20 November 2014


Pale lores, lack of flank streaking.

I decided to take advantage of the sunny conditions and light easterly winds on the 18th after what seemed like days of rain and rough weather and get out to the Head. I wasn't expecting much so left my camera behind and decided to just enjoy the walk. My carefree stroll ended when I saw a large Pipit fly from somewhere near the path at the Kissing Gate, and out toward the cliff edge. I headed after it but got too close before I saw it on the short-cropped grass and it was off again, over the cliff edge and along out of sight. This time it called two or three times in flight and that pulled me up short. I was expecting a Richard's but the call was nothing like normal Richard's; instead it was a soft, seemingly lower-pitched 'schuup schuup' having none of the piercing, house-sparrow-like quality I would have expected. And what's more that describes all of the 20+ calls it gave through the day; it was amazingly consistent and never sounded like typical Richard's. Of course Richard's can give atypical calls but  I was doing a lot of thinking now and headed along the cliff, working along more slowly so as not to put it up again. 

Supercilium restricted behind eye, no ear covert 'surround'. Relatively short-tailed
 (tail similar length as tertials), horizontal stance.

The area has lots of gorse, bramble and bracken with horse-made paths throughout, the bird liked these paths and also the cliff-top and grassy ledges. It made it difficult to watch for more than a few seconds at a time before it was hidden and it often then appeared closer than expected and was flying off again.  

Pale lores 'Pointy bill, relatively short, lacking strongly-curved culmen.
Neat back/mantle streaking

I found the bird and started to gather impressions. It was clearly a large Pipit, looking pale, particularly below, with a neat gorget of streaks. Then it was off again, calling once more. To go along with the call though I was starting to be left with the impression of a bird that was not what I expected for Richard's, ie not particularly long or heavy-billed, not particularly long-tailed, not particularly long-legged or with a notable upright posture - not especially robust and with the 'feel' of a smaller Pipit. By now alarm bells were ringing - I remember being part of discussions along just those lines when Tim Wright found the 1996 Sheringham bird. It couldn't be could it? I began to panic slightly, I had no scope or camera and the views I was getting with bins were challenging thus far. I put out the news locally of an interesting Pipit, Blyth's or Richard's. But this is Pembrokeshire and it was likely to be a long and frustrating wait at best and probably no-one would turn up. I was really pleased, therefore, to spy Bob and Annie Haycock approaching, on their way to do a marine bird survey. Bob had a camera and scope and though the latter proved a bit useless in the circumstances, the camera gave hope of capturing some important details needed to confirm the id, if as I was beginning to suspect, it was a Blyth's. 

Short, evenly-curved hind claw

We approached the area where the Pipit had dropped down but it wasn't there, instead it called a couple of times somewhere behind us, clearly in flight again. Forty minutes later still no sign and Bob and Annie had to get out surveying, having only heard the bird. Bob agreed with me that it was a call quite unlike normal Richard's and we've seen about 30 between us and found maybe 20. It was a depressing time, trudging around every bit of path, checking every square metre of cliff. And what a relief when it flew in from the east along the cliff-top calling like the wonderful eastern gem it was. I saw it really well on the rocks for a while and then it was back to hide and seek. I realised I needed Bob and his camera and with no phone signal it meant a twenty minute walk out to the watchpoint and back. Luckily Annie agreed to hold the fort while Bob returned with me. And then we spent three hours or so getting more and sometimes better views, Bob got some shots, the bird disappeared for quite long spells etc. It was exhausting but as the possibility of Blyth's grew, bloody exciting too. I was able to contact Kathy and she made her way out to us, bringing my camera. The bird hadn't been seen for half an hour when she arrived and the sun was low over the sea, giving a harsh light, we didn't have long left. Luckily, especially for Kathy, the bird immediately appeared on a path in front and I shot off a load of photos. I had about three or four minutes and all the pics here are from that short burst because a very short while later the sun was gone, the bird had disappeared and we were realising how cold and hungry we were. But what a magical day in a magical place with a magical bird. 

Replaced Blyth's-type median covert, neat crown streaking

28 October 2014

St Agnes 4th-18th October

Another October on St Agnes and meeting up with a whole lot of friends on a brilliant Island. In terms of birds, no real 'biggies' this year but a good selection of semi-rarities which are always good to catch up with and kept everybody going. The first goodie had a bit of a deja vu about it, a Short-toed Lark found by Neil Wright in the same field at Castella that the one last year frequented. It stayed for the whole time we were there (maybe it's there still). I thought I got some good pictures but Neil's is better - so here's the first rarity, a southern starter.

