20 July 2016

Black-headed Wagtail May 8th Whitesands Bay, St Davids.

On May 8th Kathy and I set out for a walk around St Davids Head. As we set off down the Cabin Track a Yellow Wagtail called and flew into the scrubby field where we've had a couple of Woodchat Shrikes in the last few springs. Given that the call was pretty typical Yellow Wagtail, it was a surprise and a delight that the bird on the ground displayed a black head. This also posed a few problems of course, in order to decide what race was here we needed to get good views of the extent of the black head, colour of throat, whether the pattern was consistent on both sides of the head etc.

First impressions were good, both sides of the head were the same and, excitingly, the head was uniformly glossy black with no difference to the ear coverts or the nape.

The upperparts generally were as for a bright male Yellow Wagtail. I don't see enough of them in this part of the world to say anything further. The underparts were entirely bright yellow, including the throat which showed no contrast.

There were no signs of dusky marking below and only the only slightest trace of a tiny white moustachial mark. When I've seen Black-headed Wagtails before and I've seen many, they were just like this bird. However the calls were always distinctly of the more rasping 'eastern-type'. This individual called just like a normal 'western-type'. I put out appeals on the Pembs Blog and Twitter for any information relevant to this and had several responses from people with experience of Black-headed Wagtails in Egypt, Cyprus etc saying that many did give 'western-type' calls and some did almost exclusively. This was a comfort. I also looked up images and accounts of Grey-headed Wagtails looking very like Black-headed. There were two particular individuals, one in Norfolk and one on St Agnes. The first did show some dusky markings on the breast at least and the second a particularly strong white moustachial stripe. I can see nothing in the plumage to indicate the St Davids bird can be anything but  a good Black-headed Wagtail.

Unfortunately it didn't hang around for very long, maybe half an hour, following the horses around the field so nobody else got to see what was an amazing looking bird, one of the highlights of the spring.

LESVOS (the return) April 2016

There can't be an easier way of seeing loads of the best birds that the eastern Mediterranean has to offer than a spring trip to Lesvos. And so Kathy and I were ready for our second visit covering the last week of April. We took advantage of the hospitality of Les and Martin Finch to stay overnight at Maidenhead before being chauffered by Les to Gatwick for the early morning 'Birders' Special' flight direct to Mytelini. Martin Finch and Martin Bicknell were with us and we were looking forward to meeting up with top birder and photographer Lee Amery. And as a special treat we also bumped into old friends David Bradshaw and Ian Beggs. We had booked a room at the Kalloni Bay Hotel again, an excellent, friendly place and we had a balcony overlooking Skala Kalloni Pool with attendant Glossy Ibises etc. The only hitch was that our hire car wasn't there and when it did arrive it was a pretty sorry looking 4x4, I think they'd forgotten about us. However it did the job, powering round the mountain tracks without any hassle - and we certainly didn't worry about scratches.

The Passenger window worked from the Driver's side and occasionally the Driver's window too.

Note the tape sealing the glove-box.
 When we arrived we heard news of Baillon's Crake showing well near the ford on Tsiana River and sure enough there it was along with a couple of Little Crakes, which in itself was lucky because the usual guaranteed site of Metochi Lake had become overgrown and we didn't see any there.

Baillon's Crake

Baillon's Crake

Little Crake

Little Crake

Some of the migrants Lesvos is famous for were also present in the area around the River and the Salt Pans and it was great to see so many again.

Montague's Harrier

Red-backed Shrike

Purple Herons

Ruddy Shelducks

Spanish Sparrow

Temminck's Stint

Whiskered Tern

Black-winged Stilt

Black-headed Bunting
Kathy and I set off to explore the Sheep Fields (Alykes Wetlands) on about day two or three, a favourite spot for migrants and best place to find Red-throated Pipits. I spent some time photographing the Pipits since they are a favourite of mine and showing well due to the rather dry conditions.

We also came across a couple of Red Foxes and a Spur-thighed Tortoise, oh and Kathy found some Donkeys too (sigh).
Red Fox

Spur-thighed Tortoise

We then found something a bit better in the form of a Collared Pratincole which showed well after a while and was the only one of the trip as it turned out. As we got to the creek at the far end of the Fields we noticed a pale Whinchat-like bird which didn't look quite right. It then turned out to have a big white rump. Desert Wheatear flashed through my head and then it was off down the creek. I contacted the Martins and Lee, telling them about the bird. Lee asked if I'd considered Eastern (Siberian) Stonechat since the first for Lesvos had been seen not too far away a couple of years before. I hadn't really considered it and set off to try to relocate it. While I was looking, the Martins turned up and I could see Lee approaching in the distance. I eventually re-found the bird as Lee arrived but was shaken by his first words ' I tried to phone you. Did you see the Pelican fly over your head?' I hadn't of course and nor had Kathy and the Martins. Luckily a few minutes later the Dalmatian Pelican returned, flying around before landing out in the Bay. What a bird! What a tick!

Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian Pelican

Still it was time to sort out the other bird and some good, if not particularly prolonged views showed that it was indeed a female Siberian Stonechat, if accepted the second record for Lesvos. Here's the beauty in her pomp, a Birders' bird I'd say.

Siberian (Eastern) Stonechat

'Wraparound' white rump.

Siberian (Eastern) Stonechat.
Another Lesvos rarity was reported from a small irrigation reservoir near Kalloni. Six Ferruginous Ducks were another really special record.

Ferruginous Ducks
We spent some time at Petra, catching up with Ruppell's Warblers again and managed a few visits to Sigri, which, along with Ipsolou Monastery en route, makes for a brilliant day out. As always some good birds were seen with a special mention for Eleanora's Falcons which can be difficult but were pretty obliging this time around. Superb birds.

Ruppell's Warbler

Cretzchmar's Bunting

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

Sombre Tit

Wood Warbler


Eleanora's Falcon

Eleanora's Falcon

Eleanora's Falcon

Eleanora's Falcon

Scops Owl
The hoped-for mini invasion of Red-footed Falcons happened at Kalloni before we were due to leave.

Red-footed Falcons

Red-footed Falcon 

Red-footed Falcon

And finally, back at Kalloni Salt Pans, the rather gruesome scene of a Peregrine tearing up a just-caught Avocet.