Friday, 29 June 2012

Stir Crazy

Closing in on two weeks that have seen me not venture much further than the back garden due to the durg not having had the obligatory full set of jabs. This morning I decided enough was enough and the risk of rabies or whatever else was probably reduced by the brief showers of the previous evening and as long as I avoided contact with other durgs and spotted any potential life threatening turds before the durg we would be OK ( I should highlight for Ashington readers that the turds in question aren't frog-like creatures they're dog droppings).

West of West Chevington the evidence of a return to the coastal hinterland for some species was visible this morning with several Curlews along with a mixed gull flock that contained just a single juvenile Black-headed Gull amongst the many adults perhaps highlighting an expected poor breeding season.

At East Chevington the North Pool was quiet, a group of 10(ish) drake Tufted Ducks in the centre of the pond containing a smart drake Scaup amongst them. Two Great Crested Grebes and some occasional acrobatics from bathing Common Terns the only other notes in my notebook.

I reached Druridge and the Budge Screen to find ADMc intently watching an adult Long-eared Owl that was hunting in the morning sun; it continued to hunt pretty much for the next twenty minutes almost always on show. Conversation overcame concentration but a movement in the south-east corner revealed a falcon with several hirundines in close attention and the characteristic jizz of the Hobby that has been patrolling various sites around Druridge Bay and just inland zipped into view. A short dash dragging the durg and we had headed it off at the gate as it passed almost over our heads moving south giving brief but close views. A scarce and pleasant tick to bring up 200 in Northumberland during the first six months of 2012 for me.

We parted company soon after and amid further heavy showers the durg and I headed to the North Blyth high tide wader roost to look for any early action from the car. Turnstones numbered 11 and there were probably 25 Oystercatchers but nothing to task the brain. Across the river the Herring & Lesser black -backed breeding sites on the large storage shed roofs look to have been almost all wiped out by last night's deluge. I found one Herring Gull that may have still been sitting on a nest but no other nest signs at all, presumably the volume of water running down the slopes has just washed the nests and contents off the roof completely (the only hope might be the centre roof where conceivably chicks could have been washed down into the centre and still surviving).

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Closed Ears at The Scottish Gamekeeper's Association

I headed over to the Facebook page of the Scottish Gamekeeper's Association (SGA) tonight to see if there was any condemnation of the Scottish Gamekeeper convicted today for allowing a Buzzard to starve to death in a crow trap on the Glen Lyon Estate. Unsurprisingly perhaps they have not seen fit to comment, though they are delighting in the apparent dilemma we (not sure if we are conservationists or bird protectionists this week) now face after a video of a Buzzard predating an Osprey chick was posted on the internet. One wise wag commenting 'which has more value now' perhaps missing the point slightly that we value all of them but happily accept that they are predators and do what comes naturally (or at least I do).

I tried to leave a comment, my comments recently trying to put an alternative view have all been removed fairly quickly, only to find that I appear to have been blocked permanently from commenting. Fairly clear they aren't interested in exploring, debating or discussing, if you don't agree with their world view they don't want to know.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

White-rumped Swift 'Discovery'

Back in October last year whilst out in Portugal one of the small number of new lifers I was lucky enough to get was White-rumped Swift. Found at Noudar Castle in Noudar Nature Park by our guide João Jara it was a fantastic bird in an amazing location that I nearly missed.

Putting icing on the cake I have just had an email from Portugese birder Rui Morgado to update me (and others in the group) with the following:

After an observation made in October 2011 in the Noudar Castle with some of you (the first observation there in 15 years), and a recent observation of 2 individuals in the same place on the 30th May 2012, it was now possible (14th June) to confirm the occupation of a red-rumped swallow nest in the river valley next to the castle. This is the first nesting record for the area and only the 4th or 5th nest location known in Portugal. 


copyright Mariana Antunes

Monday, 25 June 2012

National Gamekeepers Organisation Buzzard Agenda Laid Bare

With the partial release of meeting notes in relation to the Buzzard Management proposals the anti-Buzzard agenda of the National Gamekeepers Organisation has been laid bare for all to see. It is apparent throughout the series of meetings that the NGO were the lead organisation pushing hard to ensure that they achieve a situation whereby Natural England issue licences for the control of Buzzards. It is also apparent that there was some shameful manipulation some of the alleged 'evidence' during the furore afterwards.