Photo Neil Wright
Yellow-browed Warblers appeared of course, usually in the same places - The Parsonage, the Covean  sycamores - though, unusually one was remarkably faithful to a single Turkey Oak at Lower Town. Firecrests appeared in better numbers than last year but were still fairly elusive.

The next goodie led everyone a merry dance at first, heard in flight by Graham Gordon, it was found feeding at a large puddle by Lee Amery soon after. It disappeared for quite a while before the first of several return visits to the sea wall near the Little Pool. Unfortunately it was quick and never very close so some fairly dodgy record shots only. Still an excuse for some people to head for the Turk's Head, probably the best as well as the most southerly pub in Britain- mind you some people don't need an excuse.

The weather continued to be hot and the whole place looked wonderful during the first week we were there and where better to be than on Gugh. Just crossing the Gugh bar is a great experience, it could almost be the Caribbean at times - though not when Kathy and I got caught out by the tide. The two gardens on Gugh always look great for birds and we found a Barred Warbler in one on our visit, which showed well on and off all day. Popping out amongst the more exotic plants to pick off a few blackberries. There are always Song Thrushes everywhere, amazingly tame at times, they are one of the best things about St Agnes.

The day before a Tawny Pipit was behind Troytown Farm briefly and an Ortolan Bunting was seen at Castella Down, though we didn't manage to catch up with either. Then after the Barred Warbler we thought we might get the Tawny Pipit when a Large Pipit was reported near the Big Pool. A fair few people were watching it when we arrived and a lot of debate picked up as to whether it was  the Tawny Pipit re-found or a new Richard's Pipit. It turned out to be the latter but a good-natured revision experience too.

photo Neil Wright
A notably grey (and quite confiding at times) Chiffchaff at Troytown Farm raised a fair amount of interest and the consensus moved fairly inexorably towards Siberian Chiffchaff (tristis) even though, as far as I'm aware, it wasn't heard to call. The debate between grey with strongly green suffused wing/tail fringes, 'Bonelli's'-type birds and the browner versions (the 'orthodox' birds) seems to have moved on again. Beyond the problems of 'colour-morphing' between grey and brown which makes photography tricky, it seems there's now evidence that the 'Bonelli's'-type birds can be true 'tristis'. Hopefully I'll be able to add some photos and information on this to this blog in the near future. In the meantime, here are some phots of the Troytown bird.

photo Robin Hemming

photo Robin Hemming

photo Robin Hemming

Astonishingly not a single Spotted Flycatcher was found in the whole fortnight we were there and only three Pied Flycatchers, a couple of which we picked up in the Gugh Plantation - this was a particularly well-marked individual. A single Red-breasted Flyturned up at Rosevene later on. After the invasion on the east coast earlier in the autumn I'd have expected more than usual not fewer. Just a couple of Black redstarts too, continuing the dearth of recent years.

This Little Bunting was a great bird and really confiding for twenty minutes in a field near the Lighthouse, unfortunately that was it and it was never seen again after the twenty minutes were up. But what a cracking little bird.

photo Neil Wright
The weather grew more stormy towards the end  and at least one eye was on the forecast and whether the boats would run, the planes fly. How long would we be stuck if we didn't get off on time? Hurricane Gonzalo was on its way from Bermuda and it was a bit of a worry. This Common Cuckoo brightened things up. Some birders had seen more American Cuckoos on Scilly in October.

Then it was time to go, lots of friends to say goodbye to, hopefully all to meet up again next year. A fairly bumpy plane trip and then we're planning for next year's visit. 

Can't wait!

24 September 2014

A few Autumn birds at St Davids

It's been a quiet month here, a bit disappointing really but I thought I'd take the opportunity to put up a few photos of what there has been. Hopefully there's more, and better, to come. This Wryneck has been around by the Kissing Gate for a few days but showed quite well this morning.

Last autumn was disappointing for Lapland Buntings, hopefully this bird was a harbinger of a better late autumn this year. It was unusually obliging on the path up to the Old Coastguard Lookout.

Found by Mike Thomas of Glamorgan while on holiday at Lleithyr Campsite, this Rose-coloured Starling has been present there for a while now. The shots are a bit distant but still the bird stands out amongst Common Starlings.

And a gratuitous moth photo to finish: a rather svelte Autumnal Rustic taken at Sealyham last night.

