Sunday, 30 July 2023

Spring becomes Summer birding

Late May birding, a good time to look for returning Honey Buzzards, and the well known site Welbeck raptor watchpoint, Notts. was a must visit, especially as the weather was good for raptors to be taking to the skies. Looking north from the road over the lake and Welbeck Estate my dad and I had several sightings over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend. Sightings not guaranteed here, I've seen birders moan about the lack of sightings, and others have the luck of connecting within a couple of minutes of arrival joining birders who were having their first sighting in over x hours. It's definitely a site that deserves no less than a patient watch and when the HBs are not on show it's a good spot to study other raptors. Of note were Goshawk, a passage Osprey seen during HB interludes with Red Kite and Buzzard commonplace, Hobby also showed. The roadside hedgerow held singing Garden Warbler, Blackcap and both summering Whitethroats, and a brief view of a Banded Demoiselle dragonfly.

Back to the HBs and a female patrolled the area alone on the first visit late into the watch (6 hours in), and then it was joined by a lighter plumaged male the following day on a couple of sorties. It was nice to see this characteristic, perhaps diagnostic, patrolling behaviour as they move along over the trees. We were lucky with the eventual views of the female on the first visit, distant at first then it came close by, shown below.

Female White-tailed Eagle G318 returned to the Peak District for its third summer. I had a couple of sightings during this period when a Red Kite and Buzzard showed their displeasure to the wanderer from the Isle of Wight scheme. Hobby sightings seem to be on the up in late Spring in these uplands, whether or not they are passage birds may be difficult to tell over this vast expanse. Ring Ouzels and Stonechats defended their moorland territory by song and the moorland edge held Nightjar and Woodcock as dusk fell. Late in the period Redpoll and Siskin called overhead as they wandered around a tree cloaked moorland reservoir, where a single Crossbill called from the treeline, a species that has been more or less absent in recent years at this once reliable site. 

Back at Rainham Marshes RSPB on the edge of London a pulse of 30 Ringed Plovers stopped off in Aveley Bay alongside 2 Grey Plovers in early June before heading north month. Male Ruffs (2) in summer attire mid month on the rapidly diminishing Target Pools, soon to be replaced by returning Black-tailed Godwits on the 1st day of July. A mid June Stonechat noteworthy and a couple of adult summer Mediterranean Gulls over the Thames, 4 Cuckoos and a Hobby on the reserve and further west in London singing Black Redstarts served as a reminder that it was still summer even though the weather into July may have suggested otherwise. An increase in Yellow-legged Gulls along the Thames shore being characteristic of the season, and a selection are shown below. Saturday 8th July was a 7 gull species day, the 5 commoner ones included a 1st summer Common Gull, plus several Yellow-legged Gulls and a bedraggled 1st summer Mediterranean Gull that sneaked on by heading down river. An adult female Peregrine gave a juvenile female hunting lessons that morning where the youngster was finding its talons and almost playing with resting Black-headed Gulls. They were not at all amused as they didn't see it as a game!

South Hertfordshire yielded Marbled White butterflies in a local grassland as June became July, when an evening walk produced a Little Owl pestered by breeding Swallows. Hobby flew by on a couple of evenings, and on another a flyby immature Peregrine.

Back home for a weekend mid July and the Dearne Valley or as posted on social media, "Camargue-upon-Dearne", held an immature Night Heron and a feeding group of 6 Spoonbills at RSPB Adwick Washland. The Night Heron and a couple of the Spoonbills shown below. One of the Spoonbills was colour-ringed identified with 2 green rings separated by a black flag on its right leg. Turns out it was ringed as a pullus in SW Netherlands in June 2018 and seen at Hickling Broad, Norfolk in June 2023. A few miles away the breeding Black-winged Stilts at Edderthorpe Flash showed well as did a Hobby and resting Great White Egret.