Let' see what we have learned from the partial information released.

1. The initial meeting states "that Richard Benyon,Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries had asked that officials from Defra and NE meet with NGO following submission of their paper Licensing the Control of Predatory Birds To Prevent Serious Damage to Pheasant Shoots."

2. One of NGO's key arguments was " Gamekeepers are committed to adopting lawful management of buzzards but that where this is proving unnecessarily difficult there is a risk of an increase of unlawful action – the licensing system therefore needs to act as a „safety valve‟ where there are genuine conflicts arising"

In other words if you don't give us what we want some of us are likely to go ahead and kill the Buzzards anyway.

3. NGO have difficulty counting, during their presentation they claimed "The NGO consider there are around 300, 000 birds in the UK in late summer" yet in their press releases supporting the research and subsequently kicking off about it's cancellation the number had miraculously increased to 'half a million' see here and here.

4. Perhaps keen not to be too reliant on the actual numbers of Pheasant poults predated in case it comes back to bite them on the arse they are also "concerned that poults are subject to stress induced illness caused by buzzards preying on and flying near poults (both inside pens and following release of the poults) and that this stress is also preventing poults from accessing the feeders as they need to." Apparently someone noted "that this was bollocks principally based upon anecdotal evidence rather than published research"

5. NGO negativity concerning non-lethal management is obvious from some of their comments on diversionary feeding ranging from "suggested that diversionary feeding had not yet been shown to work in many circumstances" to "highlighted that there was a lack of academic, peer reviewed research demonstrating diversionary feeding can work." They also rather bizarrely seem to have been pursuing questions over why diversionary feeding of Cormorants and by Airports had not been used?
Further exchanges saw NGO bizarrely raise "concerns that carcasses left with lead shot in them could be in contravention of the WCA as they are knowingly putting out a bait containing a poisonous substance." Quite rightly someone in the meeting pointed out the own goal stating that "different shot could also be used, non lead - steel for example being cheaper than lead to purchase and use" and "that many thousand (millions?) of rabbits, pigeons, pheasants etc are shot with lead and their carcasses not recovered each year. Game and wildlife entering the human food-chain is also killed with lead shot. If the lead risk is as great as asserted then perhaps the use of lead should be reconsidered"

6. NGO also noted that "there was significant expense in terms of time in putting out and replacing diversionary feeding carcasses" Yes much easier and cheaper to shoot the damn things isn't it?

By the time the next meeting came around NGO were still arguing the case against diversionary feeding by now citing a study (no reference) that Natural England had to point out "was in fact in referring to supplementary feeding, where food is left out for a long period, rather than diversionary feeding where food is left out at certain key times" So if you can't find proper scientific evidence just put a spin on what you do find to ensure it backs up your arguments...

7. NGO aren't interested in your views, they are well aware that public opinion is not in their favour and they clearly intend sidestepping it as they "emphasised that their paper established that public opinion on raptors could not be taken into account when determining licence applications and that under the Defra Wildlife Management Strategy no licence could be unreasonably withheld"

8. Good to see that even at the discussion stage the RSPB " objected to the use of lethal control as part of this study, or to capturing and subsequently releasing buzzards after a period in captivity (to the same area or elsewhere) to mimic lethal control. The RSPB felt that capture-and-release would be dubiously legal, would not significantly further our understanding and would not foster an atmosphere of collaborative working." Perhaps if this advice had been listened to by the other particpants and decision makers the whole sorry episode could have been avoided.

9. Many of the organisation supporting the proposed research on Buzzards were keen to highlight the notion that 76|% of gamekeepers had said they had problems with Buzzards. It is apparent from the minutes of the final meeting and the presentation of the FERA desk study this is not quite what the responses indicated rather that " the FERA report data that included a figure of 76% of shoots experiencing some level of predation from buzzards but that not all shoots would consider licensed control necessary" In other words the alleged anecdotal evidence to justify the proposals was even flimsier than we knew at the time.

