hosted a brief immature peregrine and a careful search through the distant cormorants revealed one shag. Offshore three Slavonian grebes looked good, although no sign of any summer-plumage yet. Migration still on the go here too with a further 23 whooper swans, a buzzard in-off, a single stock dove north (year-tick) and best of all two bean geese - at an identifiable altitude and calling. The latter were a much-wanted patch tick, result!

Back at home I spent the afternoon in the garden hoping for migrating cranes - but had to make do with five waxwing that occasionally perched in the trees overhead.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Birding - 03/03/09

Up at 0400 again this morning to try and tempt a Tengmalm's owl out with a bit of playback. Tried Glimminge this morning but no joy, all the racket stirred up the resident pair of tawny owls though. When it got light enough to bird I went for a walk around nearby Vasaltheden. This is a lovely part of the coastal reserve - all boggy, with pools and wet bits. Apparently home to a natterjack population, though so far we have only scored great crested newt. I digress... The walk produced singing yellowhammers, three snipe and masses of wildfowl. Skylark migration was again evident and continued through the morning. The tap is on and skylark, lapwing and shelduck are pouring in. As I drove home for breakfast more flocks of skylark and lapwing were evident.

The rest of the morning was spent out birding with Mrs B and Number 3 and produced some great birds. We headed south to Sandön and trawled through the wildfowl, waders and gulls. Two bearded tits were notable but otherwise things were quiet. We quickly moved on to Rönnen, which was better with white-tailed eagle (adult) and 22 barnacle geese flying past (not together). A thorough search of the duck offshore revealed two long-tailed duck, a dozen common scoter, one redhead smew and a pair of pintail. Raptor migration was also evident, a few buzzards and sparrowhawks circled high and a red kite came through low. It looked perfect for crane migration today but we failed to score in the morning, others did get a few though in the afternoon.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Birding - 02/03/09

Today saw us relocate from Småland back to the patch. The three-hour drive down was poor for birds and it rained most of the way. The highlight was a single jay - a year-tick! In the afternoon I chased an apparently erroneous report of a gyr falcon on the patch. Despite the rain it felt much milder here than in Småland, most of the snow has now gone from the ground and the temperature was well above zero.

A thrash about for a couple of hours on the coast revealed that eider numbers are building nicely (making king eider a definite possibility), shelduck have now arrived in force and ringed plovers were scattered about (many already on territory). The rev at Torekov had an uncountable number of purple sandpiper, they were swarming all over it, feeding avidly and flying a lot. Before heading home I walked the reedbed edge at nearby Flyttermossen and pished out a tit-flock that contained my first reed bunting of the year.

Lifer – Tengmalm’s owl (Småland) – 01/03/09

After decades of looking at them in field-guides - he finally scores!

At last! I have been trying to find one of these great little owls on my own for a long time. No guide, no nest box, just me and the bird. Well I finally did it and this solo sighting has more than made up for missing the big invasion in Skåne last autumn. Now that I’ve got my eye in, all I have to do is find one on the patch this spring… My fifth lifer this year - what is going on?

How it happened. Team Benstead relocated to Mrs B’s sister’s place (near Jönköping) for the weekend, a move which opened up a range of possible birding opportunities. I decided to go for owls. I got up at 0400 and hit the road, a short drive saw me at Gunnarsö, on the edge of the huge Dumme Mosse (bog). The cold was intense and was not helped by my having crept out quietly without breakfast. I drove and listened regularly but heard nothing for the first two hours. Then just before first-light I heard a Tengmalm’s near the road. After half an hour of chasing he was perched out on an exposed snag. Superb. The victory boogie shocked the bird slightly and helped warm me up a bit.

Tried a nearby observation point (Tranebo) for an hour and half after dawn. Bean geese were on the move – a flock of fifteen passing directly overhead. My first bullfinch of the year fed at a nearby feeder. But the cold had seeped into my bones and after the owl I was done. Breakfast tasted good.

Afterwards Team Benstead went en masse for a walk. The three daughters of the apocalypse scared pretty much everything away and failed to flush a capercaillie as I had hoped (they are very good at finding woodcock). The forest looked great for caper though and much better than anything we have in Båstad kommun. We did get very brief views of four parrot crossbill and a roving tit flock contained crested tit (2), willow tit (2) and a couple of treecreepers.