21 September 2016

Exploring Papa Westray - September 2016

After visiting Fair Isle last year we were keen to return to the Northern Isles but wanted to try something different. A conversation with David Douglas on St Agnes led us to want to try Papa Westray in Orkney. Having decided to go we must have been the only people a bit equivocal about the Chestnut Bunting found there subsequently - it was on the map now. Well done Julian Branscombe though, a great find by a really nice bloke.

The Wicks (North and South) were great for waders or maybe the American term Shorebirds works better here because the Island is full of waders but the biggest number inhabit the grasslands mainly - Curlew, the odd Whimbrel, Barwits, Lapwings, Golden Plover and zillions of Snipe. They were everywhere, on walls on roads in the morning - everywhere. We love Snipe so we were happy. Meanwhile back on the beaches it was Redshank, Sanderling and Dunlin mainly, Constantly moving with a backdrop of Seals and Eider.

The Fulmars were ever present and really close.

We visited the Holm of Papa, a small island off the east coast of Papay, it has two famous Neolithic sites, one of which was a burial chamber 70 feet long inside with side chambers for bodies. One of many amazing Orkney historical sites. One of the highlights of the whole trip occurred when a pod of 10 or so adult Risso's Dolphins appeared close in to the Holm and gave an amazing display. It was pretty memorable, we've seen Risso's well before but never so well as this.

 A couple of Purple Sandpipers were also present on the Holm, a hint of hundreds to come for the winter here.

Swallows were ever present, the last brood just fledging as we were on the Island. Twite were another breeding resident but sometimes needed a little bit of sorting out with large numbers of young Linnets knocking about.

The first Chaffinch of the autumn, there were a dozen or so around before we left.

North Wick here on a sunny day and the North-west on an equally sunny day with a swell rolling in.

There were still lots of Bonxies around, hanging about on the heather and out to sea. Just a few Arctic Skuas though, and lots of Fulmars. Three Red-breasted Mergansers joined the Eider for a day or two.

Wheatears were ever present, bouncing along everywhere every day. Maybe a hundred or so daily, many big, brightly-coloured Greenland and Iceland type birds. House Sparrows and Starlings too along the beaches and masses of the latter feeding on the kelp.

Holland Farm is like the cultural centre of the Island, amazing buildings and artifacts, all shown off, happily, by Neil Rendall the owner. It's also the best place on the Island to find a sheltering passerine migrant (along with the school). A few Pied Flycatchers, and Warblers were seen here but nothing better this timeunfortunately. We had a few near misses on our trip, a probable Buff-breasted Sandpiper disappeared before we could get closer and we missed a Juvenile Sabine's Gull, found by Julian down at the New pier by ten minutes. But such is life.

Out at the North end of the island we had some good birds. A Short-eared Owl came in-off the sea just in front of us one lunchtime and Kathy had what seems certainly to be a Rustic Bunting with the Mipits there. I missed it by seconds unfortunately. In some ways the story of the trip was Lapland Buntings. There was  a bit (or a lot) of an invasion and we got more than our fair share with 50+ some days. They provided good chances for photography.

So will we be back? Yes almost certainly, next year.

It's a lovely Island, very friendly and very attractive, most people stay one or two nights but we felt two weeks was much better. It gave us a chance of some good birds (though we hit a thin period generally) and allowed us to be a part of the Island for a bit. Timing is the thing. just when is best so that it fits in with other commitments like St Agnes - which is where we are heading off to next.

20 September 2016


The summer season in Galera, North Granada lasted from mid May to mid August this year and it was a first great opportunity to try out the new camera and lense. So when we first arrived it was clear that Rollers were doing well and showing at a number of sites on the outskirts of Galera village. It would have taken a stronger will than mine not to take time trying to get some shots. This is my favourite.

One of the themes of this trip was finding things around the village and nearer-by than we imagined, like these Black-bellied Sandgrouse which could be found daily along the track to Huescar.

I took a lot of Sandgrouse photos but only have access to a few due to changing laptops, there are sometimes more, and better, images on my Facebook page. Just a temporary problem though, hopefully all sorted now. One of the most important things to check when we got to Galera was the status of our resident Trumpeter Finches. Staking out the Water Tower had the desired effect and it was quite clearly another successful breeding season with good numbers of juveniles present. It's difficult to be sure of numbers overall now but the birds have excited some interest and visits were made by local naturalists Mick Richardson and Juan Perez de Ana with the latter recording 50 birds at least. The leak at the Water Tower is the best place for photos.

The normal Thursday visit to Huescar market gave a chance to watch Pallid Swifts coming to their nests in an old building on the corner of a small square. Always great to watch and always difficult to photograph as they scream in and out.

Black Wheatears are common enough, virtually a garden bird but always a bit shy so a reasonable chance to get a photo of one reasonably close and settled is not to be missed.

One of the great things about spending time in Southern Spain is the opportunity to catch up with a wide range of wildlife. These Viperine Snakes, juvenile and adult here, are pretty much guaranteed wherever there's water. Love 'em even if not every one does.

Another common bird, locally, usually in the scrubby maquis is Spectacled Warbler. They aren't easy to get to grips with  but this youngster really showed well. Pleased with these pics.

A couple of previous themes, wider wildlife and local stuff. I just didn't realise Spanish Ibex were in the area and we were delighted to come across this bunch feeding in a field next to a really deep and impressive ravine where is home, clearly.

Pretty boy here was up a mountain in Baza and quite unconcerned about us. A typical Red Fox, some of the individuals in the drier areas look very different with finer coats and bigger ears, quite North African in fact.

This juvenile Short-toed Eagle frequented the track to Huescar, a common bird in summer though perhaps slightly less common than Booted.

The star Butterfly hereabouts is Black-winged Green, found only in two small sites in Spain, otherwise a North African species. Haven't found it yet but there are plenty of these Scarce Swallowtails which are actually pretty unscarce but certainly impressive.

Dragonflies are one of the wonders of this part of the world and there are plenty we haven't seen yet. We caught up with Large Pincertail for the first time and also Violet Dropwing (two pics below).  A North African and tropical species which has colonised Spain and Southern France in the last 30 years. In my view the best looking dragonfly you can get. Also Broad Scarlet (Scarlet Darter) and Red-veined Darter below.


Another bird along the very productive Huescar track, a juvenile Woodchat Shrike.

 And yet another from the same place, not really common locally, Black Kite.

And some local humans, well 4,000 years ago humans. Images from the cuevas des letreros near Velez Blanco. Unassuming but with great weight. Give me the real thing over an interactive or interpretive experience any day. Ibex below.

And to finish, the much maligned and overlooked Feral Pigeons (NOT) or almost not anyway. Very little evidence (but some) of anything other than pure Rock Dove genes out in the campo. It's different in the towns and villages but quite encouraging in the countryside. These were breeding in the gorge at Castril.

Oh and back in January. Can't wait.