Thursday, September 17, 2015

Barred Warbler

Thanks to Rich Seargent, Kevin Campbell and Dave Baker (The Tice's Crew minus Rich Horton) for inviting me along on the Barred Warbler twitch at Staines Moor. We got there about 08:30 (5th September 2015) and there were already a few birders spread out scanning the massive bramble bushes. Luckily the bird had shown but we didn't connect until about 10:20 am. Photo opportunities were limited but we all go a few record shots. 

There were a few distractions to keep us busy whilst waiting for the barred to show including 4 Whinchat, Yellow Wagtail, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit. 


Friday, September 11, 2015

Kefalonia -Greece 2015

Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands, (700 sq km) and is located off the west coast of Greece. Though, in recent times, it is most notably known as the location for Captain Corellis Mandolin; it also has lots of history, interesting geography and endangered fauna. 

As it sits in the earthquake zone it has seen lots of changes, especially the 1953 earthquake which badly affected all but the northern town of Fiskado. Mount Ainos dominates the landscape and at 1628 meters can be seen from most areas. One of the most famous residents is the endangered Loggerhead Turtle which breed on the southern beaches.

What follows is a short trip report highlighting my casual observations from 23rd August – 30th August 2015. Though this was not a birding holiday, I did manage a few morning sorties in various areas and hope that this will give some indication of what to expect. Kephalonia is not a ‘birding destination’ but for those of you who visit, a little effort will afford you some nice birds.

Travel and Accommodation   

The holiday was booked through Thomas Cook with Olympic Holidays staying at the Liberatos Village Hotel in Lassi. We flew Air Germania out of Gatwick and though there were delays of about an hour each way the flights were fine. Flight time was about 2 hours 50 minutes and is a no frills flight. The town of Lassi is located in the southwest - a ten minute drive north of the airport and a five minute drive south of the capital Argostoli.

Liberatos Village hotel, sits approximately at the centre of Lassi, but up a very steep hill, affording you a good ten minute hike from the town. However, after sampling some of the wonderful Greek cuisine, you might be grateful of burning off a few calories.

The accommodation was as expected, basic but comfortable. Air conditioning is installed but must be paid for separately – about 50 euros per week. There were three single beds, stove top, fridge, and minimal cups, glasses, plates etc. The bathroom could have had a couple more features which would have made things more comfortable like a shower curtain that worked and a hook on the wall so you could actually stand under the shower rather than having to hold it – basic stuff. The infamous sewage system is still in place – don’t put toilet paper down the loo! We were on the second floor with a nice balcony, table and chairs and drying rack – perfect.

Daily Journal

23rd August 2015

Arrived at 22:00 local time (2 hours ahead of the U.K.) and met the Olympic Rep Amy who guided us to our coach. This all went very smoothly including the transfer of passengers and baggage onto a smaller bus to take us up the small switchback road to Liberatos Village. After settling in and a drink at the pool bar we got the first bird of the trip – European Nightjar! Three individuals were hawking moths around a light next to our balcony.

24th August 2015 

Collared Dove was the first bird of the day at 06:55 am. Blackbird and Swallow came next then got looks at a scalding bird I was scanning for - Sardinian Warbler! As I would find out, this bird is fairly common here but what a cracker! With its white throat, black head and bold red eye it really does stand out as a top bird for me on this trip. 

Sardinian Warbler (male)

Red-rumped Swallow, Spotted Flycatcher also got added to the list which totaled 17 species before breakfast. At 09:30 we met with Amy by the pool who filled us in on all of the excursions and local attractions. We also got good intel on recommended restaurants and car hire companies. After signing up for a boat excursion and a car we headed down to the capital Argostoli by taxi. (6 euros)

Argostoli has something for everyone, architecture, town square, shops, bars, restaurants etc, but, for me, the attraction is the harbour. At about 11:00 am local fisherman return to the harbour and sort out the days catch. Anything they don’t want goes overboard which in turn attracts some of the Loggerhead Turtles. For anyone visiting the island this is by far the best way to see these amazing creatures. We watched for about ½ hour and witnessed at least 4 individuals (all females) patrolling in between the boats and along the harbor wall – amazing! 
Loggerhead Turtle

After spending the afternoon on Makris Gialos beach in Lassi we picked up our hire car, a Fiat Panda (210 euros for 5 days) from CBR car rentals. We headed southeast along the coastal road to the traditional fishing village of Katelios, about a 45 minute drive. En-route  a few more species were added including Alpine Swift, Common Swift, Buzzard and Woodchat Shrike.

