Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Germany Part 2: Early Spring Birding

Back over in Karlsruhe visiting friends Chris and Sue over a long weekend Thu 23 - Sun 26 March. Nice bit of Spring sunshine and early warmth (high teens), most days with a freshening yet welcome NE wind. A day in the Black Forest (Fri) was colder around 5C rising to low teens in sparse sunny periods. Probably to be expected as we were in the clouds at 1000m.

Waghäusel the excellent marsh between Karlsruhe and Mannheim was productive, this being my first visit here so early in the season. We made 2 visits (23rd and 25th). Bluethroats were back in for the summer, yet remained elusive with 2 males seen and possibly a couple of others heard as well but at distance. A Water Pipit showed well along one muddy edge with at least 3 GW Egrets hiding in the marsh which also held a variety of duck including Garganey and 3 smart yet unexpected drake Scaup. 3 types of Grebes (many Black-necked and a couple or so Little and Great Cresteds), but no Purple Herons as yet. Plenty of White Storks overhead included a group of 11 (23rd). The sky was the place to look. Several​ Swallows headed north over the two visits with the last one producing a Sand Martin. Early season Black Kites were seen on both visits as were Red Kites, lots of Buzzard and Kestrel. A female type Goshawk soared over woodland (23rd). The star was an Osprey that spent time hunting over the reserve (25th). Chris glimpsed it pass over the northern perimeter of the marsh but it was lost behind the trees and after finding an opening​ we could not locate it heading north. However, a brief view of an adult male Hen Harrier flying north was a surprise. We headed back towards the central track and had an even nicer surprise when I spotted the Osprey hovering over the eastern side of the marsh. It spent the next 15 minutes actively hunting the marsh, where it delighted German birders and photographers before taking its fish tea over nearby woodland and out of sight.

Birded several sites in the Black Forest about 20km east of Achern, namely around Hotel Schliffkopf (HS), Siebelsecke (SIE) and Ruhestein (RUH). The biting NE wind low temps and visibility caused by the clouds rolling down the upland passes made for testing birding! The weather was worst at HS where we dipped out on Citril Finches and Ring Ouzels. A Redwing sheltered from the elements. The weather had hardly improved at RUH - the ski slope drenched in cloud, but a local mentioned that Citril Finch had disappeared from the areas we were birding. The cafe at SIE beckoned where the local "Cherry Cake" was top notch. On leaving the weather had improved and a walk up the partially snow covered ski slope produced a few Mistle Thrush and a couple of Black Woodpeckers sounded off in the surrounding woods. Of note were 3 or 4 groups of Chaffinches totaling ca. 100 birds moving north through the upland passes as we ourselves inched our way down the side of the slope back to the car park. Decided to return to RUH and the cloud had lifted so we birded the ski slope and woodland at the summit bordering the Wilder See. More Chaffinches moved north many out of sight and a lone Brambling 'dweezed' it's way overhead. The ski slope area produced the best birding, a pair of Nutcrackers gave prolonged views as did several Crossbills. The stunning 'Continental' race Coal Tit was present and a singing Crested Tit 'trilled' its little head off! Mistle Thrushes ever present in this habitat with one bird sharing the slope with a male 'torquatus' Ring Ouzel.

The farmland/woodland edge at Blankenloch nr Karlsruhe characterised by its quilted pattern of smallholdings was birdy. Raptors overhead on the morning of Sunday 26th March included several Buzzards, Red Kite and a pair of Sparrowhawks. Serin and Black Redstarts were back in low density but the song of many returning Chiffchaff dominated the woodland, when not being drowned out by many singing Nuthatches. Several Woodpeckers included nice looks at a pair of Middle Spotted ones. Hawfinch and Firecrest shared a shady corner and Chaffinches were everywhere. Not a bad tally from a morning's walk.

The switch in weather over a period of a week in the lowlands from grey, cold and drizzly in Cologne (not a million miles away) to warm sunshine further down the Rhine was very apparent. Spring was finally here!

Many thanks to friends Chris and Sue for their kind hospitality, looking forward to returning soon. For further details including more pictures please see the additions in blue to the trip report at the first Germany pdf file at the section 'Birding Trip Reports - Other'. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Germany Part 1: Twitching the Bundesliga

Our near annual European football trip took place this March (17th - 19th). We journeyed out of that there London early morning on Friday 17 March on the Eurostar to Belgium (Brussels) followed by an ICE train to Germany (Cologne). We were based in Cologne for the long weekend taking in FC Köln on the Saturday after watching Borussia Dortmund on the Friday eve. The weather was cold and grey throughout but the rain was restricted to overnight Friday and then again Saturday afternoon until early Sunday morning. This didn't dampen our spirits.

Train from Cologne to Dortmund throughout the Friday afternoon rush hour wasn't pleasant, it was rammed during the 75 mins or so journey stopping at Bochum, Essen and Dusseldorf and elsewhere en route. Despite being delayed we had a fair amount of time to follow the hordes to the cracking Westfalenstadion stadium, and joined over 81,000 fans who saw Borussia Dortmund stumble to a 1-0 win over Ingolstadt in the Bundesliga. As witnessed a few years ago the atmosphere was electric, but we were let down by the standard of the footy on this occasion. The opposition wasted many chances and a stronger team could have easily embarrassed 3rd placed BVB, who had to rely on a well worked early strike to take the points. Back at about 2am in Cologne, as more delays were experienced on the train.

The twin-towered cathedral in Cologne is the city's centre of attention and we had a look around this striking place on Saturday morning before having a pre-match beer (Kölsch - don't think the locals serve owt else!) in one of the excellent Brauhauses. The heavens opened on leaving the tram at Cologne's RheinEnergieStadion but we were soon inside for the 3.30 pm kick off. A much better match than the previous evening with FC Köln taking a deserved 3-0 half time lead over Hertha Berlin. The visitors raced out of the blocks in the second half pulling one goal back, and should have had a second, but FC Köln broke away for a clinching fourth goal only for Hertha to once again pull one back. The match finished 4-2 and 6th placed FC Köln closed the gap in the Bundesliga on their​ 5th placed​ opponents.

Sunday morning allowed for a walk along the Rhine and a bit of birding. A couple of singing Short-toed Treecreepers were noted as were a pair of Peregrines over the city centre. The Tiercel wanted to display but the Falcon thought otherwise. Several gulls on the Rhine included a couple each of Herring and Yellow-leggeds. A Ring-necked Parakeet was a surprise flyby back near the hotel.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Extremadura May 2016 - rain, rain, rain, a bit more rain and snow - but fantastic birding!

You will be pleased to know that I'm not going to break into song about 'The rain in Spain stays mainly on the Plain'. However, it bloomin' well rained most days on or around the Trujillo Plains when birding there for a week in early May 2016. Nevertheless, birding was good. Here's the preamble to my trip report, now uploaded at 'Birding Trip Reports - Other'. Also, please check out birding video from this trip at my YouTube channel.

Birded Extremadura for a week in early May 2016, based in Trujillo, spending most days exploring the nearby plains as well as making multiple trips to Monfrague throughout. Also, single trips further afield to the north just over in Castile y León (Sierra de Gredos Mountains) and to the south (Vegas Altas).

The weather was unseasonably wet throughout with blocking high pressure back home in the UK diverting low pressure systems over the western side of the Iberian peninsula. Only one full day of rain but most were showery with cracking late afternoon thunderstorms engulfing Trujillo. It was battered most days from 5pm and continuing into the evenings, you could set your watch by it! Never higher than mid teens (Celsius) meant for comfortable birding throughout, a fleece needed, but there was an increase in temperature on the turn of the weather on my last day.

Birding was fantastic, the crossroads half way from Trujillo to Monroy mentioned in the invaluable Gosney Guide (Site P4-4) was a must for raptors and grassland specialities. Nearby a Golden Eagle was unexpected yet most welcome site as it was pestered by a pair of 'tiny' Common Buzzards. However, the stars of the show were the territorial Spanish Imperial Eagles. Please see the full trip report for a day by day breakdown of the birding. The daily summaries were written at the end of each day, you might gather that I was getting a little fed up by the rain as the week progressed. The photos below offer a taster for the birding and the cracking scenery. Lots more in the report. Enjoy.

Please click on 'Birding Trip Reports - Other' - last report (pdf) in the Spain section.