10. Incredibly and damning in my view the FERA desk study found that "Studies suggest that pheasants form a relatively small part of buzzard’s diets" and "Losses to shoots are generally low" and "The design of release pen is influential in the level of predation experienced" Yet the proposals still went ahead, this seems to indicate to me that DEFRA officals were under pressure from above to keep NGO or perhaps even the landowner here in the North East happy.

11. The FERA representative ended by stating "the desk study undertaken tends to suggest most of the available research is correlative rather than causal in nature." Not exactly a strong case then?

It then becomes clear that the tender and research proposals had already been issued at this point ahead of the findings of the FERA desk study. The only conclusion again that can be drawn is that someone within DEFRA was very keen to keep some individuals happy and did not wish to waste time on any evidence gathering exercise. Despite what some in the shooting fraternity have already began to put about claiming the RSPB were colluding on this issue the minutes clearly state "RSPB have reservations about the research and these would be formally provided to the Group in due course"

The full meeting minutes texts can be found here.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

More Cull Calls - Cormorants

Hot on the heels of DEFRA's Buzzard plans some of the biggest supporters of those original flawed proposals have ganged together in the last few days to issue a statement about another group of predators that apparently are in urgent need of control. Like something from a Marvel comic many of the well-known baddies have joined forces to launch a new attack this time on Cormorants and Goosanders. The full text can be read here  but basically the various organisations involved would like to see both species added to the General Licence that would allow them to be shot, trapped and killed pretty much willy-nilly to protect fishing businesses.

The rhetoric contained within the press release is fairly familiar with "We do not take this position lightly, but we do so on the basis of clear evidence that these two species have grown, and continue to grow to unsustainable population numbers; overwintering cormorants have increased from around 2,000 in the early eighties to nearly 25,000 in recent years" and "Many cormorants are of the sub-species Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis, and there is no evidence that this inland bird has any history of existence in the UK before the last few decades. Goosanders were also not recorded in the UK in any significant number before the last century. Their massive growth in numbers has upset the natural balance of our freshwater environment."

What is clear from this and the way many of the self-same organisations (BASC, GWCT and CA) talk about raptors in the same language is that putting aside the vested interests that most have in maintaining the 'industries' that have sprung up around shooting and fishing in recent decades there appears to be a fundamental lack of understanding (or is it just spin?) about the recent history of some of the species involved. In the last 100 years we have moved from times when many predators were either removed from the environment by man for various reasons, some deliberate, some accidental through pesticide use for example. Some of these species such as Buzzards and (in a wider European context Cormorants) have recovered in recent times and begun to return to former population sizes. The problem lies in the fact that for most, living memory does not include a time when these species were more abundant so that they are recovering is something that is either missed (conveniently or not I'm not sure) and language like the above is used instead to explain the increases. It is again notable that as in the Buzzard/Pheasant debate the irony of claiming that natural balance has been upset is lost on those that release the chosen prey of their sport in unnaturally high numbers to make and keep businesses viable.

Reading around the statement I was interested to come across the name of 'The Predator Action Group' not an organisation that I have come across before but after spending some time on their website it is one I'll be paying a bit more attention to. Their raison d'etre from their website for example is "The PAG has been formed to research the predation issue and put together a convincing case for some measure of control of predators. In the first instance the PAG’s brief is to report their findings to the Angling Trust. If that doesn’t have the desired effect then it may become necessary to lobby the government direct"

Clearly they have their minds made up about the issue as the notion that any research might not support some of their claims is not one that is entertained. They have set out and appear to be well on the way to raise £50,000 to pay for a lobbyist to do the work they need. A dig into the profiles of some of the individuals involved indicates that most are professionally involved in the Angling industry, owning lakes, tackle ranges etc, magazine publishing etc.