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Sunday, 11 June 2023

Birding Germany April/May 2023


Waghäusel, officially known as Wagbachniederung is a jewel of a wetland located in the Rhine Rift Valley a few kms east of the Rhine itself and in between Karlsruhe and Mannheim, Baden-Württemburg. Characterised by Reedbeds, water meadows and basins this is a well known birding site. Essentially rectangular in shape the main entrance is from the south, heading in just north of the church. The track skirts a cafe and farm passing through the treelined southern perimeter, home this year to probably the world's most showiest Nightingale. Working through this area the meadows flanked by plentiful hedges gives way to the basins, nettlebeds meeting reedbeds in the northern section of the reserve where an expansive 180 degrees view over a reedbed along its northern flank can be had. In the main the paths are elevated throughout and this allows for extensive views and especially from the benches at the T-junction overlooking the northern reedbed and accompanying pools. From here a walk to the left takes you to the western edge where one of its famous summer inhabitants, Purple Herons, make their 'tower' reedbed nests.

A variety of species can be seen on this reserve with Spring bird migration producing nice surprises. It's a great place to see and study species that are scarce Spring/Summer visitors to GB without the need to chase about. It is also interesting to see the style and approach to German birding. Watching German birders dragging carts full of tripods, scopes and cameras is different to the approach back home, but I guess it's quite practical on this reserve. So, our highlights from two visits at the end of April/early May 2023 as follows. The weather was pleasant and favourable for bird migration.

Nightingales simply everywhere, the one mentioned earlier wasn't singing from the middle of a hedge, it sang and showed as would a Song Thrush from a lofty perch. The hedgerows held Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs plus Greenfinches and Goldfinches. A few Turtle Doves "purred" from deep cover, only one showed briefly. The nettlebeds were quiet apart from one or two Cuckoos, a few weeks too early this visit for the returning Marsh Warblers. The ponds held a variety of ducks including Red-crested Pochards and Garganey and three species of Grebe could be found, Great-crested, Little and Black-necked. A very mobile colour-ringed Spoonbill (White FAFB) fed near to a lone Great White Egret, the Spoonbill later seen circling and perhaps heading off. Wood Sandpipers were on passage with Ruff and Greenshanks of note. A Black-winged Stilt drew the crowds and Little Ringed Plovers on territory. Purple and Grey Herons on site and on one visit another star attraction in the form of a visiting Glossy Ibis.

Red-backed Shrikes were back on site in the scrubby bushes west of the benches, and to add to the avian variety a Grey-headed Woodpecker gave its distinctive monotone repetitive call from cover. It eventually flew by, seen mainly in silhouette as it dived back into cover. The benches is a great point to say do 'a big sit' counting all that goes by. The reedbeds held Reed Warblers, flycatching Whinchats in bushes on the edge and at least two Savi's Warblers reeled away. One could be seen and it was nice to hear and compare a Savi's Warbler to the right with a reeling Grasshopper Warbler to the left. Not to forget the species that is arguably the main attraction at this viewpoint, Bluethroat. A couple of white-spotted males burst into sing late afternoon on the second visit, when one started it drew the other into singing from its nearby territory in the reedbed bushes and tangles.

Not just good birding at ground level, up above always something on offer. White Storks ever present, Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbeds occasionally venturing up high where Red Kite and Buzzard noted. Black Kites flew by every so often, Kestrels seen and a lone Peregrine was off to the north. The Black-headed Gull colony attracted Mediterranean Gulls, mainly seen and heard "meeowing" overhead. Less welcome to the colony was an immature Yellow-legged Gull looking for a snack.

