Sunday, 15 June 2014

Cuckoo

A male Cuckoo has taken up residence to the east of the village for the past month or so. It probably has its eye on the Reed Warblers around the private pond, but so far appears to have failed to attract a mate. It calls incessantly, ranges widely south and east of the village, but appears to return to the area around the pond at dusk most evenings. 

This morning it was still around the pond and made a couple of close fly pasts. It was a cool, dull morning, so I have had to overexpose my pictures ferociously to show any detail of the bird, which otherwise appears silhouetted black against the grey sky. However, overexposure makes the sky appear white, never a good look. Throwing a few images together as a montage helps though. Here is the local Cuckoo, which is still calling away outside as I type:

Cuckoos are cracking birds, with much more than just onomatopoeic interest. They are full of features: the tail spots, on the top and underside of the tail, the bright yellow eye ring and bill base. I always look for the stunning, almost zoothera, underwing pattern on birds in flight, but it is much more easily appreciated in photographs:



There was little else of note this morning. A few of the local fields now have poppies coming into flower, which distracts from the general lack of birds:




And finally, a local Roe Deer, pondering its options. Run right? Run left? Jump the fence? Stand for a second and have my picture taken? Thank you. 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Drive-by shootings on the Spanish steppes

We visited friends in Lisbon last week. It was a family holiday, but what better way to finish it off than three days in that fabulous "family destination" of Extremadura? We stayed in an idyllic rural hotel near Trujillo, with breeding Azure-winged MagpieHoopoe and Woodchat Shrike in the gardens:


Azure-winged Magpie




Below, White Stork nests in Trujillo. Every single tall building and most electricity pylons have nests. We never tired of seeing them. As soon as you cross the border into Portugal the nests disappear. The wrong kind of pylons?


Below, Plaza Mayor, in Trujillo. We ended up eating out here most evenings. Sitting outside with a glass of cold beer watching huge White Storks power through clouds of Common and Pallid Swifts, while flocks of Lesser Kestrels drifted overhead was almost enough to induce tears. Did I mention the beer? 
As a family, we spent most of the time taking in the towns and views, but I went out alone for a few hours before breakfast most days. I had no expectations of seeing much, but in the event the birding was excellent. The majority of the pictures (except for the swifts and swallows) were drive-by shootings, taken from the car, all with the usual Canon 7D and the 100-400mm lens:

Pallid Swifts. In good light these birds are quite distinctive, with some appearing almost completely white-headed. Also note the scaly body feathering, the pale inner primaries and the eye-mask:



Red-rumped Swallows, always a treat:


Spain felt as if it were at least one whole season ahead of the UK. By mid-May, in the arable areas, harvest was beginning. In non-arable areas the steppe was burnt white by the sun, the vegetation was a meter high and the steppe species were well into their breeding cycles. This meant that most species had stopped displaying and that any species that were less than knee high were nearly impossible to see. Larger birds, such as Great Bustard, still stood out, but I only caught one glimpse of a Little Bustard which promptly landed and disappeared into the vegetation. None were calling this late into spring. Below, typical Spanish steppe scenery north of Trujillo, with fringing dehesa (typically Holm Oak and Cork trees with open pastureland) in the background:

Grasslands east of Trujillo:

The compulsory road-side Corn Bunting shots. This species is super-abundant in Extremadura:

Crested Lark:

Short-toed Lark:

Spotless Starling:

And you don't get birds like these around Cuddesdon, Bee-eater...

...and an early morning Roller

Black-bellied Sandgrouse:

The density and diversity of insects and birds in Extremadura is astonishing and a huge contrast with Oxfordshire. Raptors are well represented, ♂ Montagu's Harrier...

 ... and the much rarer dark morph Montagu's Harrier


Booted Eagle:

Black Kite:

  Lesser Kestrel:

♂ Lesser Kestrel:

Griffin Vulture:

Great Bustard, the iconic species of the Spanish steppe, were not uncommon, we came across some every day. 3 Great Bustards in flight across sunlit dehesa:

But they were always distant...

... as this video proves:



All in all, it was a fabulous three days in Extremadura, despite it being a late Spring visit. It is a very special landscape, with some very special birds. And the family enjoyed it too.

My eldest daughter. She has a long road ahead of her. 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Georgia: the movie trailer



As always, click the settings cog and watch at 720p or higher. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Caucasus Mountains, Georgia

I'm just back from 6 days in Kazbegi, near the Georgian-Russian border in the Greater Caucasus mountains. The landscapes were phenomenal:




There are bird species found here and nowhere else on Earth. Caucasian Snowcock:
As the old Georgian saying goes: "თქვენ იცით, რომ თქვენ არ გადაძვრა მაღალი როცა შურთხი ფრენა ქვეშ თქვენ". Or: "You know you have climbed high when the Snowcock fly beneath you". 
This is a more typical view from underneath the bird of the mountain tops:

Caucasian Grouse:


Some stunning mountain residents, Güldenstädt's Redstart



Great Rosefinch:




Mountain Chiffchaff:


Plus a fabulous selection of local residents and migrants on the East Africa-Asian flyway:

Red-throated Pipit:

Caucasian Water Pipit:

Tree Pipit:

Red-backed Shrike:

Caucasian Ring Ouzel:

Chough:

Migrating Bee-eaters:

"Turkish" Twite

Ortolan:

Red-breasted Flycatcher:

Rock Bunting

Rock Thrush

Red-fronted Serin:

Northern Wheatear:

There were also some great raptors. Migrants included many hundreds of Honey Buzzard and Steppe Buzzard; Sparrowhawks, Hobbies, Long-legged Buzzard and one Steppe Eagle. Locals included this incoming Griffin Vulture...

... and Lammergeier:

One of three adult Lammergeiers that circled low over me, as I pretended to be a rock while I photographed Great Rosefinch. These huge vultures have a 2 meter wingspan, the sky literally turned dark, before I fled for my life. 

All this, and Wallcreeper too. Highly recommended :-)