Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Photos from France - August 2016

A family holiday in France, visiting our friends in Limoges for a few days then heading down to Vendoire on the Dordogne -Charente border for a week. We've been here before (2013 and 2014), staying at a friend's place again.

I took it easy this time - very easy, especially after overdoing the partying in Limoges...

Birds


  Black Redstart - Solignac, Limoges, France, 12th August 2016

  Black Redstart - Vendoire, Charente, France, 16th August 2016

  Common Buzzard - Vendoire, Charente, France, 17th August 2016

 Cirl Bunting - Vendoire, Charente, France, 16th August 2016

  Common Kestrel - Vendoire, Charente, France, 20th August 2016

  Kingfisher - Vendoire, Charente, France, 17th August 2016

Despite several visits to Des Tourbières de Vendoire over the last four years, this is the first Kingfisher I've seen there. It's not a brilliant site for birds (the Moorhen and Nuthatch below, plus Spotted Flycatcher and the commoner warblers being just about the best - or most obvious - birds).

  Juvenile Moorhen - Vendoire, Charente, France, 20th August 2016

  Nuthatch - Vendoire, Charente, France, 20th August 2016

  Rock Sparrow - Solignac, Limoges, France, 12th August 2016

  Turtle Dove - Vendoire, Charente, France, 19th August 2016

There certainly seemed to be fewer Turtle Doves around this year. I found them easier to find in previous years...

Butterflies

 

  Swallowtail - Vendoire, Charente, France, 16th August 2016

  Scarce Swallowtail - Solignac, Limoges, France, 11th August 2016

  Meadow Brown - Vendoire, Charente, France, 17th August 2016

  Map Butterfly - Les Tourbières de la Chapelle-Grésignac, Dordogne, 17th August 2016

  Great Banded Grayling - Vendoire, Charente, France, 20th August 2016

  Gatekeeper - Vendoire, Charente, France, 19th August 2016

  Gatekeeper - Vendoire, Charente, France, 17th August 2016

  Dryad - Vendoire, Charente, France, 17th August 2016

  Brimstone - Vendoire, Charente, France, 20th August 2016

Moths


  Hummingbird Hawk-moth - Vendoire, Charente, France, 16th August 2016
  Passenger Moth - Solignac, Limoges, France, 11th August 2016

  Latticed Heath - Vendoire, Charente, France, 16th August 2016

Dragon and Damselflies


Banded Demoiselle - Gurat, Charente, 19th August 2016

Blue-tailed Damselfly - Vendoire, Charente, 17th August 2016

White-legged Damselfly - Les Tourbières de la Chapelle-Grésignac, Dordogne, 17th August 2016 

Common Spreadwing - Les Tourbières de la Chapelle-Grésignac, Dordogne, 17th August 2016

Broad Scarlet Dragonlfly - Vendoire, Charente, 17th August 2016

Yellow Clubtail - Vendoire, Charente, 17th August 2016

 Black-tailed Skimmer - Vendoire, Charente, 17th August 2016

Other insects


 Bloody-nosed Beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa) - Vendoire, Charente, 19th August 2016
 
European Mantis (Mantis religiosa) - Vendoire, Charente, 19th August 2016

Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus) - Vendoire, Charente, 20th August 2016
 
Striped Shieldbug (Graphosoma lineatum - Vendoire, Charente, 19th August 2016

Mammals


Coypu - Vendoire, Charente, 20th August 2016

 Amphibians


  Marsh Frog - Solignac, Limoges, France, 11th August 2016

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Western Swamphen, Minsmere, and White Stork, Bedlington - 2nd August 2016

Some shameless twitching, but worth it to see a potential first for Britain (that'll be the Swamphen, not the Stork, obvs...).

The Western (Purple) Swaphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) at Minsmere RSPB was first seen on 31st July. I won't recount the details of how the bird was found - you can read the finder's account on BirdGuides here and discussion of the bird on BirdForum here.

The Western Swamphen was on the small poll across from the South hide, a ten-minute walk from the visitor centre. When I arrived (around 08:00) a couple of the 25-or-so birders present informed me
it had just gone into the reeds. Within ten minutes it was back out, and spent the next half-an-hour making its way along the back of the pool.


Western Swamphen, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk - 2nd August 2016



Western Swamphens are impressive birds, both for their colour and size. The bird's legs and bill are the bright red of 1970s plastic toys, and areas of the plumage ranges from slate grey to blue suede to Cadbury's Dairy Milk purple. But it was when it walked past a Moorhen, towering over it like Gulliver in Lilliput, that you really appreciated the bird's size.

I'd seen this species before, on the Ebro Delta in Spain, back when it was called Purple Swamphen (before being split from African Swamphen). My photography skills have improved (only) slightly since then...

 Purple Swamphen, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

In fact when I saw the Minsmere bird on the pool I had a real sense of déja vu about this Ebro Delta bird. The habitat and behavior of the bird (feeding along the edge of thepool, keeping close to the reed boundary) were identical. One difference is you don't generally find wildfowlers' used shotgun cartridges on RSPB reserves...

After having my fill of this striking bird, I had look around the reserve and took the long route back to the car park. The Scrape was quiet, with few waders except for Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover and Redshank; but I could hear Bearded Tits over the reed bed. I had great views of a showy Green Woodpecker, but the undoubted highlight was a juvenile Common Cuckoo on the edge of the woods.