Two of the three predators they are vigorously pursuing come in for a no-nonsense approach, Cormorants for example get "We in the PREDATION ACTION GROUP think that a CORMORANT CULL should be under taken by government agencies employing teams of shooters, with access to severely depleted river systems [where at present no one is allowed to cull] and not left to fishery owners and clubs as is now the case, with pitiful licences issued by Natural England for permission to shoot insignificant numbers of birds.. The whole situation is disgraceful and one huge farce.
As with any destructive predator we in the PREDATION ACTION GROUP believe that a policy of ‘FARMERS DEFENCE’ should exist with fish, because if a farmer is within his rights to shoot someone’s dog worrying his sheep, surely all fish farmers and fishery owners should be able to do like wise, to protect their stock?"

They go on to make claims that "  Its raping of small silver shoal fishes from our freshwater environments means that the larder has become bare for our indigenous water birds such as dabchicks, great crested grebes and kingfishers"

A brief look at the population trends and information via the BTO would seem to make nonsense of some of these claims with an absence of declines that can be attributed to predation by Cormorants and Otters for any of the three species mentioned.

This group aren't another Songbird Survival though, a read of their Chairman Tim Paisley's intro reveals a sophistication and wiliness about the way they are pursuing their agenda. These guys (and ladies) are organised, clever, media-savvy and intent on achieving their aims. They are well aware of the negatives that can happen through not 'managing their message' - note the absence of a call for a cull of Otters on the website despite the repeated call for 'Farmer's Defence' above as they know that public opinion would be anti-cull. Tim Paisley makes no secret of this "Some revolutions have to be achieved by stealth rather than open warfare!" he states as well as openly admitting "The private attitude of some members of the PAG body is different to the public face we want to show to the world. I have no doubt that will change."

He goes on to highlight parts of their strategy " The Angling Trust was set up to represent all anglers and if the Trust is seen not to be working on our behalf where otters are concerned then we have to set about changing that situation through making an unanswerable case and then negotiating. The PAG is side-stepping the membership issue and modelling itself as a ‘research and report’ organ. That way we can claim to represent as many anglers as we choose at any given time because we feel we are working in the interests of all anglers, and the many people associated with angling."

Make no bones about it they want rid of Cormorants and Otters and I'm willing to bet as the continued breeding range expansion and density of Ospreys continues throughout England they will turn their attention to Ospreys too.
This has been a long post and I have more to say on the subject but I'll leave it there for now but this is another issue where I feel as if the conservation community is 'sleepwalking' in the face of sustained and sophisticated attacks on some of our wildlife.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

DEFRA Refuses to Name Estate Involved In Cancelled Buzzard Trial

Pretty much expected DEFRA are refusing to release the name of the estate that allegedly made repeated requests to control Buzzards here in Northumberland deeming that disclosing this information would expose the shoots and the individuals living and working there to potential violent objection and
would potentially place those persons at risk of physical harm. 

Perfectly understandable of course that they wish to protect the men with the shotguns from that violent and despicable section of society that is the birdwatching and conservation community...

Full text below, anyone with any experience of challenging these ridiculous notions please feel free to get in touch as I still believe it is in the public interest to know whether the estate in question has any connection or association with Richard Benyon. Hopefully the other FoI request taking a different tack will have more success.

Thank you for your request for information about the names and locations of estates in
Northumberland which were included as suggested sites for research within the
specification for the previously-advertised research project CTE1201, which we received
on 22 May. As you know, we have handled your request under the Environmental
Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs).
I can confirm that Defra does hold the information that you have requested, but we have
decided that the information should be withheld under the exception provided by regulation
12(5)(a) of the EIR, relating to the protection of public safety. This regulation states:.
“…a public authority may refuse to disclose information to the extent that its
disclosure would adversely affect…
(a) international relations, defence, national security or public safety;”
Any disclosure made under the EIRs is, in effect, a disclosure to the world at large, as any
other applicant would be entitled to the same information on request. To release under the
EIRs – and, thus place in the public domain – information that would identify the location of
the previously-advertised research would adversely affect public safety. As you are
aware, the original proposals for this research were withdrawn when public concerns were
raised. Defra officials will collaborate with all the organisations that have an interest in this
issue and will bring forward new proposals for research.
The non-lethal management of birds of prey for the purposes of preventing serious
damage is a sensitive issue, which the recent public concern has demonstrated. We
believe that the release of the site locations would impact adversely upon the protection of
the individuals, public buildings, and the health and safety of the individuals at the sites.
The exception to disclosure at regulation 12(5)(a) of the EIRs is subject to the public
interest test, which means that we have to consider whether the public interest in
disclosure of the information outweighs the public interest in withholding the information.
Therefore, in applying this exception, we have taken account of the public interest for and
against disclosure of the information that you have requested. While we believe that it is
important that the public was made aware of the proposals, and their subsequent
reconsideration, we consider that it is not in the public interest to disclose the exact
location of these sites. The public right to protest must be balanced against the risk of
harm to persons and property. We believe that disclosing this information would expose
the shoots and the individuals living and working there to potential violent objection and
would potentially place those persons at risk of physical harm. It is not in the public interest
to disclose information where that would put people at such a risk of harm. Consequently,
we have concluded that this information is exempt from disclosure under the exception at
regulation 12(5) of the EIRs.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Black-winged Stilts