28 August 2014

Lynx Hunting in the Sierra Moreno

The Sierra Moreno still has a few Wolves hidden away somewhere in the north of the area but they're almost impossible to find. Iberian (Pardel) Lynx, however, is supposed to be much easier since here they are at their highest density in Spain and there's a lot of effort being made to preserve and increase their numbers. The south of the Parque Natural and the area outside the Park there seems to be the best place to look. We didn't actually find any Lynxes but then we knew it wasn't a good time of year to try. Maybe we'll be able to get back this winter.

The Sierra is just over the provincial border in Jaen Province, about two hours away. It's a superb area with or without Lynxes, the birds are brilliant and the presence of large hunting estates means populations of Deer are very high.

There are plenty of Griffon Vultures as you would expect but it's also fairly easy to see Black Vultures here, their white feet standing out against their black plumage.

The road signs remind motorists regularly about the presence of Lynx with a reminder to keep to the speed limit.

One of the first birds we saw was a young Eagle Owl, still a bit fluffy around the edges, sitting out and looking huge on a rock pinnacle. Unfortunately it was too distant for a good photo but then there were already Azure-winged Magpies around, making their presence known. We saw hundreds through the trip, possibly the commonest bird but very difficult to photograph even when close unlike some commoner birds like Bee-eaters.

The southern part of the Sierra, north of Andujar is Lynx territory and that's the bit Kathy and I explored. We kept seeing Deer often at close range and often heard the Stags too. Red Deer were everywhere though Fallow Deer were far from unusual.

Outside the Park we headed for a dam on the river which is in the best area for Lynx and can be good for birds and other mammals. The Lynx share some of the area with Torros Bravos - Fighting Bulls which are traditionally bred in the area.

It was in this area that we had our best views of Spanish Imperial Eagle, another speciality of the area. An adult drifted towards us, coming amzingly close and giving stunning views. I took shot after shot only to find the camera setting had slipped and they were all nothing but white light. I managed a couple of poor record shots (the best below) as it drifted further off. I was gutted.

We carried on to the dam where a Black Stork flew off on arrival and there were Blue Rock Thrushes, Golden Orioles and less expectedly Green and Common Sandpipers. There were also Mouflon here, females and young. A mammal tick for both of us.

On the way back up the track we saw agroup of Wild Boar, a bit distant but always good to see.

Finally we stopped of at a picnic site as we re-crossed the river which turned out to be an excellent place. We watched Hawfinches here, a favourite species which we don't find nearer to home as well as Kingfisher which, again, is difficult along with Black Vulture and Booted Eagle. Another reason for stopping at this place was that I thought I'd got a glimpse of a White-rumped Swift earlier but couldn't be sure. A lifer and something of a magic bird though I didn't hold out much hope. There were Red-rumped Swallows however, a species which seemed to be everywhere this summer (hopefully some will grace Pembrokeshire later). I started taking photos and then to my shock and delight pretty boy below flies into the viewfinder. It more than made up for the loss of Spanish Imperial Eagle photos. I managed the fairly ropy shot below but it was a great moment.

As I was taking photos this large colourful lizard was hanging around, no idea what kind but another reminder of how there is to learn and explore in this region.

27 August 2014

Moth Test in North-east Granada

The moths of Spain are a mystery to us and so Kathy and I decided to see what we would find around the Cave when we were there in the summer. It turned out to be interesting and strange. This post is an odd one in that I can't put names to the photos. We only recognised two macro moths from our British guide book - Ruby Tiger, Vestal. And they could be wrong, maybe they are related Iberian species. We also recognised Pine Processionary Moth but mainly we found out we've a lot to find out - starting this winter. 

The moths were generally more active than in Britain, presumably because it was hotter and lots got away. We couldn't use a trap of course because that isn't allowed in Spain without a Licence which you must get from the the local Ayuntemiento.  We almost went along to ask for one with a Spanish-speaking friend, Christine, We didn't but the idea of what would be their reaction and what they would do always gave us a laugh, especially after a few beers. I imagine we'd have had to explain what a moth is for a start. It's a bit of a backwater, which is why we like it. 

There were a few larger moths which happened along including a couple of Yellow Underwing types but the majority appeared to be micros, albeit large micros. How much of this is the region and how much the time of year we won't know until we try again, having done some learning.

(Since writing the above, top moth-er and all round good bloke, Dave Grundy, has helped me put a few species or families to the photos.) 

 Ermine sp ? and Uresephita gilvata

An Euchromeus pyralid sp.

pyralid sp.

pyralid sp.

Catacola conversa

Catacola sp.

A Prominent sp.

Odice jucunda


A Dioryctria pyralid sp.

Cymbalophora pudica