25th August 2015

Usual suspects greeted me on my early morning walk of the resort, with amazing views of Sardinian Warbler. Today was spent exploring the island, heading first to Sami on the west coast (45 mins) then to the Grogarati Cave and Melissani Cave. We then continued our travels up island until we reached Fiskardo. This quaint Greek fishing village with its old buildings still intact, is one of the only places not affected by the 1953 earthquake. Birds seen included Hooded Crow, Blue Rock Thush (check wires and tops of buildings), Goshawk, Short-toed Eagle, Honey Buzzard and Kestrel. That evening after another walk up the steep hill from Lassi we had our first and only Scops Owl calling near the apartment.

Short-toed Eagle
Blue Rock Thrush
Melissani Cave
 26th August 2015

A lazy morning followed by a drive to Lixouri, which sits northeast of Argostoli across the gulf. You can either take a short ferry ride across the bay or drive the coastal road. We arrived at what is referred to as the Livadi Marshes at about 10:45 am. It is the only bit of marshland that we came across and is located off the main road just north of Livadi. 

Here we racked up a few more birds which were great as the species list was still looking a little thin. Great Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Garganey, Teal, Mallard, Moorhen and Coot were the most obvious and all new. After another scan Green Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and Little Grebe showed themselves. In the pines were tits and Chaffinch but also Wood Warbler and a single Icterine Warbler. All these were viewed from the high ground looking down on the marsh. Down at sea level on the main road Marsh Harrier was noted and on the bay side, Common Sandpiper, Stonechat and Zitting Cisticola. Continuing on we turned right onto a small road which leads to a quarry. Kestrel, Hood Crow, Red-backed Shrike and Woodchat Shrike were present.

European Bee-eater
The small roads south and west of Lixouri were good for shrikes and Stonechat. Plenty of Buzzards around to keep you busy and near Chavdata we finally bumped into one of my favorite birds: European Bee-eater! 15 to be exact. Initially, they were flying around up high and calling. Eventually they landed on some cables which afforded great views.

27th August 2015

Today I was up early as this was my official birding day of the trip – first stop Livadi Marsh. Here I clocked up a few more trip birds including Water Rail, Wood Sandpiper, Peregrine Falcon, Chukar, Night Heron, Reed Warbler and Kingfisher. I followed the route we had taken on the previous day, getting a few photos this time and adding Wheatear to the list. A side road detour south of Livadi produced another Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike and Wheatear sighting and panoramic views of Petani Beach from the cliffs above. 

Night Heron

Woodchat Shrike

Red-rumped Swallow

Livadi Marsh

The afternoon was spent by the pool until about 16:00 when we headed into the hills then finally to Mount Ainos. The road up was fantastic with amazing views. We stayed around the summit for a while and it was here I added my first lifer of the trip – Sombre Tit! Coal Tit and Blue Tit made up the bulk of the tit flock I noted, but with a little luck I managed a look at a single Sombre Tit - lacking the wing bars and brown tinges on the flanks. Other species here included Robin and Firecrest. 

Mount Ainos
En-route back we took one of the minor roads via Agios Gerasimos Monastery and the Robola Winery. This was well worth the effort as not only was the Monastery amazing we added Cirl Bunting and Whinchat.

28th August 2015

Captain Makis Glass Bottom Boat trip. A great day with plenty of fun; Swimming, snorkeling, kayaks, volleyball and BBQ on the beach. Yellow-legged Gulls, Black-headed Gulls were noted as we passed one of the fish farms. A single Kingfisher seen near the Argostoli lighthouse and 16 Cormorant were observed.

29th August 2015

Another trip (08:30am start) around the coastal road passed Lixouri, this time we headed to the famous XI (Ksi) Beach. Here we spent a few hours enjoying the shallow water, red sand and enjoyed a free spa session, using the natural clay from the cliffs which is said to have cleaning and tightening effects to the skin. Serin was the only new bird added here and at about 14:30 we head back to Lassi to return the car. Between Lixouri and Livadi, just north of Pali, we spotted a raptor circling about some hills. Seeing so many Common Buzzard, I almost dismissed it, but decided to pullover just to make sure. I am glad I did. This was not a Common Buzzard. 