One of those species it's hard not to see on a trip to southern Spain. Many of my previous visits have been in winter/autumn and all the Black-winged Stilts I've seen have either been on lakes/lagoons or in the white heat of saltpans so I was pleased to find a small breeding 'colony' on the Rio Grande just north of Casapalma.

Several small groups of chicks were visible in huddles on small islands out in the river with adult numbers running into double figures. The adults got a little noisy as I approached but settled back down to feed once I sat quietly. Several Cattle Egrets and Little Ringed Plovers here too and a flyover Short-toed Eagle made for an enjoyable morning.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Black-eared Wheatear

One of the speciality birds of Serrania de Ronda, I was pleased to catch up with a pair feeding young in a rocky area about 200m from the main through road. Never allowing me close these were always going to be just a record of having seen them..

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Late News & Sexy Habitat

That last post about Woodchat Shrikes reminded me it's been such a great year for shrikes here in Northumberland. Good numbers of Great Grey Shrikes both wintering and moving back through in early Spring and a superb Spring for Red-backed Shrikes in the county too.

Newbiggin/Woodhorn came up trumps with Red-backed Shrikes in May with two males arriving. What may not be widely known is that one of the males was heard singing and the following day a female was also found in the same location. Understandably news of this was kept fairly low profile just in case the presence of 'a pair' developed into something more interesting. It hasn't and neither bird has been seen since, whether they were ever present at exactly the same time or whether the male singing actually 'pulled in' the female will remain a mystery, but three shrikes over three days in one small area is a good return in anyone's book!

Red-backed Shrike (female)

I had planned to go listening for Quail for a couple of hours this morning before attempting some forest clearance on the back lawn after lunch and then starting work. An early morning email about a rather scarce county species saw me change plans and head off on a search. A couple of hours later I had drawn a blank, though the habitat at the location looked pretty sexy for the species in question so another trip may be in order. Sorry about the secrecy but it's schedule 1, in a sensitive location and one of those species where you just know some will turn up with the stereo blasting!

Sexy Habitat!

I spent a good while just hanging about, a couple of Bullfinch flew silently from Honeysuckle nearby and a Jay dipped over a barn roof. Young Great Tits, Long-tailed Tits and Chiffchaffs were seemingly everywhere and the local Common Whitethroats decided I was worth a closer inspection providing an opportunity to unpack the lens...

The latter individual was at a different site on the way home after I reverted to Quail-listening at a site that has held them before, though the increasing wind and a man with one ear aren't really the best combination for finding Quail.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Woodchat Shrike

The default shrike in the Sierra Nieves. One of the species we saw every single day of our fortnight. We had a regular male that used wires in the adjacent property each day and could often be spied from the pool before dropping onto potential prey.

On one of my early morning forays whilst the kids and wife still slept I came across a family party of two juveniles and both parents in a fenced off fruit plantation beside a river. The presence of fledged juveniles allowed me a little time to get some photographs as the female watched me closely and one of the juvs came to take a peek as I crouched nearby. I'd have preferred the male but hey beggars and all that..