A short video highlighting some of the fantastic birding is also available at my YouTube channel
The Spanish Imperial Eagles were breathtaking!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Early year birding in London and Yorkshire

Several weekends birding Rainham in January and February produced the typical winter returns. At least 2 Marsh Harriers hunted the Silts whilst Common Buzzards looked on and a lone female Peregrine a top a pylon looked huge even at distance as it surveyed Wennington Marsh. Not forgetting the ever present Kestrels and big female Sparrowhawk that buzzed the area on several visits. A couple of Short-eared Owls patrolled Aveley Bay/MDZ on two visits. A Water Pipit was often seen feeding along the pool edges at the Shooting Butts hide whereas the wintering Rock Pipits on the foreshore seemed to be scarce this winter. Wintering wildfowl were evident especially as the reserve took on seasonal water and included a good variety of dabbling ducks, with double figures of Pintail. 5 (Russian) White-fronted Geese flew onto the reserve to roost (11 Feb) flanked by Greylag Geese. A group ranging from a dozen to thirty Avocets took a liking to Aveley Bay throughout., with Lapwing plentiful on both sides of the Thames but Golden Plover eluded me. A Grey Plover looked lonesome on the Thames shore with several Curlews, but Black-tailed Godwits roosted together on the reserve (150+ on 04 Feb). Lots of Stonechat around the reserve, Cetti's Warblers winding up their 'vocal chords' throughout, and a Waxwing entertained all in late January as it fed by the visitor centre.

Gulls on the Thames included the regular '5'. Also Yellow-legged Gulls seen at Rainham and up river at Thames Barrier Park (TBP). An adult Mediterranean Gull joined roosting gulls at Rainham's Coldharbour Point (14 Jan).

One 1st winter Caspian Gull at TBP from three Sunday visits was a low return given the numbers of Caspos present in the area, but of attraction were the colour-ringed gulls.

Lots of local (Rainham/Pitsea) Black-headed Gulls (yellow rings) and Herring Gulls (orange/red rings) with a couple of Danish (white VH37) and GBB Gulls (black JWR26) noted. Scandinavian argentatus Herring Gulls are usually ten a penny back home in winter, but the Thames shore is and was dominated by argenteus examples. The brute of a 'Scandi' Herring Gull shown below dwarfed some of its British cousins.

Elsewhere connected with the pale/grey Stonechat early in the year at Richmond Park and a visit back home saw me and my dad twitch the Pine Bunting near York. A cracking Yorkshire tick, we were lucky to relocate it early in the afternoon (28 Jan) when wandering round the muddy field edges (after spending 3 hours in the rain staring at a hedgerow!) A group of 31 (Russian) White-fronted Geese was a fine sight at Ingbirchworth Res., South Yorkshire (29 Jan) even so as they 'yapped' in flight, not at all familiar with their call. A bit of a goose fest going on there as a flock of 8 Pink-footed Geese stopped off to join the White-fronts, Greylag (160) and Canadas (275).

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Yorkshire Birding - Xmas and New Year 2016/2017

A nice trip back home for the Xmas break. Weather was generally good throughout, no snow but more or less a wintry feel. Birding summary below.

South Yorkshire Moorlands
The moorlands and moorland edge provided steady birding over the period. 3 Buzzards at Midhope and similar numbers at Strines were noted on one visit as were scattered sightings of Kestrels. A skein of 35 Pink-footed Geese flew W over Strines Moor (29 Dec). The feeders at Broomhead Reservoir were busy with Coal and Great Tits regular and a couple of Crossbills flew over (24 Dec). Ingbirchworth Reservoir held at least 25 Bramblings in the Beech trees along its western edge.

Wath Area
A brief visit to Old Moor RSPB on a crisp frosty morning (28 Dec) saw a flock of ca. 60 Pink-footed Geese heading NW over the reedbed screen. However, the birding highlight was the sighting of a couple of Bearded Tits in this area - Wath Tick #188.

Gull Roost
Three visits to Anglers CP, West Yorkshire, produced a decent number of large gulls but no white-wingers. Each visit saw an adult winter Caspian Gull present and on one visit a small dark LBB Gull was in the roost (01 Jan), intermedius type. Several Goldeneye and Goosander were on the lake and Barn Owl hunted the scrub. A Woodcock flew over the car park at dusk (01 Jan).