Circling above us was an amazing bird – IMPERIAL EAGLE! This was my most wanted bird of the trip and I had actually written it off. This sub-adult bird circled three times before heading east and disappearing. I didn’t have time to get the camera but got an amazing look! Another quick scan at Livadi Marsh produced a new bird for the trip and a bird I haven’t seen since 1996 – Marsh Sandpiper!


30th August 2015

Our last day started with a mooch around Argostoli in the morning where I managed to get some Gopro footage of the Loggerhead Turtles. This was followed by a flying visit to Lassi before slogging up the hill one last time just in time to spot the final species of the trip - Golden Oriole! The remainder of the day was spent around the pool where Re-rumped Swallow and Alpine Swift kept me entertained until heading for the airport.

 Top tips:

•    Bye a map! Directions and sign posts are not always clear...think ahead.
•    Give way on roundabouts – once you are on a roundabout you must allow traffic from the right to have right of way – let them on.
•    Let locals pass you on the road if you are sightseeing and driving slow.
•    Take cash and pay cash as much as possible to help the local community.
•    Gratuadies are not mandatory but appreciated.
•    Drink bottled water only.
•    Don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet.
•    Research Car Hire – We chose CBR who were recommended by our rep and were excellent. We felt safe and not conned by small print. No problems.
•    You will see birds when driving the coastal roads – BE CAREFUL – I had to let plenty of birds go as there was no safe place to stop. Keep vigilant whilst driving – let the passenger search for birds, driver stay focused.
•    Sign up for excursions – they are fun and get you to areas which could produce good birds + you will be supporting local economy.

Species List:

1.    Teal – Livadi Marsh
2.    Mallard –Livadi Marsh
3.    Garganey – Livadi Marsh
4.    Chukar – Livadi Marsh
5.    Cormorant – Argostoli Gulf from boat
6.    Night Heron – 7 at Livadi Marsh
7.    Little Egret – Livadi Marsh
8.    Great Egret – Livadi Marsh
9.    Grey Heron – Livadi Marsh
10.    Little Grebe – Livadi Marsh
11.    Honey Buzzard – Konidarata (between Assos and Fiskardo)
12.    Marsh Harrier – Livadi Marsh
13.    Goshawk – Konidarata (between Assos and Fiskardo)
14.    Buzzard – daily common
15.    Imperial Eagle – north of Pali
16.    Short-toed Eagle – west of Lixouri and Konidarata (between Assos and Fiskardo)
17.    Kestrel – Livadi area and Konidarata (between Assos and Fiskardo)
18.    Peregrine Falcon – Livadi Marsh
19.    Water Rail - Livadi Marsh
20.    Moorhen - Livadi Marsh
21.    Coot - Livadi Marsh
22.    Black-winged Stilt - Livadi Marsh
23.    Green Sandpiper - Livadi Marsh
24.    Common Sandpiper - Livadi Marsh (along shoreline of bay)
25.    Wood Sandpiper - Livadi Marsh
26.    Marsh Sandpiper - Livadi Marsh
27.    Black-headed Gull – Argostoli harbour and fishfarm seen from boat
28.    Yellow-legged Gulls – seen daily near coast
29.    Rock Pigeon – Melissani Caves
30.    Collared Dove – Common in most areas
31.    Scops Owl – Single bird calling at Liberatos Village
32.    Nightjar – up to 3 birds hawking insects around street lights at Liberatos Village
33.    Swift – Lassi, Melissani Cave area, various
34.    Alpine Swift – Liberatos Village and Katelios
35.    Kingfisher – Livadi Marsh and Argostoli Bay
36.    Bee-eater – Livadi Marsh and Lixouri area
37.    Red-backed Shrike – Quary road next to Livadi Marsh
38.    Woodchat Shrike – regular in various areas, often perched on telephone or electrical wires
39.    Jay – common
40.    Raven – 2 seen fly north over Lassi
41.    Hooded Crow – Livadi area, Fiskardo and Robola Winery
42.    Firecrest – Mount Ainous
43.    Blue Tit – regular various
44.    Great Tit – regular various
45.    Coal Tit – Mount Ainous
46.    Sombre Tit – Mount Ainous*
47.    Swallow - common
48.    House Martin – Liberatos Village
49.    Red-rumped Swallow - common
50.    Icterine Warbler – 1 at Livadi Marsh
51.    Wood Warbler – Livadi Marsh and Mount Ainous
52.    Reed Warbler – Livadi Marsh
53.    Sardinian Warbler – regular various
54.    Blackbird – common
55.    Spotted Flycatcher – Liberatos Village and Lixouri
56.    Robin – Mount Ainous
57.    Whinchat – Robola Winery
58.    Stonechat – Livadi Marsh and Lixouri area
59.    Wheatear – Lixouri, Mount Ainous and cliffs above Petani Beach
60.    House Sparrow – common around towns
61.    Yellow Wagtail - Konidarata (between Assos and Fiskardo)
62.    Chaffinch – Liberatos Village
63.    Greenfinch – Liberatos Village
64.    Serin – 2 at Xi Beach
65.    Goldfinch – Liberatos Village and Lassi
66.    Linnet – Liberatos Village
67.    Cirl Bunting – 2 at Robola Winery
68.    Golden Oriole – 1 at Liberatos Village