DEFRA Attempts To Conceal Buzzard Management Trial Sites

As I blogged a couple of weeks ago, part of my response to the proposed Buzzard Management Trials was to make a Freedom of Information request to DEFRA to reveal the details and locations of the estates here in Northumberland that were claiming to have this huge issue with Buzzards taking Pheasant poults. I believe that this information should be in the public domain so that the estate(s) in question can be contacted and details of their evidence requested. It will also be interesting to see whether there is any obvious relationship between the landowner and the government minister who sanctioned this proposed trial.

After 20 days I received some communication today (full text below) asking if I now wanted to cancel my request. It appears obvious that they do not wish this information to be made public, what is it DEFRA and this landowner have to hide?
I have of course reaffirmed my desire to have this information provided with the full intention of publishing it here as and when it is supplied.

Thank you for your request for information about the recently-advertised research project that Defra was planning to carry out in to non-lethal methods of managing buzzard predation on pheasant poults, which we received on 24 May 2012. We are handling your request under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs).

As you may know, the advertised research project your request concerns is no longer proceeding. Richard Benyon, Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, recently announced that, because of public concerns, he has decided to look at developing new research proposals on buzzards in collaboration with all the organisations that have an interest in this issue.

As the research project has been cancelled, I should be grateful if you would please confirm if you wish to withdraw your request for information.  It would be helpful if you could please reply by email or telephone (details below) by 4.00pm on Friday 15 June.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


To the BTO. I forgot to mention that midway through the whole Buzzard nonsense I received a phone call from someone fairly senior in the BTO to explain their position on the the issue in relation to both the proposals and the working group. I can't fail to be impressed by any organisation that is a) savvy enough with social media to know what is going on and who is rabble rousing and b) takes the time to pick up the phone to a non-member and explain their stance. For any organisation the size of the BTO good media management and communication is essential and if they can respond as quickly as they did to a non-member on an issue like this they are both on the ball and worthy of praise at a time when so many were hiding their heads in the sand.


It's never clearer that we really do live in a green and pleasant land than when you're arriving back from southern Europe. The downside of that is we now have a hay meadow instead of a back garden lawn that is going to be un-fun to cut as and when I work up the momentum.

Last night with the wife and kids wanting to see family I opted out and drove up to Hadston for the Marsh Warbler that has been lingering almost the whole time I've been away. Typically despite some early evening sunshine, not a squeak was to be heard, two Sedge Warblers and a singing Reed Bunting along with 16 Common Scoters and hods of Puffins offshore were the only reward for endeavour.

Luckily I had this morning off and the kids fancied a bike ride so we dropped the car at the south end of the road and cycled along.late morning and this time had brief flight views and some song, it has obviously decided to do the decent thing and start behaving like a skulking acro should (at least for me).

In a cold northeast wind our short sleeves and shorts may have appeared a little blasé to the umpteen retirees present as we cycled up. A Jay flying up our street as we arrived back at lunchtime was an unexpected colourful bonus though not quite as colourful as some of my recent sightings....

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Chough from Ronda

 Grand to see at close quarters in the El Tajo gorge in Ronda.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Around The Doors -1 June

Nothing too strenuous today, a short trip to take the rubbish to the bins a couple of km away picked up Bee-eater, Hoopoe and White Wagtail. Once the temperatures had dropped a little in the evening I took a walk near the Rio Grande, finding several singing Nightingales, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola several Little Owls, Stonechat and Corn Bunting.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Rocky Road To Ronda

Last day of spring so I decided to put in a couple of early morning hours along the road to Ronda. With limited time I stayed along the east end around the villages of Yunquera and Jolox. Finding places to pull off the mountain road wasn't as easy as expected though I managed to find at least three. A single Turtle Dove at the first was a trip tick along with Coal Tit. 

At the second I spent a good while looking out over a superb area of forest-covered mountain fully expecting a few raptors and ended up with nada. This particular vantage looked out over a few interesting looking caves that looked like prime Eagle Owl breeding sites but despite scouring all the nearby vantages I again drew a blank.