Black-winged Stilt

Garganey avoiding Coypu

Mediterranean Gull


Purple Heron

Red-backed Shrike



Black Kite

Saalbachniederung Bruchsal

Saalbachniederung Bruchsal essentially a grassland area with flooded gravel pit is located a few kms to the south of Waghäusel. The walk out from the small car park to the south is pleasant through the grassland on well marked tracks. On approaching the pit/lake the far carrying song of Great Reed Warbler can be heard. A top site for studying this species and one gave good views with at least one more singing from further in the reedbed. The water held a couple of Great White Egrets, several species of ducks and passage waders including Greenshank and Wood Sandpipers. A dapper adult Yellow-legged Gull stopped off to rest, Black-headed Gulls more active and vocal, and on leaving the site a couple of Mediterranean Gulls could be heard "meeowing" somewhere up in the heavens. Didn’t expect a couple of Ravens to be in the area, they "kronked" overhead moving east only to return back west half an hour later. Also unexpected was the Black Woodpecker in flight near the gravel workings on the way back, but the male Red-backed Shrike looking out from a bramble patch tree was a sign of summer on its way.

Great Reed Warbler

Yellow-legged Gull

Great White Egret

Black Forest - Schwarzwaldhochstrasse

The north west corner of the Black Forest is not too far from Karlsruhe to the south, and it's always nice to visit the area up on the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse taking in the walks about Hotel Schliffkopf and then the ski run of Seibelseckle. The latter home to very nice Schwarzwälderkirschtorte and Hot Chocolate as well as good birding over the years which saw us connect with a migrating ringtail Pallid Harrier back in April 2014. Several degrees cooler up here compared with down in the Rhine Rift Valley, but this didn't deter Willow Warblers and Meadow Pipits from singing throughout at Schliffkopf. Dunnock noted and 'continental' Coal Tits in the forest. A blink and you miss it Nutcracker wasn't obliging as it flew low into the forest across the 'High Street'. Notices posted throughout the area of footpath closures during Capercaillie lekking season, German equivalent of the 'Lek it Be' campaign found in Scotland. Just up the road we had the chance in the afternoon to sit outside the ever popular cafe at Seibelseckle allowing for a look for any raptors overhead plus Ring Ouzel on the now grassy ski slope. A male 'Mountain Blackbird' was present, have reasonable views until being chased off down the slope by a 'lowland' Blackbird that appeared to be huge in comparison when seen together,  Black Redstarts around the ski lift building. A Common Buzzard appeared drifting off into the Black Forest not before dragging up a Honey Buzzard, the pair circling together allowing a nice comparison of their flight silhouettes. A Red Kite in the area and then better looks at another Honey Buzzard drifting over from the north, shown below.

Honey Buzzard

Ring Ouzel

A nice long weekend visiting friends, many thanks to Chris and Sue et al. More photos and sightings from many trips to this part of Germany can be found at Birding Germany (pdf).

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

2023 - April Birding - From Ring-necked Duck to Osprey with a few scarcities in between

Rainham Marshes RSPB

Visits at the beginning and then from mid month to the wetlands on the edge of London on the north side of the Thames just inside the Dartford crossing.

Summer migrants were seen from the start of the month, including Willow and Sedge Warblers plus Swallows and a Wheatear from the 1st. Whitethroats in by mid month with a rattling Lesser Whitethroat the weekend after. The Thames shore held its seemingly ever present Avocets plus remnants of the wintering Black-tailed Godwit flock (80) Later in the month a couple of whistling passage Whimbrels rested on the muddy shore. Common Terns fed mid river on a mid-month visit and a walk down the river a week later produced many Mediterranean Gulls "meeowing", including an impressive flock of 6 adults flying low over Coldharbour Point on a day that saw at least 8 and possibly up to 14 flying over the area. Most summer migrants were in this month and the Marshes were awash with very vocal Cetti's Warblers, such that the trill of a Grasshopper Warbler was difficult to pick out at Rainham 'West'. Corn Buntings sang from the sides of the landfill and nearby Marsh Harriers patrolled the reserve. Calling flyover Yellow Wagtails noted. A couple of visits yielded one or two Ravens in the area and a few Buzzards were around throughout, with a returning Hobby practising its afterburners over the middle of the reserve on the 22nd. Nice to see, but this sighting was overshadowed on this date as out of nowhere just before 1pm a migrating Osprey flew past many observers positioned around the reserve, including at the car park. It was heading east at first but turned around drifting back towards the reserve then faded away in the sky heading north after being escorted from the area by a Red Kite.

