Thursday, 4 January 2018

Birding Alicante

On a visit to southern Spain with friends in September I arranged a day visit to the fantastic El Honda wetlands near Alicante with Pau from Birdwatching Spain. It was a fantastic day and we recorded 69 bird species, plus many dragonflies and butterflies including plain tiger butterflies. We started in the dry steppes inland from Alicante which is the domain of black wheatears of which we saw several first thing, although they unfortunately remained too distant for pictures. 

Other sightings included blue rock thrush, crested and thekla larks, Sardinian warblers, red-legged partridge, stonechats and a large mixed flock of hirundines with crag, sand and house martins and barn and red-rumped swallows. 

(Red-veined darter) 

(Common bluetail damselfly) 

Moving on to the El Honda de Elche Reserve, the heat of the day was starting to get to us, so we retreated to the shade of the hides overlooking reed fringed pools. on the first lagoon were several species of duck including the now very rare marbled duck which has been reintroduced to this site and is very slowly recovering. 

(Marbled ducks and purple swamphens)

Marbled ducks are now very rare in Spain and rely on shallow brackish or freshwater pools with plenty of aquatic vegetation to feed on, plus reedbeds to breed in. Sadly most of this wetland habitat in southern Spain has been drained for agriculture and even at the carefully managed El Honda Reserve the population still suffers from water loss in some dry years. 

Walking further into the reserve, it was a delight to see so many species in relative abundance; purple gallinules, glossy ibis flocks, reed warblers, red-rumped swallows, squacco herons, whiskered terns and marsh harriers. Autumn migrants were also very evident with winchats, yellow wagtails and huge flocks of European bee eaters passing overhead. 

(Red-knobbed coot)

(Purple swamphen)

At one of the larger lakes we found a female white-headed duck as well a pair of hunting ospreys that gave superb overhead views. 

(Female white-headed duck)


We then moved through an area of farmland finding booted eagle, hoopoes, spotless starlings, serins, Iberian grey shrike and an incredible movement of European bee eaters. They were coming down to a wet field to drink and there must have well over 100 of them. 

(European bee eaters)

Pau knew of a fantastic hide around the back of the El Honda Reserve, where there was much more exposed mud and this produced a true wader migration fest. I cant ever remember seeing so many European migrant wader species all from one hide view before. We had curlew sandpiper in exceptional numbers, plus dunlins, temminck's and little stints, wood, green and common sandpipers, spotted redshanks, redshanks, black-tailed godwits, ruff, ringed, little ringed, Kentish and golden plovers, turnstones, whimbril, black-tailed godwit, avocet, black-winged stilt all on view simultaneously.  


(Curlew Sandpiper)

(Preening curlew sandpiper)

(Ringed plover)

(Black-winged stilt)

(Temminck's stint)


(Wood sandpiper)

Our final stop of the day was the Saltpans of Salinas de Santa Pola where the numbers of greater flamingo feeding in the saline lagoons made for pink haze in the distance. We had wonderful close views of these birds as well as many slender-billed gulls, yellow-legged gulls and a few waders. 
(Greater flamingo)

(Greater flamingo) 

(Slender-billed gull)

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Coquet Island

While up in Northumberland in June visiting the Farnes, we also ventured south to visit Coquet Island. Although fairly small in size, this very special island still supports 44,000 nesting seabirds every year. It is perhaps most well known for its population of the UK rarest species of breeding tern: the roseate tern. 

The RSPB manage the island and have helped to safeguard the population here since the 1970s and in 2016 the number of roseate terns nesting on the island reached 104. 

The RSPB have created special nestboxes for the terns that have been tailored to their requirements and this has proved very successful. On our boat trip around the island, we saw several pairs resting on these nestboxes, but also quite a few on the rocks close to the water. 

The puffins were still spectacular here and the numbers of common and arctic tern were also very impressive. 

We also saw more grey seals here than we did on the Farnes and there were plenty of obliging eider on view in Amble Harbour as we headed out by boat to the island. 

On the journey back to Seahouses, we called in at the Long Nanny tern colony near Beadnell for one last tern on the trip. It didn't take long to find the little terns here which we could watch flying along the beautiful sandy beach on their way back to colony to feed their chicks. Watching the one site we were able to see little, sandwich, common and arctic tern. 

Fantastic Farne Islands

In June, I made a visit to the wonderful Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast. The Farnes are a collection of small rocky islands offshore from the small town of Seahouses, made famous for their staggering populations of nesting seabird and huge grey seal colony.

We went out with Billy Shiels boat trips on an all day Birdwatch, landing on Staple Island first of all. on the way out to the islands, we came across a large (30 strong) pod of very playful bottle-nosed dolphins. 

Touring Staple Island, the enormous numbers of guillemots and puffins in the water and lining almost every available nesting site was just staggering. Once landed, we could enjoy the sight of hundreds of puffins flying on to the island at speed and crash landing near to their burrow to avoid having their sand eel meals being seized by gulls. 

Fulmars and kitiwakes were also present in good numbers and we came across several eider nests hidden in the grassy tussocks. The landscape of Staple Island was more rugged and craggy with row upon row of guillemots and razorbills, along the ledges closest to the water. Higher up were the kittiwakes and shags and further back in the grassy areas were the puffins. 

Moving on to Inner Farne, which is the largest of the islands and was once a home for saints and monks, we first had to run the gauntlet of the protective arctic terns. It was wonderful to see these ocean wondering birds up close and see how they nest literally all over the island, even right next to the path you walk. The first 100 meters of the walk onto Inner Farne is where the highest concentration of tern nests are and where a hat is essential as protection from the terns defending their nests nearby. 

I enjoyed watching a few land on other visitors heads. This really made my head tern. 

Because one good tern deserves another it wasn't long before we found the colony of sandwich terns in the middle of Inner Farne.