Eight days with Eight Blokes

In September 2015 I joined a bunch of top birders on a trip to Fair Isle. There were eight of them and me.

‘I cannot think of anything worse’ is what my daughter said.

Needless to say, I had a fabulous time and so, I believe, did they!

Below is a selection of photos from the trip.

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Overnight ferry to ShetlandDSCF0505

My flight onto Fair Isle was a day later than the rest of the team. I spent a very comfortable night with  Rebecca Nason at her B&B in down town Lerwick. Rebecca is an extraordinary photographer and naturalist. I loved her house, brimming with fine things including a delightful collection of bird bones and bills!

Sumburgh, Shetland

Sumburgh Head

Fair Isle, Church of Scotland

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View of Sheep Rock from Bu Ness

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Heligoland trap

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Bu Ness, whale tale.

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Hunting for petrified fish having dipped on the Thick Billed Warbler found at Quendale the evening before. This rarity pulled all the local birders and  left an audience of may be 4, plus the 8 of us for the Shetland bird club talk that 2 of our team were due give.

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The bird of the trip was Yellow-browed Warbler. On 21 September 53 birds were seen and 12 were ringed. These birds, weighing just 5g, are likely to have travelled from the Urals, 3-3.5,000 miles away, to winter in Britain.

Fair Isle’s roads are lined with Angelica, a kind of wild celery. Their flowers are host to numerous insects that Yellow-browed warbler’s find utterly irresistible after their long flight. The photo below was taken by Andy Mason.

Yellow-browed Warbler (1 of 26)

 

Extremadura ‘Phlog’

28 April to 2 May 2017

Early departure at 03:45 for a flight to Madrid from lovely Luton. Temperature on arrival a mere 3 degrees centigrade.  Extremadura boasts a wide variety of  habitat (Cork and Holm Oak forests (Dehesa), grass land, rivers, reservoirs, scrub, mountains) and low human population with the result that it supports a wealth of wild life.  Having some insider ‘birding gen’ certainly is critical for the hard-to-find species, but quite frankly,  it is amazing what a non-expert could spot along the quiet roads and byways without too much effort.  The land scape was sweeping and colourful with a back drop of the Sierra de Gredos mountains, snow capped and rising to 2,591 at Pico Almanzor.

We dropped bags at Villar de Plasencia, a maze of a village where we got quite disoriented. This became the norm in most of the villages we travelled through. The road map was hopelessly lacking in detail but made for some exciting driving on incredibly narrow and sometimes steep streets, watched by bemused residents.  We headed to Puerto de Tietar in Monfrague National Park and with patience were welcomed by a Spanish Imperial Eagle as well as Griffon Vultures, Black Kites and Egyptian Vultures.

The following morning the weather was poor. We explored the Embalse de Arrocampo-Almaraz where there are a number of hides, ideal to escape the worst of the rain. These however proved a mixed blessing – one had a door that would not open, one had a door that once opened, would not close, forcing us to sit in a howling gale. The last had no seating, so it was impossible to see out of the hatches. Fortunately the weather cleared and hiding no longer a necessity. We saw, black shouldered kite, little bittern, swamp hen and purple heron, Spoon Bill, amongst much else.

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Purple Heron, Swallows, Sand Martins and Swifts

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White Stork

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Cattle Egrets and Black Winged Stilts

We drove to Salto del Gitano and the Monfrague Castillo in the heart of the National Park. The sun now high in the sky, Griffon, Black Vultures and Black Kites cruised, drying their wings after the rain. Also a wonderful sighting of Black Storks, far less prevalent elsewhere than their white counterpart.

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Griffons

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Black Stork

We climbed the steps up to the castle and then up the tower. We followed the path down to the river. The walk made me realise that our planned hike up Breche de Roland later in the summer, was going to be more of a challenged than previously reckoned, cancer treatment through the winter having knocked me back.

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Serin

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Dehesa

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That evening we supped on fried Dorade at Villar Real de San Carlos.

