Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Wader survey

Had the pleasure of a proper survey today, on mitigation land up in Somerset - a site I've checked annually for the last three or four years. The site is primarily catering for breeding waders (Lapwing in particular) and water voles. The only drawback is that as I have to be there early in the morning, I had to get up at 4 a.m. to reach the site with time enough for a coffee before the survey...

Coffee over, I pottered off into the dawn with a chilly northeast breeze to keep me company and started the search. As in the last couple of years, just one confirmed pair of Lapwing were present, with a single bird also lurking - this was occasionally beaten up by the established pair. A pair of Oystercatcher look to have moved in - they appeared late in the season last year and at least attempted to breed; perhaps this year they will succeed!

There was a steady passage of Swallows drifting eastwards with a handful of Sand Martins sprinkled amongst them, but few other migrants were evident: a single Reed Warbler, just one Whimbrel and a couple of Yellow Wagtails, whilst a late Golden Plover was also a pleasant surprise.

Most interesting, however, was significant evidence of Otter using the reprofiled ditches, with some superb trails of footprints and a couple of spraints. Hopefully these can drive out any mink that may occur, providing a little more security for the local water voles. Next survey in a couple of weeks, with any luck.

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) - the culprit for...

...this! Swan carnage on one bank of a reprofiled ditch. Still 40-odd hanging around, so not a great problem in the grand scheme of things.

Moody (indeed, gloomy. Blame the weather) view along a reprofiled ditch. The original ditch was about 1.5m wide and steep-sided; to get this shape you get in a chap on a contraption which slices off one bank to a gentle gradient, spraying the cut soil liberally across the field behind it. This produces a profile somewhat like a square-root symbol (√), reversed in this case. The whole idea is to create a bank with continual access to water and invertebrates as water levels fluctuate through the year. Particularly popular with Little Egrets and Otters on this site...

Monday, 21 April 2008

Murine maze genius


I don't know if anyone reading this (does anyone?!) is offended by strong language, but if they are, avoid the link.

Love it...!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Spring migrants

An interesting weekend, for some nicely non-birdy reasons which I'm not going to go into. Filthy weather meant ringing was out of the question, so we took a wander around Slapton and Beesands Leys with N. An easterly wind was howling through, with steady rain, yet despite this we managed to note Reed Warbler, Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing, with a Willow Warbler and plenty of vocal resident Cetti's in addition. Swallows were feeding carefully over the ley surface, with a House Martin and a handful of Sand Martins picked out from amongst them, as well as a slightly surprising Swift - first of the year for both of us. Bird of the day was a nice spring Yellow Wagtail flushed from the line, keeping company with a handful of cracking Wheatear; always a pleasure to see. Beyond that, there was little out of the ordinary, although the resident female Marsh Harrier was seen briefly before she dropped into the reeds at the back of Stokeley bay - perhaps trying to end it all in the face of the conditions: I wouldn't blame her!

Some of my Philippines photos are now up on www.jerbarker.co.uk so feel free to have a look. A first-draft trip report is also on there, though there will need to be some changes and a bit of editing.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Why I get hacked off, occasionally...

OK. Just before I returned from the Philippines, I managed to scan my emails and noted a message letting me know that a Little Crake had been found on what is effectively my local patch, Exminster Marshes. I was texted by another friend whilst in the air, so my first greeting - at 5.30 a.m. on the apron at Heathrow - was that the crake was showing nicely. Urgh. I happen to be very fond of crakes & rails, as they are a nice blend of the enigmatic, elusive and good-looks, as a rule. Little Crake is not only one of the nice ones, but it also happens to be the first record for mainland Devon, so I was honour-bound to go and see it!

I duly trotted down the marshes on Saturday morning and was pleasantly surprised to see only four or five cars in the carpark and about 20 people at the relevant corner of the road, but the crake wasn't showing. As we waited, patiently, the number of people swelled to some 60-70 until the bird was noticed wandering blithely along a ditch behind a hedge. I wandered quietly up to the hedge, peered over the shoulder of the guy in front and gained my Devon tick, UK tick, whatever else you want to view it as. I then thought it would be a good idea to move out of the way, quietly down the track until I could see clearly and wait for the bird to come past, perhaps getting a photo. The bird co-operated to a point; that point being about half-way between the two gaps, when everyone else realised it was headed my way - at which time about 40 people clumped, clattered, stumbled and rattled their way along the track en masse, spooking the bird into the reeds...

Fast-forward. Sunday, I headed up to north Devon for another look at the King Eider and to look for Spoonbill - my friend Judith has something of a spoonbill fetish and hadn't seen the eider, so she was keen to pick both species up. We trotted along the coast for a while to look for Spoonbill whilst the tide rose, so that the eider would be reasonably close to view when we got there. Eventually we got round to Northam Burrows, parked up and scanned for the duck - picked it up quickly, asleep bum-on on the sand a couple of hundred metres ahead of us. I moved the car up the road until we were parallel, looked up with the bins and realised it was flying off. Why? Another birder had decided to walk straight out across the sand, scope across shoulder, until he was as close as humanly possible to the bird, perhaps in case he thought it was plastic - I don't know. Given that the bird was in photo range from the road, we felt this was a tad unnecessary and a few choice expletives were aired as the bird headed up towards Barnstaple, not to be seen again that day.

Fast-forward. Again. This morning (Tuesday), I went back for more peaceful views of the crake. Again I tried to avoid the crowds and watch the bird undisturbed by crouching quietly in the shadow of a decent-sized oak and moving no more than necessary, and again was foiled by the inability of other observers to shut the **** up and walk quietly. Eventually I managed some good views and some half-decent photos, but even then the constant background yabber about teleconverters, lenses and scope envy took some of the gloss off the bird. It did, however, make me appreciate that however difficult the birding was in the Philippines, there were far fewer tick-hungry tossers with no pretence at fieldcraft...

Now that's off my chest, here's a picture of the crake...:

Adult male Little Crake (Porzana parva)

P.S. My irritation is tempered by the fact that I/we saw all the birds in question, eventually, along with a bonus group of five Cattle Egret. Had we missed out, I'd have been a little more ratty...!

Return from the tropics

Back to the UK with a bang... Whilst I write up the notes and sort out the pictures, here are a few pictures to whet your appetite, I hope.

Palawan Peacock-Pheasant

Palawan Hornbill


Butterfly species

Perhaps not all it seems...

The gang!

An evening at Manila bay

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Negros Oriental

Greetings from Dumaguete, Negros Oriental; somewhere just belw left centre of the main Philippine islands group. Just a filler for the moment to while away some time before I get back to the airport to fly back to Manila. I've finished off a rapid-fire birding trip round the three main islands in the Phils: Luzon, Palawan and Mindanao, and have spent a couple of days unsucessfully chasing Negros endemics. The four of us who were on the trip managed to see approximately 120 of the 170-odd endemic birds of the Philippines, which looks better when you consider that many of the unseen species are possibly extinct, restricted to islands we didn't visit, or found in inaccessible parts of those islands we did visit!

Not content with birds, I've managed to photograph a good selection of dragonflies and damselflies, some of which I have been able to identify already (hoorah!) and a hatful of butterflies, none of which I have been able to ID. Watch this space for further updates when I get back home... I'll publish some photos on here and a stack more on my website, space permitting.

Been a pleasant trip overall, with generally good food, nice enough people and fine weather (boy have I tanned up!), but with some significant frustrations as well - particularly the field guide to the birds of the Philippines. I shall explain at a later point!

Oh, and as for the previous post, yes, we saw Palawan Peacock-pheasant... Tres bon!