Sunday 29 October 2023

2023 - Late September Cyprus Raptors

Cyprus birding late September with a heavy focus on studying raptor migration, but made time for a few visits as well to the marshes and pools at Akrotiri and Larnaca.

There's a very amiable birding community of locals and regularly returning visitors and it was good to catch up with all, many thanks for your help both online and in the field.

Please find a summary of repeat visits throughout to Akrotiri for raptor migration and one watch from Cape Greco. A full trip report being worked upon with many Honey Buzzard photos plus birding video compilations coming soon.

Sometimes raptor watching (migration) can be seeing a sky full of raptors, perhaps at distance when it can be like studying a deep field image of galaxies from the Hubble or James Webb telescopes. Whilst this can be good, it can also be confusing or overwhelming at first. I've seen this at Cape May, New Jersey, USA in autumn when the winds are pushing the raptors towards the point, but they remain to thermal to the north rather than passing overhead. Watching raptors on the move will always be exciting, and the experience at Akrotiri was seeing the raptors either lift off locally or move into the area from a northern component, some of which were off heading out over the Mediterranean Sea. Others coming into the area in the afternoons to roost before continuing their journey either the following day or soon after. Raptor watching at the three locations mentioned below had a nice anticipation in waiting to see what was coming through next. For the bigger raptors it was more often than not another Honey Buzzard. But not always so, what friends were tagging along?

Akrotiri Water Tower - essentially the high point to the west of Akrotiri village with a view overlooking the gravel pits and salt lake to the north. Excellent viewing to watch raptors leave Akrotiri from their morning roost as they continue south, and others heading into the area from further west. A light wind from the south or south east allowed to study raptors on the move overhead or out to sea off the west coast of Akrotiri. A westerly component ok when light, but when strong they were distant moving off south out to the east over Lady's Mile. 

Personal totals over the week shown below in which Honey
dominated but a nice variety of raptors seen. This included a wandering Bonelli's Eagle, shown opposite, that had 'issues' with the HBs, and Black Kites plus Marsh and Montagu's Harriers through. A good variety of falcons included local Eleanora's Falcons, passage Red-footed Falcons and Falco friends. 'Steppe' Buzzard new for me as was a male Levant Sparrowhawk on a day with several 'Sprawks' clearly on the move. But, not just about the raptors. Bee-eater and hirundine passage was spectacular, always something to see.

Akrotiri Beehives - peaceful roadside birding in the afternoons east of Akrotiri Marsh overlooking Phassouri Forest, good for continuing raptor migration and spotting those coming into roost. Again Honey Buzzards the welcome default raptor followed by Marsh Harriers and then the Falcons. But, lots of different raptors as shown in the following table. As with the earlier site non raptors delighted, such as the constant acrobatics of Bee-eaters and many Barn and Red-rumped Swallows plus Pallid Swifts overhead with Alpine Swifts noted towards the end of the trip. Little Swifts, one shown here, were seen throughout, where do they come from? 



Cape Greco - one visit on my last day of the trip to the south eastern tip of the island, more usually noted for passerine migration especially in spring, but ok for raptors in autumn. A few raptors through early on then a noticeable push of them south along the coast from midday - a precession of Marsh Harriers through (18) and a few Honey Buzzards (11) with Red-footed Falcons (4) moving in, then out. A smart juvenile Montagu's Harrier flew past the point. Barn Swallows and Bee-eaters got going mid-morning with totals of 595 and 127 respectively as well.

Saturday 14 October 2023

2023 - Late Summer Birding

Towards the end of August completed the Scoter set for GB, successfully twitching the adult drake Stejneger's Scoter in the 200 or so Velvet Scoter flock off the wonderful birding site of the sea wall at Musselburgh just to the east of Edinburgh. It was more elusive than it's American counterpart that I saw here back in March 2018. The Siberian version was also distinctive, in its head profile including knob and the eye-tick appeared broader than shown by its Velvet comparators. Over a few hours in fine weather that still warranted two fleeces, with good light and a gentle onshore breeze, this (returning) first? for GB showed 5x from its slumber/diving allowing most birders present to get onto it. Supporting cast included an Eider flock with singles of Scaup and Red-breasted Merganser in view when scanning the Firth duck flocks, and a dozen or so red-headed Goosanders at several points along the rocky shore. The tide influenced wader antics and nice to see many different ones with a flyby of Bar-tailed Godwits proving a worthy distraction to scanning the Scoter slick. Carrion Crows noted, despite being in Scotland this site being well below the Hoodie/Carrion cut off. 

The next day gave way to a brisk, yet bird-able and comfortable, northerly wind down the South Yorkshire moorland edge. Shortly before 11am an Osprey shifted on through from north to south stopping briefly to circle close to an inquisitive Buzzard, then back into getting out of here mode. Nearly missed a record photo, here's the best I could do. Slow birding on the moors but Spotted Flycatchers at a stopover site alongside an autumn male Redstart brightened up a quiet day. Passage later in the week included the first shift of Meadow Pipits, a lone calling Tree Pipit and a couple of Yellow Wagtails southward bound.

The South Yorkshire lowlands home to the world famous (IMHO) Wath Area saw part of the family from the nearby breeding Edderthorpe RSPB Black-winged Stilts now a couple of miles down the shallow valley on Wombwell Ings RSPB. Left it late and lucky to have seen them on their last day. Always good to catch up with this birding location and birders of the area, most helped me and my dad when we first started birding here in the late 80s. The 3 Great White Egrets in the area on this visit, lots of Little Egrets and Marsh Harriers, that would have been a description day in the 80s and 90s, and maybe receipt of a few challenging thoughts, but now not unexpected. A fair selection of waders and a Whinchat on a grass bund noteworthy.

Before more birding back home in Yorkshire in mid September I twitched the Lee Valley CP Osprey in South Hertfordshire in the same month. Train in to London (30mins), 20 mins walk to Liverpool Street and a similar length train journey back out to Cheshunt, the same type of approach in connecting with Solitary Sandpiper (Sep. 2022) and Grey-cheeked Thrush (Nov. 2005) both not a million miles away from this site. Took a good few hours for the lingering Osprey, thought to be juvenile Blue 256 ringed in Aberdeenshire this year to show. It showed briefly before taking its catch away to feed out of sight. Whilst waiting for the star attraction a distant Peregrine and Sparrowhawk were up high to the north and away from the birds a pair of Willow Emerald damselflies were present at one look out on the lake side. Perhaps no longer the scarcity/rarity associated with the SE only, nevertheless always nice to study.

People of a certain age may remember where they were at the time on the date of President J F Kennedy's assassination, but not many would be interested if I asked, "Where were you on Saturday 16 September 2023 at about 10:15?" For me it was the time I saw the Brown Booby sat on Pilot's Pier, south Gare, Redcar, Yorkshire. Unblocked a blocker, a fantastic view of a stunning rare and beautiful Gannet. Twitched by train from home to Redcar with a change in Leeds. With thanks to Stuart J who joined the train, and apologies for omitting the name of another birder from Leeds who also shared the cab at Redcar kindly covered by SJ. Now, my moan about the Kynance Cove twitch can be closed.

Overcast, grey with a brisk constant N wind, 2 fleeces and a cagoule for a wind cheater, far different to the 30C or so waiting for the Osprey and praying for a breeze the previous weekend. The Tees estuary was alive! A constant turnaround of birds, be it Sandwich Terns following a feeding line only to be disturbed by 3 or 4 Arctic Skuas, Auks bobbing up and down then off into the wind, a task seemingly made easier by several Red-throated Divers, and the occasional (Northern) Gannet remanding all that there was the common Sula not to be missed! Gulls represented by Black-headed, Common, Herring and Great Black-backed varieties plus a moulting adult Kittiwake whose lack of dipped-in-ink wing tips was there to trap the unwary!

The nearby scrub and dunes were quiet with a few Meadow Pipits and southerly bound Swallows seen. A walk back to Redcar along the beach brought memories of last year's (seems longer!) Greater Sandplover sharing the sand with Ringed Plovers. No GSP this time and single numbers of Ringed Plovers only. Sanderlings strewn along the tide all way along the walk, every busy, more relaxed were 2 groups of roosting Oystercatchers (250+150). Curlews flew over and a group of Knot went by and 2 or 3  flybys of Bar-tailed Godwits, a very smart wader, a record breaking species that we may not appreciate that much as the record involved a flight from Asia to Australia and not more local.

Not to forget moorland magic the next day. The swing of the wind to the East not being productive to hear some of the first "wink-winks" of the season but it was nice for my dad to pick out what we believe to be the area's first Marsh Harrier of the year, a cream crown that flew over a moor all in peace. That was until it strayed to an area holding a female/immature Merlin who quickly encouraged it to go elsewhere. Why have Marsh Harriers been scarce here in both passage seasons? This is unknown to us at the moment, only time will tell. Adult type Hobby seen, at least 2 different birds, getting late for them (17 Sep). Also getting late for the 2 Spotted Flycatchers present in the area. Grey Wagtail over added to an autumnal feel.

More average photos uploaded at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'. Please enjoy.