Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Vis mig begins!

My fondest birding memories are of looking for spring migrants on the south coast of England- in particular searching a headland such as the Lizard in Cornwall or Portland Bill, Dorset- oooh the excitement of watching multiple lbj's come in off the sea! Saw my first hoopoe at Portland in April 1981 (along with Black kite, woodchat shrike, pied fly, etc. making a brilliant day) so it is always good to see one. Migration has kicked in here off Morocco- small numbers trickling through but all the birds are heading north, presumably for Europe and the British isles. Over the last week there has been a light,  steady passage of bonxies and sandwich terns. More recently several distant flocks of waterfowl have been recorded plus a distant, probable red-rumped swallow. Yesterday 3 chiffchaffs and a hoopoe briefly visited the vessel before continuing north. This morning at first light another unidentified leaf warbler and a chat sp. were flushed and a second hoopoe was seen flying past- exciting times! Hopefully the tempo of passage will increase over the coming weeks as will the number of species encountered.

I have also been lucky to see plenty of common dolphins, a sunfish and a small (circa 2.5 metre) basking shark.

ocean sunfish
basking shark
common dolphin

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Moroccan delights

Not much to report on the sea bird survey although the species list is steadily climbing with the addition of kittiwake, great skua and sandwich tern.  Although I have also had repeated distant views of shearwater sp. and storm petrel sp. they remain very elusive and as yet I have been unable to get a positive ID on any of them. We are surveying in an approximate west-east orientation and during the east-end work we are only about 5 miles offshore. This has provided some lovely views of the Moroccan coast and the beautiful snow-capped Atlas mountains- the first time I have seen snow on the African continent.
Agadir with snow-capped Atlas mountains beyond.
close pass to the shore south of Agadir- where desert meets sea!
Being so close to shore has allowed a number of uninvited guests to jump aboard, including a collection of bugs, beetles, grasshoppers and moths. 
hawk moth sp.
grasshopper or locust?
We also had a very nice view of a loggerhead turtle as it swam past the vessel.

Loggerhead turtle

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Barbary falcon?

Bit of a treat yesterday morning when a medium-size falcon came flashing over the sea, circled the ship twice, then settled on a support beam under the heli-deck. The flight was powerful and dashing and initially when seen I thought peregrine although the bird seemed rather more refined. Anyway, a raptor expert I am not- especially concerning new African species!,but having shot off a few frames I think this bird could be a barbary falcon. I would be delighted if someone/anyone reading this post could advise me differently if that is the case. Aside from the ID challenge it was a delightful moment to see the bird on the ship. Having plucked and eaten its' breakfast, the bird flew off, was momentarily harried by 3 LBBG's and then flew NE towards the coast just north of Agadir.

Edit-footnote 28.02.2013- had a nice email from Hugh Insley (highland recorder) and LGR Evans (UK400) today, confirming this bird as a 1st year Barbary falcon. Many thanks gents!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Audouin's gulls

Just arrived on my survey vessel about 20 nm offshore Moroccco. I get occasionally views of the distant coastline through the heat haze and there is a steady succession of vessel traffic moving to and fro from the port of Agadir. 

Plenty of distant gulls to keep me occupied and the occasional close pass from a gannet or two. This morning I saw a line of 7 small shearwaters, although I could not get anything on them to even suggest an ID although I suspect balearic. Highlight so far has been great views of Audouin's gulls- the adults are particularly splendid as they fly above the ship. Hopefully I will get some better 'side-on' shots over the forthcoming days. 

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Kerb-crawling in Norfolk!

Just had a flying visit to Thetford, Norfolk to attend a training course at BTO H.Q. in the Nunnery. Naturally this meant some opportunistic birding during my 3 day visit. On the first morning whilst walking from the hotel to the course venue I was lucky enough to get great views of an otter. A short while later in crisp, still air I enjoyed a few minutes with the long-staying black-bellied dipper- just minutes from the BTO H.Q.

black-bellied dipper, Thetford

Over the next two days despite being indoors for most of the time I managed a few year ticks- jay, green woodpecker, lesser black-backed gull, red-legged partridge and marsh tit being the highlights- all these birds being practically impossible to get in the NW Highlands of Scotland! Incredible as it may sound the marsh tits were my first record of this species in nearly two decades! Sadly, although heard calling, I failed to see any nuthatch- another bird not seen by me in years.

Having completed the course on Friday, I planned to finally get to Wolferton on Saturday to catch up with a much needed lifer- Golden pheasant. I was on site at about 08:40 and drove slowly around 'the triangle'. This was pretty bizarre birding and soon felt a tad stressful- constantly checking the roadside verges, whilst also watching the rear-view mirror for fast moving cars. I made 4 or 5 slow circuits, each time having to negotiate pulling back onto the main 'A' road to get to the other side of the woodland. My initial euphoria quickly evaporated as no birds were seen and the whole place seemed incredibly busy with 'non birders' who looked at me as if I was a criminal as they drove past. I made one last circuit before thinking that a major dip was on the cards- a country gentleman walked along the verge towards me with two black labs that appeared to take great delight in putting their noses in to every patch of undergrowth. I pulled into a small muddy lay-by where I could watch a good length of verge and also partially view a small woodland clearing. 

Wolferton triangle
A couple of birders pulled up behind me and quickly informed me that it was too busy and that I was wasting my time. I couldn't be bothered to ask them why they were still looking if I was wasting my time! They drove off after 10 minutes or so. I sat and waited and tormented myself with the idea of walking through the woods. I know from speaking to plenty of other birders and from site reports that this is a major no no, so at 10:30 I reluctantly gave up and drove over to Holt to visit Cley spy to buy a bit of birding kit and cheer myself up. Having bought my new binocular strap I decided to head back towards Thetford. Plan B was to look for a caspian gull. On a whim I decided to re-try for the goldies so headed back to the excitement of the muddy lay-by. By now I couldn't be bothered with more kerb crawling so just sat on the bonnet with bins and camera and intently watched the sunlit verge ahead of me. After only two minutes or so a common pheasant walked across the road. Things were looking up. As a car came up the road the pheasant disappeared into the thicket. This happened twice more in the next 30 minutes or so. A car came slowly towards me and stopped alongside. Following a brief discussion with the two occupant birders about having seen nothing of interest they informed me that I should have been here 'this morning' as two male goldies were on the verge at the 'other end' at 08:15.......grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I gave it another 10 minutes and realised I was getting close to going crazy and running through the woodland like a loony. I decide to admit defeat so got in the car to drive to the village of Wolferton- 30 seconds later a stunning male goldie trotted out of the undergrowth about 50 metres ahead of me!! What a bird!! I checked the mirror, saw a car coming up behind, pulled into the verge and shot off a couple of frames through the car windscreen. As the car came rushing up behind me, the bird bolted into the undergrowth and was gone. My photos are dreadful but who cares?- a much needed lifer and 20 seconds of birding joy made the whole day so worthwhile! 

footnote: having been told that the 'universal binocular strap' fits all, I found out on my return to Thetford that it does not fit my beloved opticron DBA oasis bins! The joys of birding...... 

fuzzy golden pheasant!

blurry golden pheasant

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


Following last winters major influx of Iceland gulls I was rather hopeful of a similar number of interesting gulls this winter. Unfortunately, to date, there has been no noticeable arrival. I have not recorded a single white- winged gull thus far this winter. The recent west, nor-westerly storms however seem to have pushed a few birds into the western coasts. Following a telephone tip at lunchtime today I went home to get my camera and then headed for Ullapool harbour to take a few snaps of the reported 1st winter glaucous gull. It may not be too pretty but it was certainly a very welcome white-winged brute and the first record of this species in Ullapool for many a year.