Common Cuckoo, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk - 2nd August 2016

After seeing the Western Swamphen, which is almost certain to admitted to the British List, I clearly now had tick-fever. Faced with the long journey home, I decided to make it longer by going via the Bedlington in Greater London, in order to see a White Stork

It's long journey to see a bird I'd seen before (both in the UK and France), but so many (all?) White Storks seen in Yorkshire (certainly in West Yorkshire) are not considered wild due to the free-flying population at Harewood House between Leeds and Harrogate. So, if I wanted to see a kosha White Stork in the UK, it would have to be away from Yorkshire, and this bird (part of a small influx following prolonged dry weather further south - cf Western Swamphen) fitted the bill perfectly.

 White Stork, Bedlington, Greater London - 2nd August 2016

Another striking bird, also towering over the birds around it, including the 20+ Grey Herons on site. Worth the effort to get down to see it. In twitching terms, not a bad day at all.


Tuesday, 5 July 2016

American White-winged Scoter, Murcur, Aberdeenshire - 2nd July 2016

Britain's third accepted White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi), and really fine bird in a lovely part of the country, via an enjoyable twitch with @Cleckbirder and @DarraghHudson.

American White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi), Murcur, Aberdeenshire
Saturday 2nd July 2016

I say Britain's third, but Ireland also had one in County Kerry in 2011. Then there's the subspecies to think about. This bird (and the previous record at the same site in 2011) is an American White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi deglandi), or if you prefer, just plain White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi). The 2011 Irish bird and another at Musselburgh, Scotland in 2013, were Asian White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi stejnegeri), or if you prefer, Stejneger's Scoter (Melanitta stejnegeri). I hope that's clear. If not, here's a great primer on White-winged Scoter taxonomy from the late, great Martin Garner on Birding Frontiers.

This bird was first noted on 25th June 2016, a Saturday, allowing quite a few people to connect over the first weekend. It was in a large flock of mostly Common Scoter, with lots of Velvet Scoter and a few Common Eider mixed in, plus a Surf Scoter. Fortunately, the flock stayed faithful to the area off Murcur golf course all week, prompting the early start (well, late on Friday).

 Some of the mixed Scoter flock
We arrived on site around 05:15, and the conditions were perfect: mild temperature, sunshine but with light cloud, and negligible wind. We joined approximately seven other birders on the dunes, with the scoter flock spread out on the water in front of us - maybe up to 1500 birds. I set up my scope, and looked out. At the back of the very first group of c15 scoters I looked at was a larger bird, with a large white 'tick' mark around the eye, and a big white wing patch. It clearly differed from the Velvet Scoters around it. Eh, could this be it?! The bill had the restricted coloured tip to the upper mandible, which was pinkish (red/orange) rather rather yellow on the Velvet Scoter.

I needed to compare it with the Velvet Scoters in the wider flock, so I moved my scope away form the bird and back again. Each time, I realised the bird at the back looked different and matched the images and description of deglandi White-winged Scoter I'd researched over the previous couple of days. Of course, with all this moving around of my scope, I lost the bird! I couldn't say, "I just saw it, but can't point it out now".  Also, I wasn't confident enough about the ID to shout it out - I'd not seen one before - so I mumbled something about an "interesting bird somewhere at the back, drifting right" to my neighbours. Within a few minutes a birder near me said he had it, and pointed everyone to the area at the back of the flock, to where my bird would have drifted to by then. Yes, it was the same bird I'd seen, and yes, it was the White-winged Scoter. Sigh... If only I had the guts to say out loud what I knew inside.

 Spot the American White-winged Scoter...

Well, it was great to see it, and have it confirmed, and to know (if only internally) that I could pick the bird out independently.

My American White-winged Scoter notes

We moved up the coast to view from further north, avoiding looking directly into the sun. The bird showed very well from here, and the three of us each picked it out as we scanned the flock for a Surf Scoter. The brown/grey flanks of the White-winged Scoter showed well in the sun, compared with the solid black Velvet Scoters, and bird came close enough for us to appreciate the unique bill knob shape.

 The "crowd" by around 9:00am

Starlings, Murcur, Bridge of Don, Aberdeenshire - Saturday 2nd July 2016

There were a few other birds around: Curlew, Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit on the beach, Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Eiders in with the scoter flock, Pied Wagtails, Yellowhammers and Skylarks on the golf course, and the odd Gannet and Sandwich Tern flying past. But, Ythan Estuary was just up the coast, with its tern colonies and regular King Eider, so we gave up the Surf Scoter search and headed there.

 Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire - Saturday 2nd July 2016

Ythan Estuary is a nice site, especially when it's quiet. We scanned all the Eider we could see, but could not see a King Eider. At the river mouth, the Atlantic Grey Seals were making their mournful calls, and several swam up close to us out of curiosity. Cormorants were drying their wings and more Common Eiders flew in as the tide rose.


Atlantic Grey Seals, Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire - Saturday 2nd July 2016

Away from the river mouth were the tern colonies, with Common, Arctic, Sandwich and Little Tern all present. The best opportunity I'd had this year to reacquaint myself with these species.


Lion's Mane Jellyfish, Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire - Saturday 2nd July 2016

A great trip, with good company, good birds, and a top-notch lifer too. That takes my British list 396.