25 April 2013

Corncrake Whitesands, St Davids Hd

A gloomy, misty morning and the 25th April didn't promise much but it was an opportunity to see if the Western Subalpine Warbler and the Woodchat Shrike were still there - they were. However before getting out onto the headland I followed a Wheatear in an area of scattered brambles, grass and rushes, managed for shooting. As I scanned with bins I noticed another bird at the edge of rank grass along a fenceline about 100 metres away. I was stunned when 'Corncrake' sprung immediately to mind. I made myself be sensible and think through other options. It's brown with darker even lines lengthwise along body (just brown at that distance - grey not visible) so not a Moorhen and not bobbing tail like Moorhen or Water Rail. Tail is stubby, and just looks brown too. Bill is definitely short, sort of triangular. Definitely not a Water Rail then, though similar slender long-necked shape at times. Spotted Crake? Only if an autumn juvenile, the only spring bird I've seen was bright, and the way it's moving is quite different. A juvenile seen two years ago on Tresco, at a distance, was brown in just the same way but methodically moving and feeding quite differently. In the end it just came back to Corncrake again. 

The best bit was that the bird moved along, feeding in the edge of the longer grass for what seemed quite a while. It was completely unaware of me and feeding naturally. The way it behaved was very distinctive and I suspect rarely seen, since it's not mentioned anywhere in the usual books I have access to. The bird would peck at something a couple of times, presumably flies or something on grass stems, then scuttle along a few feet, neck out and giving a strong impression of a rodent as it did so. Then stop, peck at something and off for a little neck-out sprint again. I watched this several times until it was into the longer vegetation and not seen again. It didn't call and this fact and the subdued plumage make me suspect it was a female.

I recall watching an adult and a young bird running/scuttling in a similar way along a pathway in grass, away from me about three years ago, in the Hebrides. That, however was an alarmed or alert bird so not quite the same. Other times I've stood within feet of a calling Corncrake and not been able to see it so I feel quite privileged.

Later view of site, minus Corncrake

Corncrake is a WRP bird, Pembs records since 2000 follow:

Ramsey 21st September 2001 (SA,RS)
Granston 13th Sept 2002(SDSB)
Skomer 27th Sept 2002 (JGB)
Skomer 21st September 2003 (?)
Skomer 29th September 2008 (DB)
Whitesands, St Davids Hd 25th April 2013 (MYP)

23 April 2013

Western Subalpine Warbler St Davids Head

Set out to get a good look around in the still and dull but warmish weather; also hoping the Woodchat Shrike would still be around the beach area at Porth Melgan for a third day. Luckily it was still present though was more mobile, moving further up the valley at times. I watched it with Dick Seekins, Wendy James and Karen Mr. As Dick and I moved off along the path to the Head a small bird flitted through the gorse and bracken scrub on the bank in front of us. The shape flight pattern was very reminiscent of Dartford Warbler but it appeared paler blue-grey above and quite orangy below and I called it as A Subalpine Warber. 'That's a brave call.' said Dick but I'd been comparing the two in Spain on a couple of occasions and I was pretty sure, but still thought it best to hedge bets somewhat. There were many anxious moments as the four of us tried desperately to nail it with a clear view of a white sub-moustachial stripe, which would make us all feel happier. Eventually a few seconds 'scope view and there it was! After that it was good fun following it getting good views and some pics eventually. Then we could settle down to enjoy the experience of a rare bird, which as the word 'rare' suggests just doesn't happen that often.

The bird was intensely coloured red-orange on the throat and breast, paler on flanks and belly with a fine white sub-moustachial stripe and blue grey above on upperparts excepting brownish flight feathers and white outer tail feathers. The eye was red and the legs yellowy. It was clearly a male and indeed was heard to sing briefly a little later; the brownish cast to the primaries suggests a 2nd Calendar year bird. The thin sub-moustachial stripe indicated 'Western' as did the orangy underparts, less intense than might be expected for Eastern and more diffuse overall. It was very similar to a male I watched in Granada, Spain early in the month. With both the Warbler and the Shrike present in a small bit of West Wales, who needs Spain? This is the first Pembs record since Steve Votier's Ramsey Record in 2009. It appears also to be the first ever mainland record.

