Monday, 31 August 2015

Full Moon tides and Turnstones

The last week has been particularly productive for waders, and in particular for Turnstones. The full moon currently lighting up the nights has produced some of the highest tides of the year, with a 10.2 metre high tide today. These high tides have encouraged high numbers of waders to congregate around certain areas on the Narrows. One of the best sites is Solfach, where the shelter of the bay encourages deposition of kelp and other seaweed: this in turn creates a massive amount of food for birds, being home to lots of different invertebrates.

Some of the totals for this week's wader counts have been quite impressive: yesterday we saw 72 Turnstones, which is the highest count for several years. Other high counts have included eight Ringed Plovers (30th), 81 Knots (28th), five Purple Sandpipers (27th), 13 Dunlins (30th), 10 Whimbrels (27th), 38 Curlews (28th), eight Redshanks (30th) and a Common Sandpiper.

The Turnstones have been particularly photogenic, and it has been great fun to lie down near the shoreline and watch as they go about their business: industriously turning over every pebble and rock in search of grub, and squabbling over the best feeding areas, with tails drooped in aggression. I have been photographing them alongside James O'neill, who has got some cracking shots too- you can check out his Flickr stream for more images. I have included a fairly large selection of images taken over the last few days below. I hope you enjoy!

This panoramic shows Bardsey mountain, and Solfach in the foreground

And some flight shots from yesterday...

Friday, 28 August 2015

Corsica 2015 part 3 - Herpetofauna

I can't quit believe that it's taken me two months to get around the posting the third part of my Corsican trip series. Still, better late than never...

This post focusses on the herpetofauna that I encountered whilst ambling around the pleasant hillsides and valleys of Corsica with my family. The island of Corsica is home to a pretty cool variety of herps, including some endemic species like the Corsican Fire Salamander, Corsican Brook Newt and Corsican Painted Frog, whilst a variety of Lizards, Snakes, Frogs and Terrapins can be found there too. I failed miserably to find the former three species, despite looking in the relevant habitats, but I did record a good selection of other species, which I have included below with brief captions.

Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta)
This is by far the commonest species we encountered, particularly on the coast. It was present all over, and took refuge amongst stone walls and gravely ground. It was interesting to observe to distinct 'morphs' - that of the very brown-looking individuals (top two images), and then the more greenish-tinged ones (lower). There seemed to be far more of the greener individuals up in the mountains than on the coast

Italian Wall Lizard - (Podarcis sicula)
This was a scarcer species that I only saw in any significant numbers on the exposed coast. Coastal beaches and garrigue scrub seemed to be the areas this species preferred; the most I saw whilst on the island was at Plage de Ostriconi 

Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard  (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)
This larger and more sluggish species was present at high elevations in mountainous areeas- in the Restonica Valley and Monte Cinto, for example. They were plentiful amongst the large rocky outcrop and loose stone walls

 Pool Frog - (Pelophylax lessonae bergeri)
This was a very common amphibian, present in most areas of fresh water around the sites we visited- from the coast up into the more mountainous areas. It was great fun trying to photograph and calling males, and especially tricky to try and get the top wide angle image

European Pond Terrapin - (Emys obicularis)
I only saw these charismatic but very shy terrapins at the reservoir near Galeria (on the coast). It was amusing to watch as more and more heads slowly popped up above the weed on the reservoir, before watching some individuals hauling themselves to bask in the sun on nearby rocks

There are some great trip reports on Corsica, and one herpetologically-focussed trip report by Matt Wilson was very useful indeed, and definitely worth a read : click here

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Birdfair 2015

As some of you may know, I have been away for the last week attending this year's Birdfair in Rutland (Leicestershire). After making a dash to the mainland on the morning of the 19th during a brief weather gap, we headed straight for the Midlands, arriving on site the following morning.

I don't have time to write a full account of this year's fair, but suffice to say that it was a hugely enjoyable and entertaining time, filled with enthusiastic birders and young conservationists, interesting talks, a plethora of cool stands and plenty of wildlife too! I will give you a brief summary of the events from my point of view...

The Stands
You could easily spend the whole of the three days wandering around the fair simply looking and browsing through the plethora of different stands on offer. Many of the stands outlined birding destinations from all around the World, from the Falklands to the depths of Taiwan. It was great fun to have a look and see what the possibilities were for worldwide travel, but dangerous at the same time! Some of the more interesting stalls (for me) were that of organisations like Butterfly Conservation (sporting a box full of cool moths); Birdlife International (dishing out the recent facts of the number of birds shot in the Med each year: 'The Killing'); Biotope (where NGBs James O'Neill and Jonnie Fisk created some fantastic and unique wildlife artwork to improvise for lost posters);  League Against Cruel Sports (where one could learn more about the current travesties under way in the UK); and The British Arachnological Society (where you could browse through Kent Raft Spider specimens and learn more about the recording of this fascinating genus). Some of my favourite stands were located in the Art Marque: looking at the outstanding work of artists like Ian and Richard Lewington, Keith Brockie, Darren Woodhead and Carry Akroyd, whilst admiring the photography of inspiring photographers like David Tipling, Chris Gomersall and Oliver Smart.

The Talks
With five lecture marquees at this year's Birdfair, there were a huge number of interesting and informative talks scheduled for the weekend. I sat in on a great range of talks, ranging from trip reports to Kazakhstan and Madagascar to watching Richard and Ian Lewington examine the contents of a Skinner Moth trap set overnight. I really enjoyed the talks I managed to get are some of them: Dan Brown and camera trapping for BiOME consulting, Nick Acheson on the wildlife of Madagascar, hope for birds in the Eastern Mediterranean by Claire Thompson, Wildlife wonders of Cornwall by Jack Perks, Wildlife Trusts - a mammal watcher's guide by Lucy McRobert, Kazakhstan- birding the mountains and deserts by Dan Free, and Bird Brain of Britain chaired by Bill Oddie. Those are just a handful of the talks I visited and throroughly enjoyed.
It would have been great to get to more talks, but time just seems to fly by when you're at the Birdfair, and it is so hard to choose which talks to see!

The People
For me, one of the best things of Birdfair is meeting friends and fellow young birders amongst the gathering of like-minded people that results from such an event. It is fantastic to meet so many birders, photographers and conservationists that I know only through social media- putting faces to names is great fun, and something I don't get to do that often living on an isolated island off North Wales! Bumping into friends from all over the UK and further afield is also great fun, in particular the members of the groups 'Next Generation Birders', and 'A Focus On Nature' (AFON). These groups are places where any young person interested in the environment and wildlife can connect with other like-minded people through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Every now and then there will be a large gathering of members at events such as Birdfair. This year was brilliant, with so many new members to meet and talk to, plus catching up with others that I have met just once or twice.
The only thing with so many familiar faces is that it can take over an hour just walk through one of the marquees!

The future of conservation and birding in the UK - some of the members of AFON and Next Generation Birders (C) Katie Nethercoat

The wildlife
It isn't just the event that produces interest- the wildlife that can be found around the Rutland Water Nature Reserve and lake is brilliant. The large reserve is home to many hides, several lagoons, large reed beds and areas of bush and woodland. The reserve attracts some great species, which included a Great White Egret, several Black Terns and a Wood Sandpiper over the Birdfair weekend, whilst the breeding Ospreys could also be seen at intervals over the lake. Birding from the hides produces waders such as Lapwings, Green Sandpipers and Little Ringed Plovers, whilst it was great to see good numbers of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins flying southward bound for their wintering grounds. . In the calm and pleasant sunny conditions on Saturday, it was cool to see species like Brown Hawkers, Common Blue Damselflies and plenty of other odonata species. A Marsh Tit amongst a feeding flock of Long-tailed Tits, Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Great Tits along the lakeshore was a very jammy new species for my Biritsh List!

Long-tailed Tit

So all in all it was yet another superb Birdfair, and I hope that the target of raising £300,000 for Birdlife International was met. Until next year...

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Autumn migration update

Autumn migration seems to be very slow this year: in most years, the numbers of bright yellow juvenile Willow Warblers begins to rise from mid-July onwards, as birds begin their southward migration to Sub-Saharan Africa. Occasionally these numbers can reach peaks of 1000 (2nd August 2011) in early August. However, this year has seen very low numbers, with counts barely rising into the double figures during the whole of July and first part  of August. These lower than average numbers were mirrored in other species such as Sedge Warblers and White Wagtails, whilst hirundines have had some good passage days during the last few weeks. Most of this is down to the weather, with very unsettled conditions bringing windy and wet weather for prolonged periods during the summer.

The last week has seen a slight change, with calmer conditions encouraging some bigger arrivals and interesting sightings. On the 14th we had an arrival of almost 400 Willow Warblers, accompanied with 34 Spotted Flycatchers, two Garden Warblers, one Blackcap, four Chiffchaffs, five Whitethroats and three Goldcrests; in addition, recent days have seen Tree Pipits, Whinchats, Yellow Wagtail, Song Thrush and Short-eared Owl stopping off on the island. With the recent new moon, the high tides have brought a good deposit of seaweed onto Solfach, which has in turn encouraged a good number of waders to its shore. Peak counts have included 10 Ringed Plovers on the 16th, 25 Dunlins on the 15th, three Bar-tailed Godwits and a Whimbrel on the 17th, 32 Curlews on the 16th, 11 Redshanks, six Common Sandpipers and 12 Turnstones on the 17th, whilst scarcer visitors comprised a female Ruff (14th-16th), Green Sandpiper (17th), and three Bar-tailed Godwits (17th).

Sightings of rarer visitos to the island have been frequent in the last week: a single Great Crested Grebe off the coast on the 12th was surprisingly followed by a flock of five on the 13th- this is a very rare bird on the island, with no records for over 10 years before 2014! A Greater Spotted Woodpecker on the 13th was a good record too, and this bird stayed for a few days in the more wooded areas of the island. On the 16th, a large white bird was picked up flying south-west a mile or two off the coast. After a while, it became clear that it was an egret of some kind, and judging by the size, a Great White Egret! The island third record!

After a stunning few days, the weather looks to be breaking up in the following week, which will bring a good selection of seabirds past the coast, but conversely will not favour the arrivals of the smaller migrants on the island. Here is a selection of images from the last couple of weeks:

An adult and juvenile Oystercatcher roost amidst the breaking waves

many of the Turnstones are smart summer-plumaged birds


Willow Warblers are by far the most numerous migrant on land at the moment, but 90% are now adult birds (above). We have missed out on the large movement of bright juvenile birds that takes place earlier in the month. 

Juvenile Sedge Warbler

Whinchat- there have been a couple of birds present in the last week

Linnet numbers have increased substantially in recent days and weeks, with daily counts over 320 at the moment. Many are feeding in the oat and borage mix planted at the north end

the female Ruff spent a good few days feeding amongst the waders in Solfach

juvenile Dunlin

A Grey Heron flying in front of the buildings of Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory