Sunday 30 June 2013

Back to macro

OK, so it’s taken me until the very end of June to crack, but today it was time to put the birding kit to one side and get back into butterflies and dragonflies! John, Graham and I headed up the M1 out of London, through Birmingham, and on to Whixall Moss on the Welsh border – one of the most southerly raised sphagnum and peat bogs in the country, and home to a range of rare species including two lifers for me. White-faced Darter is a pretty tricky dragonfly to see in the UK, with only a handful of English sites, while I’ve never been in the right place at the right time for the slightly more widespread Large Heath butterfly.

Arriving at Moss Cottages (SJ501364) on the eastern side of the site mid morning, the weather was far from perfect – largely cloudy with only fairly brief sunny intervals, with a fresh breeze. However, we were well pleased to find both target species almost immediately, along a small ditch on the left of the track only a couple of hundred yards beyond the last cottage.

Over the next few hours, we saw around 6-8 White-faced Darters, all males apart from one pair seen briefly in cop. Pretty smart little dragons, and reasonably obliging for photos!


By contrast, the Large Heaths were very tricky to see well – tucking well into the vegetation out of the wind most of the time, and then being carrying swiftly by the wind when they did get airborne. We only saw two or three on the deck, with this individual the only one I managed to photograph at all!


The real star of the show from a photographic point-of-view was the Four-spotted Chaser, the most abundant dragonfly at the site by some margin, and regularly perching out in the open and sitting tight for photos. I’d forgotten how tricky it is to get sharp images with a macro lens (and the correspondingly shallow depth of field), so plenty have just gone in the bin – but I’d also forgotten how much detail the Sigma 150mm can extract when you do get it something close to right. Pleased with some of these – click to enlarge!


Before heading back home (and suffering the post Grand Prix traffic on the M1), we popped into the nearby Prees Heath Butterfly Conservation reserve to have a look for newly emerged Silver-studded Blues. We quickly found about half a dozen of these, again showing well.


All in all, an excellent summer’s day!

Sunday 23 June 2013

A chilled Rosy at the weekend

Suzanne and I headed up to see my family in Norfolk on Friday night and, with decidedly non-summery weather throughout, had a thoroughly lazy and laidback weekend – perfect! Saturday featured a trip to the pub to watch the Lions scrape home past the Wallabies (thank God they couldn’t kick…), a barbeque, and a little trip up to Wells for the rather stunning adult Rose-coloured Starling on the quay.

After checking my notes, it turns out that this is my seventh in the UK – but only the second adult bird. The first was a lifer for me, behind the Lowestoft Birds Eye factory on 18 June 1995. So, just over 18 years later, about time for another!


Tuesday 11 June 2013

Turkey: a quick summary

Over half-term week, Suzanne and I were lucky enough to spend eight days in Turkey – primarily to enjoy Rhiannon and Simon’s beautiful wedding down in Bodrum, in the far south-west of the country, but we also added a few days travel in the east of the country onto the itinerary for variety and a bit of birding. As many birders have done before, we focused on the Birecik area, along with a few other bits and pieces within a couple of hours from here.

I’ll write up a trip report in due course with a few more details and a full trip list – but for now, here’s a quick summary of what we saw, and some pics. (In general, I spent very little time on photography, since the light was generally extremely harsh, and I also had relatively little time, so concentrated on seeing the target species rather than photographing a subset).

If anyone wants more info on the following, please drop me a line, or leave a comment here.

Key birds (personal highlights in bold!)

  • Black Francolin: one heard early morning at Birecik north gravel pits, not seen
  • See-see Partridge: one seen well from a tractor ride into steppe country near Yeni Akpinar, conserved by the Doga Dernegi charity (I think). Another briefly in flight from the car nearby,
  • Pygmy Cormorant: many flying up and down the R Euphrates in and around Birecik
  • Bald Ibis: at least one pair nesting in the wadi not far from the Ibis Centre in Birecik – hard to know whether these really are wild or not!
  • Pallid (Striated) Scops Owl: one visiting an apparent nest site at the far end of the tea gardens in Birecik after dark – look for a tree with a broken top immediately beyond the blue fountain. However, this was completely surpassed by one that sang from a hole in the wall of our hotel in Halfeti, right above our room!!


  • White-throated Kingfisher: at least a couple south of Adana, around the well-publicised site


  • Blue-cheeked Bee-eater: at least 20 birds around the breeding colony at Estagfirullah were absolutely awesome! None at the site to the SW of the Ataturk Baraji.


  • Bimaculated Lark: one or two near Yeni Akpinar, but better seen song-flighting east of Isikli, west of Gaziantep.
  • Rufous Scrub Robin: common in suitable habitat


  • White-throated Robin: numerous around Durnalik and Isikli – e.g. at least six seen both times we visited


  • Finsch’s Wheatear: a couple at Yeni Akpinar – stunning birds!
  • Graceful Warbler: easy at Birecik north gravel pits
  • Menetries’s Warbler: pretty easy around Birecik and Halfeti
  • Upcher’s Warbler: best seen above the ibis wadi, and also near Durnalik and around Birecik
  • Eastern Rock Nuthatch: easy a couple of miles outside (old) Halfeti. Also near Durnalik
  • White-spectacled Bulbul: various sites around Birecik and Halfeti. (Note that a small group of White-eared Bulbul had been present at Birecik Tea Gardens a week or two before we visited – believe this is only the second record for Turkey)
  • Iraq Babbler: pretty easy early morning around Birecik north gravel pits
  • Dead Sea Sparrow: easiest in the cemetery on the track towards the Birecik north gravel pits, where rather abundant; also seen around the pits themselves
  • Yellow-throated Sparrow: just north of Birecik, around pistachio plantations
  • Pale Rock Sparrow: seen on both visits to Durnalik, and also one at Yeni Akpinar
  • Desert Finch: a small group were the only ones seen, in pistachios on the minor road leading east out of (new) Halfeti towards Sutveren
  • Cinereous Bunting: just one, at Durnalik.

… and of course there was no shortage of other, more widely distributed species either!


Saturday 8 June 2013

Catching up, part II

Continuing in my desperate attempt to get up-to-date with photos from the last few months – here’s a few.

This Woodchat was an absolute stunner near Chew Valley Lake, on our way back from Devon. Bit of sunshine would’ve been nice, but still…



Then there was a day in the Brecks, starting off with a look at the celebratory Otters in Thetford…


…. and a pleasant wander around Lakenheath, while the Red-footed Falcon was still early on in its stay, and showing poorly. This Whooper Swan looks like it’s settled in the for the summer.


The following day, I popped out to Maldon where I was surprised to have a Black-winged Stilt completely to myself for a while – apparently everyone else thinks they’re not bothering with?!


Two weeks later, a Friday night beer was rudely interrupted by late breaking news from Margate – but of course I was there the next day soon after dawn for the Dusky(ish?) Thrush:


… and then, like everyone else, a wander around Reculver was in order. The female Montagu’s Harrier had the decency to give us a couple of moderately close passes, and a Cuckoo showed rather well.


All very nice indeed… but not quite in the same league as the week in Turkey that followed over half-term. No fewer than 18 new Western Palearctic birds for me: watch this space!