Further back to base there was a small picnic site pull in conveniently placed below a narrow wooded gorge just before the right turn for Jorox, another tiny white village. I stopped here for a while content watching a few pairs of Crag Martin nesting in the entrance of a small hillside cave. A pair of Blue Rock Thrushes darted and sang from rocky perches just above me. Goldfinches dropped below my feet to feed in cliff-side weeds and an odd-looking sparrow took off through the arch of the narrow road bridge.

Padding back over to look down into the village and along the tiny mountain stream tumbling through the rocks and vegetation I was pleased to relocate a Rock Sparrow perched in a tree -top just below me. Walking back up the gorge I could an unfamiliar song and began scanning the boulder strewn rocks across from me, a small bird with a grey head with black stripes and longish looking tail flew into a small tree. After several attempts Rock Bunting had finally given itself up; a second individual flew downstream and I once again moved to the bridge looking down and though distant watched for a while as a male fluttered around the stream edges, fly-catching and dancing over the water.

In the evening I drove east until I met the Rio Grande river. With a vantage from a small bridge I was in heron heaven with up to five Purple Herons in the area, a small colony of Night Herons with adults lurching out into the night and juveniles calling all around and landing clumsily in the shallows just below. Several Little Egrets also past overhead on a roughly west to east transect. Cetti's Warbler pumped out some volume from one bank and a Hoopoe flew from the river presumably to roost in the gloom. The calls from the Night Herons intermingled with various amphibian and insect noises producing an incredible soundscape, whilst dinner-plate sized Terrapins occasionally surfaced or descended with a liquid plop.

A pair of Red-rumped Swallows using the bridge as a nesting structure offered a chance to clart about trying to 'create' an image as they perched on overhanging riverside vegetation in the dyeing evening light.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Things Go A "Bit Zorro" In El Chorro

Started out so well, an hour's drive up country through some typically white Spanish villages with typically podgy old men sat on street corners taking in another typically warm day. We set off late so on arriving at El Chorro we headed straight for the nearest (and only) restaurant nestled above the first lake and below the huge rocky peak. Lunch over we headed in the wrong direction looking for the gorge, then trekking back down the windy mountain roads that make Cupola look like it was built by the Romans I picked up the first of many Griffon Vultures. It was but a few seconds later that a pot hole not dissimilar to a Northumbrian opencast revealed itself from the gleaming white road ahead (not that I saw it until later inspection). The result was that we had two tyres that looked like they had been in combat with the masked Mexican of my childhood Saturday morning cinema visits. A long painfully slow journey back down the mountain and a several hour wait for the tow truck and taxi ensued. There are worse places to be marooned though, at least I had a phone signal and managed to receive the odd text message, the breaking news of DEFRA's U-turn on the Buzzard Management Proposals was celebrated on a dusty roadside with nothing stronger than a swig of warming water. The news from Tom Mckinney was gratefully received and he did his best to cheer us up pointing out we could have been in Newbiggin, though as I said to him, same shit different vultures.


29 May
 Determined to miss the big one that everyone was predicting (Eastern Orphean anyone?) I've fled the country for some sun, sangria and serins. The Don Quixote lifestyle has a certain attraction for a middle-aged birder who dislikes the crowds, so we're snuggled into a hideaway in the foothills of the Sierra Nieves with a view north, a cool pool and some relaxed birding.
So far an unexpected bonus of an overnight roost of 25-30 Bee-eaters at the bottom of the garden was nice, a few Woodchat Shrikes in the vicinity and 2-3 singing Golden Orioles that I've failed to see yet. A couple of short walks along the rough tracks around the house last night and this morning have added some typical Med fare, Little Owl, Sardinian Warbler, Stonechat, Honey Buzzard.

Raptors last night and early morning included dark and light morph Booted Eagles and a pair of Short-toed Eagles. A few fly-through egrets mostly Little with a single Cattle Egret so far, an adult Night Heron also moved past last night and after dark a Nightjar was churring nearby.

Relaxing on the patio with morning tea and a smart Purple Heron perched up a few hundred yards away on a treetop which was a treat in the morning sun. Oh and  I seem to have acquired an old dog intent on keeping me company whenever I set out for a birding walk.