Photo Mark Hipkin

Subalpine Warblers in Pembs since 2000:

Skokholm 2nd-8th April 2001 (GT) and 3rd Nov 2001(GT)
Skomer 16th May 2002 (SD)
Skokholm 4th-5th May 2003 (GT)
Ramsey 23rd-27th May 2006 (GM,LM)
Ramsey 15th May 2008 (JW)
Skomer 19th May 2008 (DB)
Ramsey 23rd June 2009 (SCV)
St Davids Hd (ssp Cantillans) 23rd-27th April 2013 (WJ, KMr,RSe,MYP et al)
Skokholm (female ssp cantillans) 16th May 2013 (EW et al )
Skomer female 29th May 2013 (ES)

22 April 2013

Woodchat Shrike St Davids Head

This bird was found late yesterday at Porthmelgan by Bernie Stevens. I refound it this morning (22nd April) and managed a few photos despite the murk and drizzle; obviously the quality isn't great but the best I could manage in the conditions with a compact camera. Can't imagine what it makes of West Wales after sunny Southern Europe.

Given that the dampness only serves to darken the plumage, it seems to me the overall tones are too pale for an adult male, especially the gingery impression, rather than chestnut of the head. The wings appear a bit too greyish also. The poor viewing conditions didn't allow for a check of different generations of feathers so, for me, it goes down as a second year bird or maybe an adult female, though I have a feeling the former is more likely.

The same bird on 26th
And again 

Woodchat Shrike records for Pembs since 2000

Skomer 29th April 2000 (JGB) and 6th May (JGB)
Skokholm 1st May 2000 (JT et al) 
St Brides 10th May (ASu)
Skomer 30th-31st May 2003 (MO)
Skomer 11th-13th Oct 2004 (JGB)
Treginnis 13th May 2008 (DR)
St Bride's 20th May 2008 (LO)
Martin's Haven 8th June 2008 (ST)
Strumble Head 1st July 2009 (RI)
Abereiddy 23rd April 2011 (HR)
St Davids (Whitesands) 25th-26th April 2011 (MYP et al)
Mullock Bridge 15th-19th May 2011 (DB)
St Davids Hd 21st-29th April 2013 (BS)

08 April 2013

Galera Photodiary April


Galera is a traditional Spanish village in north-east Granada Province, bordering Almeria about 1000 metres up on the 'Altiplano', an ancient dry lakebed surrounded now by sierras. The village nestles into sedimentary rocks soft enough to create the traditional eco-friendly Cave Houses of the area. Home for Kathy and I is Cueva Abejaruco - Bee-eater Cave (none back in early April though). Some of the characteristic birds in the rocky and desert-like region around the village are Black Wheatears, Rock Sparrows, Rock Buntings and BlackRedstarts, though they haven't all been photogenic this April as it happens. The Rio Galera flows year-round through the valley below the village and is quite heavily cultivated, as is the nearby Orce Valley. Golden Orioles, Cetti's Warblers and Nightingales are common in both. There are extensive prairies in the region, cultivated with cerials and other crops where several colonies of Lesser Kestrels can be found foraging. Great Spotted Cuckoos are common, parasitising the abundant Magpies in the valleys and almond orchards.

Calandra Lark

Yellow Wagtail

Female Lesser Kestrel

Male Lesser Kestrel

The sierras are forested in Pine and Holm Oak until reaching the higher crags. The gorge at Castril allows access to the crags as well as producing typical upland river birds such as Grey Wagtail and Dipper. Blue Rock Thrushes are common and on the day we were there lots of Blackcaps were passing through, as were Black Kites. The sierras are also great for butterflies.
Female Crossbill

Short-toed Treeccreeper

Booted Eagle

Male Blue Rock Thrush
And again
A typical pose
In a tree to be different

Female Black Redstart

Crag Martin

Birds of open and scrubby areas are easy to find around the outskirts of the village and out onto the plain again.
Iberian Shrike
Male Subalpine Warbler
Griffon Vulture
Short-toed Eagle
Corn Bunting
Rock Bunting

Feeding time
Griffon Vulture