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Terek Sandpiper

Before I waffle on too much about how absolutely stoked and pumped I am to have finally seen this amazing little wader I want to hand out some advise....up to you whether you take it or not. Since being back in the UK I have chased my fair share of rarities and to be honest my luck has been pretty good. So, why the hell I turned around on Sundays twitch I'll never know. Saturday and Sundays birding was brilliant and when I realized that Terek Sandpiper had turned up in Church Norton (1 hour 15 minute drive from home) I couldn't believe my luck. After having a bite to eat with my finally I hit the road. My psychology on chased birds is that if I try for it I am committed and as such don't take notice of negative updates. However, half hour shy of Church Norton I checked the alert to learn the bird hadn't been seen for 2 1/2 hours. In an act of madness I immediately turned around and headed home. I have never done that before. I never will again. I just had the worst feeling I was going to dip. An hour later I was stuck in a traffic jam a few miles from home when I received a text from my mate Dave Baker informing me the bird was back and 'showing well'! 

To cut a long story short. DON'T EVER DO THAT. Always go for the bird...NEVER give up. If you miss it on site after standing for a few hours with other kindred souls, then you can go home with your head held tried. OK, bottom line, the following day I kept my eye on the news and hit the road after work, arriving at 7:00 pm. There was about 20 birders there and as you can see I got the bird. It was not that close as the grainy pictures might indicate but I was still happy with the shots from my 60 x Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 at full zoom. This bird has been on my mind for many years and I've dipped on it twice. Some birds on the bucket list are special and this one certainly fits the bill...see what I did there:)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Thursley Common - Part 2

Had a great Fathers Day morning back on Thursley Common. To continue my heathland themed weekend I spent some very enjoyable hours watching the aerobatics of an amazing little hunter - the Eurasian Hobby. My first real encounter with this species was in 1995 while ringing at Elms Farm in Sussex. I remember seeing hundreds of Swallow, Sand Martin and House Martin swarming above the reed beds in August. The synchronicity of these hirundines was breathtaking and quite hypnotic to watch. That was until the Hobby's turned up. You could almost feel the atmosphere change as these avian masters sliced through masses, creating acrobatic chaos, not ever missing a beat - casually they would dispatch there quarry on the wing and then would disappear as quickly as they came. Amazing. In 1998, whilst monitoring birds out on Ockham Common, I got to ring a brood of these fantastic migrant falcons.

Today, however, is possibly the closest and best looks I've ever had. My day started with cracking views of Eurasian Curlew just off the boardwalk. Both male and female were present, flying, vocalizing and feeding, giving me good opportunities to practice my phone-scoping.

At about 10:40 the first Hobby arrived and I spent the next 2 hours filling up the memory on my amazing morning's birding. 


Couln't believe my luck on Saturday night, not only did I get to see two Nightjars, I also got to photograph one! After an amazing day on Thursley Common and then a torential down pour, I headed out to Ash Ranges to see if I could hear this nocturnal specialty. I was less than optomistic as this was my first opportunity to check after much of the heath (30 ha) had been destroyed in the spring arson. Fortunately the Nightjar are still there and churring up a storm on a different part of the range.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Thursley Common - Surrey

Stonechat (male)
Today I spent a few hours on Thursley Common with my good friend Jonno Dudley. In just over three hours we recorded over 34 species. We connected with all the heathland specialties except Nightjar. There were plenty of Stonechat around (9) which gave us some great photo opportunities. All photos shown here, with the exception of Dartford Warbler, were taken using my Iphone6 / Scope combo. A great atmosphere all day with highlights such as displaying Curlew, skulking Dartford Warbler, parachuting Tree Pipits, darting Redstarts, flitting Willow Warblers and fly-by Hobby! 

Stonechat - Iphone 6 / scope combo