After a slow start dipping birds at Crosspool, Sheffield, eventually saw the 'trillers' nearby at Stannington (15 on Dec) and south of Sheffield city centre (50 on 02 Jan). Elsewhere, when headed east stopped off at Hessle Sainsbury's near the Humber Bridge to see a flock of 50 (31 Dec).

Restricted to East and North Yorkshire. Connected with the wintering juv. Pallid Harrier near Welwick on two visits (27 and 31 Dec), with an excellent supporting cast of Hen and Marsh Harriers, Merlin, Peregrine and Short-eared Owls. Little Egrets present on the Humber shore are now to be expected and a couple were spooked by a hunting Short-eared Owl. The Peregrine flushed the shoreline waders (27 Dec) apart from a single Curlew that simply turned its head as if to give a Kermode-esque style 'Really?' The falcon changed its attention to the nervy Lapwings. A walk east on the same date along the river wall to a small marsh about a mile from the central watchpoint yielded a flock of 10 Geese (7 'White-fronts' and 3 'Tundra Beans') with a further 3 'Pink-feet' closer to the river wall.

Twitched the stunning (Eastern) Black Redstart at Skinningrove and despite a howling wind sandblasting the birders and the Chat, I managed to get a few record shots. It was very active constantly looking for food between the jetty boulders. En route Red Kites were evident over the A1M over a decent stretch running south from the A19 junction.

As always, looking forward to returning home soon.

More photos at 'Latest UK Bird Photos' and video compilation plus a separate one of the Caspian Gull available via 'Birding Videos (YouTube)'.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Barnsley Moorlands and a Pugneys twitch

Weekend birding back home. Saturday 26 November turned into a crisp sunny day on the moorland after starting off foggy at Ingbirchworth Res. with visibility down to 50 feet early morning. It started to clear around 10:00, and the highlight here was the mobile flock of 70 or so Brambling in the Beech trees hugging the western side of the reservoir.

A few moments later over at Midhope the fog had cleared providing difficult viewing conditions against the sun, so my Dad and I drove to Ewden Heights where Ewden Beck was cloaked in fog but the moorland tops were clear. Decided to walk out to Ewden Cabin/Shooting Lodge along the northern side of Broomhead Moor. The 45 min walk provided dramatic viewing of the rolling fog bank in Ewden Beck which receded then grew and finally dispersed late morning. We didn't give it long at the Cabin as the birding was slow with 4 distant Ravens of note.

Sunday 27 November and a quick twitch of the 2 Long-tailed Ducks up the M1 at Pugneys CP was, instead, more protracted. Missed an elusive LTD on the boating lake but saw an equally elusive fem/imm on the western most pond over the road at Calder Wetlands, where a Sparrowhawk nearly had a Song Thrush breakfast. A good variety of wintering duck seen and earlier on at the main boating lake a cracking 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull loafed around with a handful of similarly aged Herring Gulls. It looked better and strikingly white headed in real life than shown in the photo below.

A quick look at the 500 strong Canada Geese flock to the west of Ingbirchworth Reservoir produced 2 birds sporting red darvic rings (BAZN and CAFK). With thanks to Kane B, Tom L and Martin W on twitter for help with their origin -

BAZN adult male 29/06/2014 Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria. vv 27/112016 Ingbirchworth Reservoir. 123 kms SE. 2 yrs 151 days. CAFK adult female 29/06/2014 Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria. vv 27/11/2016 Ingbirchworth Reservoir. 123 kms SE 2 yrs 151 days

Joined 'Upland Tyke' at Midhope Low Moor and we birded there until 1445. A few finches included a pair of showy Crossbills and 5 Bullfinches. At least 3 Ravens patrolled the ridge around Pike Lowe where a couple each of Buzzards and Kestrels were seen. A flock of 30+ Pink-footed Geese tried to sneak by heading west. More details of the sightings at

Monday, 7 November 2016

Germany - Apr/May 2016 Trip Report

(Apr/May 2016) Annual long weekend visit to see my friends Chris and Sue in Germany. Birding around Kalrsruhe and over the years we have ventured north (Waghäusel and beyond) and south (Black Forest and Kaiserstuhl). Highlights added to my cumulative Birding Germany Trip Report updated at Birding Trip Reports - Other.

Some photo highlights below: