Sunday, 22 January 2017

Bulgaria - A Mixed Bag! - Day 4

I had two target birds for the day a Saker Falcon which is resident along road 901 and a Pallas’s Gull which had been seen at the old lighthouse at Shabla the previous evening. I also wanted to photograph Rough Legged and Long Legged Buzzard as these species had been very skilled at avoiding my lens.

I stopped off at Ezerets to see the Long Eared Owls and then began the first part of the days gull watch. The Owls were very obliging the gulls were scattered along the coastline. But I saw a Grey Plover with a group of Sanderling at the beach at Krapets.

By mid morning I was fully into gull mode popping in to every village that had access to a beach. I had forgotten about the first part of my intended quarry but saw a falcon moving parallel to road 901. The bird sat on top of a bush giving me good views I got out the car which is a big mistake during hunting season as birds are very flighty even at distance and the Saker was off. The pale belly was clear in flight as I kept pace with it in the car. As the race reached Tyulenovo the bird disappeared behind the buildings. Wow that was some race!

Rough legged Buzzard was the next species to make the SD card but again of the three birds I saw all were very flighty and kept their distance from the car.

I continued to Cape Kaliakra taking the E87 back to Shabla so that I could maximise gull watching time. This proved to be a good move as I passed a Long Legged Buzzard by the roadside and the bird did not move. I turned the car around and made my way back towards the perched bird. Needless to say the bird flew but I did manage a couple of pictures. I finished the day gull watching but was not successful on the Pallas’s Gull front.

The end of the day concluded my brief trip to Bulgaria. I am certain I will return and thank Pavel and his wife for their hospitality at The Branta Birding Lodge in Durakulak. This lodge is a perfect place to stay with excellent home cooked food and packed lunches for crazy people like me who stay out all day! Thank you both I hope to see you again soon!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Bulgaria - Shabla to Cape Kaliakra - Day 3

The best of today’s birds were seen later on in the day along the road 901 to Cape Kaliakra. This road is picked up off the E87 at Shabla and passes through four villages before you reach the Cape. The area is steppe for as far as the eye can see. The Cape itself has a high coastline with cliffs which has historic relevance as a fort which overlooks the sea and the land.

My bird of the day Calandra Lark was seen on the roadside on the way back from the Cape and had me patiently positioned to get the best pictures of the group that was feeding. I have found the Bulgarian people friendly and somewhat curious as to what I am doing during my stay. I guess a guy in green carrying binoculars and no gun at this time of year is odd and a curious man stopped his car in front of mine as I looked at the Larks ahead! The Larks flew off as he spoke to me (thinking I was a hunter?!). I don’t have the first idea what he said but I showed him my Collins guide and he toddled off back to his car and drove off. I had to chuckle because he was oblivious to what I was looking at and I had already taken some shots (pictures!!) of the birds. The hunting season lasts for a month finishing at the end of January and is worth bearing in mind if you book a birding trip to Bulgaria!

Shore Lark would also feature on the interesting species list for the day and four birds were noted earlier on in the day as I was travelling to the Cape along the same road. White-fronted Goose was a regular feature overhead flying in strict formation.

There were a lot of Common Buzzard and Hen Harrier showing today. The warm thermals had created ideal hunting conditions for them. Kestrels were also frequently seen around the pylons.

I had spent the morning at Krapets on the beach looking at gulls and waterfowl. There were a small group of Red-breasted Merganser that dropped in within scope distance. Along the dunes I got very close to Siskin that were so busy feeding they totally ignored the car as it approached.

I finished the day at Shabla lakes and along the beach where I spoke to a couple of local ornithologists who directed me to a group of Knot which had a Dunlin in tow. Wigeon were seen in flight with Mallard. The sea was like a queue for a bus with Black-headed and Common Gull, Pochard, Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe all waiting for the nearby lakes to thaw! 

Friday, 20 January 2017

Bulgaria - Durankulak and Beyond - Day 2

I awoke this morning and made it to the balcony to witness the morning chorus of geese flying in from the sea (as all the lakes are frozen!). Thousands of Red-breasted in a complete shambles of a flock and the perfect formation of White-fronted Geese piled over the lodge some landing on the fields near the front of the lodge. Amazing!

I set off for the camp site near Durankulak where I could set up my first sea watching stall. The wind had dropped but it was bitterly cold. I slowly made my way along the road looking through the flocks of passerines containing Brambling, Greenfinch, Tree and House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting and a Syrian Woodpecker that was shadowing one ground feeding flock!

There was still a trickle of geese coming inland amongst a steady flow of Yellow-legged, Caspian and the odd Common Gull thrown in the mix. Wildfowl were also moving with a small party of Red-crested Pochard, Mallard and Tufted duck who decided to occupy the sea for the morning.

There was Black-necked Grebe scattered along the coast with the survivors of the Coot flocks.

A pair of Marsh Harrier seemed to be completing a circuit of the reed-bed heading out to sea and returning at the very point that they started at.

Having spent a couple of hours watching the sea the sun was beginning to wake up making viewing and photography difficult so I moved back towards the E87 to head towards Krapets where the road has a single line of trees either side. This area was again good for flocks of passerines which had Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Blackbird and a lone Mistle Thrush.

My next stop was to be in the Shabla area. I checked the Great Cormorants on the platform of which many were of the race sinensis. A couple of Skylark were making their way along the shore when they were ambushed by a Merlin who surprisingly missed its intended meal on its first attack.
There was one lake in this area that had small patches of clear water. The gulls and Marsh Harriers were tucking into more Coots that had perished in the harsh conditions. A female Pintail and a lone Pochard made up the duck numbers along with Greylag and Red-breasted Goose.

During the journey back to the lodge I saw Long legged, Rough legged and Common Buzzard most were observed hunting over the open fields. A Ringtail Hen Harrier was seen hunting near a cemetery but I could not re-locate it having turned the car around at the next available stop point along the road.

Another good day packed full of birds!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Bulgaria - Durankulak Lake - Day 1

The day began at ridiculous o clock with a drive to Luton Airport and the Whizz Air flight to Varna. On arrival at Varna Airport I picked up my hire car and set the Satnav to work in getting me to my destination Branta Birding Lodge at Durankulak Lake.

There had been a fair bit of snowfall in the Varna area and this would add considerable driving time to my drive with some parts of the main highway being cleared by snowploughs and other parts requiring full concentration to navigate successfully.

Along the way I saw several Hooded Crow, House Sparrow, Magpie, Chaffinch and a Long-legged Buzzard which was hovering near the roadside. I hope to catch up with more of the later during my stay.

I got to Branta Birding lodge later than anticipated but without any problems and was greeted by Pavel’s wife who informed me that there was a flock of geese in the field opposite the lodge. 

I didn’t waste any time and very quickly I was feasting my eyes on distant but scope views of around 500 Red Breasted and small groups of White Fronted Geese. Slightly higher up the hill were a mix of Whooper and Bewick’s Swan.

In the garden to the lodge were small numbers of passerines Greenfinch, Great Tit and Chaffinch. A pair of Kestrel were hunting and using the shelter of the house to avoid the chilling Northerly winds.

Pavel informed me that a lot of the geese would have moved further South to Burgas where it was warmer and the geese could feed on unfrozen ground. A day trip to Burgas looks out of the question due to the condition of the roads. The good news was that this was likely to be the last of the snow and the next few days would be colder, clearer and the wind would drop increasing bird activity in the area.

I will therefore head to the beach for some sea watching as this is where most movement of birds will take place. Pavel photographed Goosander passing through there today they are considered a rarity in this area!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The joy of birding and FA Cup Football..!!

I did manage a pre match visit to the Farm yesterday and took a wander around the site. The Siberian Chiffchaff seemed to be in good voice and posed for photos with the glorious sunshine at its back! It almost look Willow Warbler esque!

There was a good few Redwing in the area with the odd Fieldfare passing through. The Cetti’s Warbler joined in the mini chorus from time to time! There are three plus birds on the Farm at the moment which is pretty amazing considering only a few years ago this species was considered a MEGA on the Farm.

A Buzzard took a troubled flight across 100 Acre hotly pursued by Corvids. This is a regular obstacle for any raptor that dares to traverse the Farm boundaries.

A walk back to the North Lake had me spying a Black Swan that was spending its third day being chased around the lake by an aggressive Mute Swan. I guess it will gain in physical fitness over time! A couple of Caspian Gull had been seen by Pete Alfrey during my travels but not a bad day at my patch.
(picture taken from Skysports)
The final accolade goes to my local football teams giant killing in the FA Cup 3rd round replay against AFC Wimbledon (The true Dons!) last night. I have witnessed some amazing results and played in some giant killing matches myself (some 100years ago!!) but Sutton Utd pulled a huge rabbit out of a small hat last night! The poor away league form and its frustrations disappeared in the blink of an eye when Rory, Maxi and Dan sealed passage into the next round!

I witnessed the victory over Coventry at Gander Green Lane in 1989 and a few other FA Cup successes by this club over the years but I rate this one as good if not better bearing in mind the science that goes into football today! But this is what the FA Cup is all about and the many friends made along the way! Understandably we all went crazeeee... I feel like I have been in a car crash and look forward to getting my voice back!! Thanks to the AFC officials and stewards for being friendly and great hosts! 

The U’s I salute you.. Bravo!! I look forward to the next game!

Now to get myself together for a flight to Bulgaria at stupid o clock tomorrow!!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Beddington Farm - Firecrest!

I don’t tend to run around the Farm much these days but the chance to photograph a Firecrest had me walking towards biker’s field at a brisk pace. Glenn and Tank had re-found a bird that may have spent some time on 100 Acre since the beginning of the year.

The bird was observed on top of the scrub just before the tree line which marks the boundary of the Farm’s recording area. Some creeping about later and pictures of the bird were secured. I remained in the area for a while afterwards to look for other woodland birds.

Today’s visit was a short one with a Cup game beckoning for my local team at Worthing!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Beddington Farm - Glaucous Gull Re-appears!

Gull watch is a daily feature at the Farm during the winter months. The weather has turned cold resulting in both the lakes freezing over. This provides a fantastic opportunity to read rings that are on some of the gulls. Tracking gull movements through rings is a relatively straight forward process with many groups having a website to look up the ring numbers. Frank collates all this information and contacts European based groups confirming the identity and timeline of sites the bird has been reported at.

There are approximately 10,000+ gulls daily on site and with the location of the landfill at present there are plenty of nearby options for gulls to wash up and rest. Having recorded a few rings with Frank on the North Lake we moved with Pete onto the tip. Whilst on the tip the Glaucous Gull was picked up in the corner of Pete’s eye and it was heading low towards the South Lake. Without wasting any time we all hot footed it over to the lake where the bird was found.

Another side to the freeze is the effect it has on the wildfowl with very little space on either lake for these birds to feed. Yesterday the female Pintail waddled along the frozen edge of the lake. It appeared bemused looking at the mass of gulls and the frozen water under its feet!

Monday, 2 January 2017

Richmond Park - Stonechat sp !

I hitched an early morning ride with Pete and Dylan Alfrey to Richmond Park to see a Stonechat that had gained itself much attention and created discussion since its arrival last October. After a small detour in getting there we began out short trek from the Sheen car park to the area the bird was frequenting.

We were halted in our tracks a few metres from the mobile obs by a calling Lesser Spotted Woodpecker a Nuthatch and Coal Tit followed soon after. The next species Common Stonechat was of particular interest to have fresh in the mind for comparison with our intended quarry.

There are not too many gatherings of Surrey VC / Surrey birders but it is always great to meet folk that you either only associate with from FB or Twitter. The Tice’s gang were there too. Congratulations on winning your bid! The last time I saw Franko was in similar circumstances!

Our target has been likened to an Eastern race of Stonechat which breeds in Siberia (maurus, stejnegeri). A similar bird which is still present at Dungeness has had an initial DNA result suggesting it is of the race stejnegeri adding extra interest factor to this bird. I understand that a second DNA test is to be completed in relation to the Dungeness bird.

The good news is that a sample of droppings has been collected and submitted for DNA analysis and I guess it is a waiting game to establish the identity of this bird which incidentally showed well while we were there.

Pete has provided an excellent breakdown and discussion about the features of this bird therefore I won’t go into great detail beyond the pictures I took of the bird. A very interesting bird whatever the outcome! .

The walk back to the obs diverted our attention to the marvellous numbers of Red and Fallow Deer in the park. 

and a few Rabbits. Who said London was just a concrete jungle!

I spent the rest of the day chasing the Glaucous Gull around Beddington Farm which I caught up with on the area of the lagoons having missed it on the lake by seconds. 

There is something very exciting about January birding! Note to self: Improve my digi-scoping and learn to type quicker (Last to post again)!