Glad the drake Ring-necked Duck stayed for Easter at Old Moor RSPB near Barnsley, sure it was a first for the 'Wath Area' and if it behaves itself I think it will be 200 up for me for the area. From recent chatter I believe the area total is of the order of 260, it's a cracking birding area probably the best inland birding site in the country.

Yorkshire moorlands offered their magic with Ring Ouzels back on territory at Easter and Willow Warblers from a similar time.

Up in West Yorkshire one of the two Night Herons showed well on the edge of the River Calder at Easter, with Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail also present.

En Route
Heading back south the impressive Kentish Plover at Summer Leys LNR, Northamptonshire held on to a sandy island in the teeth of a gale where from the other side of the hide a couple of stately Common Cranes appeared to be more relaxed in the windy conditions.

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Wednesday, 5 April 2023

Birding Cyprus 18 - 25 March 2023 - Summary

Generally good weather throughout, with showers at first and winds more favourable for bird migration as the week progressed. Temperatures generally low 20Cs.

The North West – Cape Drepanum was a must visit, especially as being based fairly close by, and it turned up some good birding. Sightings included passage Ruppell’s Warblers throughout, the only Eastern Subalpine Warbler of the trip at the beginning and Cretzschmar’s Buntings at the end. Stone Curlews moved north on one visit as did Herons with flocks of Grey Herons carrying Purple Herons and Night Herons respectively one late afternoon, a day when a string of 120 Cormorants moved through on a similar line, reminiscent of movements of Double-crested Cormorants in New Jersey. Pulses of Swifts and hirundines seen moving north towards the Akamas Peninsula, where on one visit Red-rumped Swallows and Barn Swallows were migrating in equal numbers. Alpine Swifts going through always a fine sight, and fantastic views of a couple of Pallid Swifts moving through ahead of Common Swifts on my last day of the trip. A Wryneck fed alongside feldegg Yellow Wagtails by the side of a rough track late on in the trip where nearby fields and hedges held a roaming flock of at least 300 Spanish Sparrows throughout, from where a Black Francolin ‘chuckled’. An unexpected sighting at this coastal location was of a winter/subadult pale morph Arctic Skua flying in off the sea early one evening picking out a Yellow-legged Gull over the small harbour to have a go at, before returning to sit on the water. The only shrikes of the trip seen here, namely Woodchat Shrike and Masked Shrike. Nearby a passage Osprey on the last day of the trip moved north along the ridge above Peyia and west of Kathikas. Further north at Droushia Laughing Doves were noted, extending their reach on the island.

Grey and Purple Herons

Masked Shrike


The South West – Paphos Headland was disappointing for migration on one visit only, so I didn’t give it much of a chance to prove otherwise. Together with the lack of access to the ‘outer’ headland made this corner of the island less inviting this visit. However, a few miles east at Agia Varvara, Mandria and Asprokremmos Dam, these noted birding sites didn’t disappoint. Be it of scolding mischievous Great Spotted Cuckoos, 2 Spotted Crakes at a pool of the former where a Jack Snipe tried to hide from all, or in the farmlands at Mandria where a scarcity in the form of a Black-bellied Sandgrouse looked dazzling in flight. It was good birding all round in this area including up to Anarita Park. A study of continuing Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers at ‘Aspro’ Dam was second to none and on the theme, Bonelli’s Eagles in the region didn’t want to be left out and demonstrated their prowess on several occasions. An initially reluctant to fly Collared Pratincole by the coast at Mandria did take to the skies wowing onlookers with its aerial skills.

Eastern Bonelli's Warbler

Bonelli's Eagle

Black-bellied Sandgrouse

Collared Pratincole

South Central, i.e. Akrotiri – didn’t venture south of an imaginary line from Akrotiri Marsh to Zakaki Marsh on several visits, lots of good birding happening at the northern end. The former held many feldegg Yellow Wagtails, with a thunbergi picked out, plus trip tick Sand Martin and Marsh Sandpipers (3) and Ruff (20) shared pools with Black-tailed Godwits and Glossy Ibis. Many other species seen boosting the trip list. The latter site held scurrying Little Crakes, and by comparison a gigantic Water Rail. Griffon Vultures were airborne over the north west cliffs on driving back west.

(Grey-headed) Yellow Wagtail

The East  - twitch of the  year/decade/century, well the rarity value of Didric Cuckoo, or should that be Diederik Cuckoo, hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Didn’t hear its call/song in too much detail to comment on the spelling or the validity of the name, but was very glad after skipping the wonderful hotel breakfast to drive east into the sunrise across the bottom of the island to receive the email that it was still there on its second day. Not sure what to expect, a kind of Downy Woodpecker meets Wryneck in the shape of a diminutive Cuckoo. The bronze and emeralds glowed in the morning light, better in shadow, set against a red eye and black and white barring/spots. Green and Wood Sandpipers shared the rough ground around the residential areas by Lake Paralimini as did a male Bluethroat. Laughing Doves, literally, looked down on the twitch which amounted to half a dozen or so birders/photographers between 08:00 and 09:30 on the second day. Perhaps a different approach to twitching in Cyprus compared with GB. Nearby, the bird migration hotspot of Cape Greco was a bit of an afterthought on this occasion and would have provided a birding choice should the Cuckoo have done an overnight bunk. The Cape was slow for migration on the visit, but a northerly component to the wind and late morning visit didn’t help. But, still nice to go birding in this wonderful landscape by the Mediterranean. Before flying back to the UK a look at Larnaca Sewage Works and surrounding area produced a few more trip ticks including Slender-billed Gulls with Black-headed Gulls on the western pool.

Diederik Cuckoo

Laughing Dove

Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls

A full trip report to follow plus video compilation. A quick look at the facts and figures and about 110 species or so seen/heard in the penultimate week of March 2023.

Many thanks to all who helped me in the field and online, especially AW, I&KB, A&LC, GE, JM and PB, and with apologies for any omissions.    

Tuesday, 28 February 2023

2023 - February Birding - still about the Gulls

Caspian Gull - as well as the fun in identifying individuals, more fun can be had when one wears a colour-ring. The photos below are of 2nd calendar year with yellow colour-ring P:YA9 present on the Thames shore near Rainham Marshes RSPB, London on Saturday 11 February 2023. The origins of a ringed bird can point to its identity in terms of potential hybridisation when mixed species colonies are found.

From local feedback received, and from a look on the internet, all pointed to it being ringed in Poland. With thanks for the help in tracing its origins and also for a quick turnaround from submitting the colour-ring details to receiving its life history. It was ringed in a Caspian Gull Colony (Pullus) at Jeziórko, Grębów, Poland in June 2022. Between ringing and the sighting reported above it was seen in Belgium (Ostend, November 2022), and then in the UK (Cambridgeshire, December 2022 and at Abberton Reservoir, Essex in January 2023).

As well as this Caspian Gull sporting a yellow colour-ring, it was distinctive as the left-hand side of the face appeared to be stained or showing an injury. This can be seen in some of the above photos and also in the video footage taken - please click here.

At low tide the Thames shore can hold many gulls in terms of numbers and variety as they move between the river and the landfill. This visit saw the numbers dominated by Black-headed Gulls leading to several colour-ringed adults being picked out. Locally ringed (Pitsea, Essex) birds with their yellow rings included 2HA2, 2TLB and 2SRT, and life histories reveal over the years they winter on or around this area and further east along the Thames Estuary. White EA2A has origins in the Netherlands. With thanks to all for feeding back on their life histories.

A sleeping adult Mediterranean Gull tried to hide amongst the Black-headed Gulls but its black head, as opposed to the chocolate-brown of the misnamed Black-headed Gulls, gave it away. 

Not all about the gulls, this scalloped marked winter Ruff gave good views probing the muddy shore.

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