The following morning we were up for the dawn and out looking for Western Orphean Warbler.  Alas it eluded us due to gale force winds and driving rain. Next stop Embalse de Talavan.

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Then on to Rio Almonte to seek nesting Alpine Swifts. After a while we realised we were at the wrong river crossing. Eventually we found the correct bridge but no Alpine Swifts. However, we did get a rare sighting of a lovely Golden Eagle.

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Old and new roads over the Rio Almonte

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The roads were so empty we could reliably stop bang in the middle

That evening we landed at Casa Rual El Recuerdo, just south of Trujillo, home of Martin Kelsey whose knowledge of the bird populations is unsurpassed. The following morning armed with Martin’s clear directions we went in pursuit of Great and Little Bustards, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Rollers all of which we saw.

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Trujillo in the morning haze

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Corn Bunting

 

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Roller boxes on electricity pylons

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Scrub and grassland

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At sun down, we walked 2/3rds up one of the village lanes and perched ourselves on a sun-warmed stone wall. Holding our breath, we listened for a Red-necked Nightjar. The weather was perfect, warm and still. Insects, particularly moths, in abundance. And then we heard it – a car alarm. That’s it! The bird soared right over our heads, circled, and came back over. A world tick for Andy.

Up and out early on our final morning to seek out more Bustards. We got them. A gaggle of males, females all hidden away egg sitting.

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There’s a Cattle Egret in there somewhere!

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Great Bustard in the scope

Then we took a slow route back to Madrid crossing a great plain between Belen and Deleitosa where we came across a Vulture fest in full swing!

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Five Griffons crossing the road

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Griffon Vulture

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Black Vulture

Then on through Valdecanas de Tajo, Bee Eaters and Theckler Larks at close range.

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Bee-eater

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Thekla lark

A mad dash to the airport followed. No time to pick up petrol. Walked straight through on onto the plane, last on. Great trip!

Trip list

(All logged en route on BirdTrack – never leave home without this fabulous app!)

Ducks:
Mallard
Gadwall
Red-crested Pochard

Herons:
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Great White Egret
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Glossy Ibis
White Stork
Black Stork
Spoonbill
Little Bittern
Night Heron
Cormorant

Great Crested Grebe
Little Grebe

Great Bustard
Little Bustard

Red-legged Partridge
Quail

Moorhen
Coot
Purple Swamphen

Birds of Prey:
Griffon Vulture
Black Vulture
Egyptian Vulture

Black Kite
Red Kite
Black-shouldered Kite

Spanish Imperial Eagle
Golden Eagle
Booted Eagle
Short-toed Eagle
Buzzard
Marsh Harrier
Montagu’s Harrier
Kestrel
Lesser Kestrel

Waders:
Black-winged Stilt
Little Ringed Plover
Common Sandpiper (dog place)
Lapwing
Stone Curlew (opposite side of road to track to first bustards, under trees)

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse
Black-bellied Sandgrouse

Common Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Black-headed Gull

Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove

Little owl
Red-necked Nightjar

Swift
Pallid Swift

Near passerine (perching birds)
Bee-eater
Roller
Hoopoe
Cuckoo
Great Spotted Cuckoo

Passerines:
Swallow
House Martin
Crag Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
Sand Martin

Calandra Lark
Thekla Lark
Short-toed Lark
Crested Lark

Wren
White Wagtail
Tawny Pipit

Corvids:
Azure-winged Magpie
Magpie
Jay
Jackdaw
Raven

Golden Oriole

Sardinian Warbler
Subalpine Warbler
Blackcap
Great Reed Warbler
Reed Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Cetti’s Warbler

Blue Rock Thrush
Blackbird
Wheatear
Black Redstart
Song Thrush
Spotless Starling
Nightingale

Corn Bunting
Cirl Bunting

Finches:

Chaffinch
Goldfinch
Greenfinch
Linnet
Serin

Rock Sparrow
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow

Green Woodpecker