Archive for June 2015

June 2015: Two concerts for us plus a prom and a wonderful holiday for Kara   Leave a comment

A short post bringing the blog up to date with a few non-birdy things.

A couple of weeks ago Margaret and I took the unusual step of going all the way to Reading to see a Genesis tribute band. This might seem a long way to go just to see a tribute band, but the reason we went is that my brother has a friend who intends to manage them. The band,who haven’t even decided on a name yet, were doing a dress rehearsal and wanted an audience of friends and colleagues. My brother and his wife travelled down from Derby and spent some time at Henley-on-Thames before meeting us for a meal in Reading. It was my sister-in-law’ birthday, so that was another reason for going. Unfortunately we have no photos of the event.

The band was superb and sounded just like Genesis. However the concert did remind me why I never really got into Genesis, in spite of listening to most of the progressive rock bands in my youth. Sure, some of their numbers like ‘Los Endos’ (which the tribute band concluded with) were great as were some of the slower numbers, but Phil Collins’ voice often sounded shrill and his lyrics were often obscured by all the heavy guitar and keyboard sounds. I would have preferred it if Genesis had performed songs where the lyrics were delivered during the quieter moments (although Genesis fans probably don’t agree with me). Of course, as the tribute band were an exact copy of 1980’s Genesis they sounded just like that as well. However we really enjoyed this free concert, it was nice to see my brother and sister-in-law again and the drive wasn’t too bad, we were home by midnight.

The second concert was on the 11th June when we went to the BIC in Bournemouth to see The Moody Blues, a band that I really liked in the late sixties and early seventies and saw once during that period in Leeds. After that time I increasingly found the poems on their albums to sound bit pretentious and I just played a ‘best of’ album when ever I wanted to hear their melodic harmonies backed by the sound of a Mellotron.

IMG_8721 Moody Blues

Of the now seven strong band, three members remain from the famous sixties line up: Graeme Edge (LH drums), Justin Haywood (guitar) and John Lodge (bass)

IMG_8716 Moody Blues

The band used some imaginative visual effects and projections ….

IMG_8717 Moody Blues

…. including lots of photos of them in their heyday.

IMG_8708 The Moody Blues

Justin Haywood and John Lodge. The Moody Blues recently celebrated their 51st birthday although Haywood and Lodge didn’t join until 1966. Why is it that ageing rock stars don’t go bald like the rest of us?

IMG_8696 Moody Blues

I mainly know their songs from the late sixties and early seventies and much of the first half they performed later numbers, but they ended the first set with a lovely rendition of ‘The Story In Your Eyes’. In the second part they played more oldies such as ‘Ride My See Saw’, ‘Question’ and of course ‘Nights In White Satin’.

IMG_8768 Kara prom dress

Our granddaughter Kara has just finished her GCSE exams. She came round last weekend in a state of great excitement, all dressed up for the end of school prom.

IMG_8809 Janis

Janis and I spent some time photographing her in all her finery in our garden. Fortunately the weather was good.

IMG_8786 Amber and Kara

Older sister also got in on the photoshoot.

IMG_8805 Kara prom dress

Not only was Kara off to the school prom but immediately afterwards she and a friend took a taxi to Heathrow where they boarded a plane to St Maartin in the Caribbean to visit some of Kara’s relatives. We know from Facebook that she is having a wonderful time. Not bad for a 16-year-old!


And finally returning to a bird related theme, I was amused by this photo which was sent via Twitter highlighting the shocking and totally illegal slaughter of birds of prey in the Forest of Bowland.

Posted June 25, 2015 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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Late May to late June 2015: miscellaneous bird news   Leave a comment

We have been back from our trip to the Alps for nearly five weeks now. After a very hectic schedule earlier this year I have been taking it easy and been catching up with things at home, but there has been time for some birding and ringing, something that is covered in this post.

I have already uploaded accounts of us seeing the Red-footed Falcon, White-winged Tern and Greater Yellowlegs in Dorset or Hampshire, here are a few photos of much commoner birds.

IMG_8430 Lodmoor

Back in late May we headed to Lodmoor near Weymouth in the hope of seeing a Purple Heron that was hanging about there. Not surprisingly we dipped, as the best time of day to see it was about 9pm as it flew to roost.

IMG_8409 Common Terns and a Dunlin

We did get to see the local breeding Common Terns and to the lower right of the photo, a summer plumaged Dunlin. The tunnels in the picture are to help protect the tern chicks from attack by aerial predators such as Kestrels. However news received today told that all the chicks on this island have been predated, possibly by a fox or perhaps gulls.

IMG_8424 Grey Heron Lodmoor

No Purple Heron but plenty of Grey ones. This bird looked particularly ragged around the neck.

IMG_8414 Grey Heron Lodmoor

With some blood at the base of the bill I wondered if the heron had been in a fight with a large eel which had wrapped its body around the heron’s neck.

IMG_8574 Mordon Bog

I have made a number of visits to Wareham Forest, especially the area around Mordon Bog. I didn’t get any photos of the local Spotted Flycatchers ….

IMG_8576 Siskin male

…. but this male Siskin preened on a branch just in front of me.

IMG_8587 Mordon Bog

A drake Teal was flushed from this area, unusual record in June – I wonder if they are breeding?


With breeding Little Grebes and possibly Tufted Duck on Decoy Pond, which is part of a National Nature Reserve, it seems regretable that this guy has chosen to take his dog for a swim.

IMG_8447 Yellowhammer Wareham Forest

Other birds seen in the Wareham Forest area included this Yellowhammer ….

IMG_8450 Stonechat Wareham Forest

…. good numbers of Stonechats ….

IMG_8588 Mistle Thrush

…. and on adjacent farmland, this Mistle Thrush.

IMG_8691 Wareham Forest

In early June several birders had distant views of what looked to be a Short-toed Eagle. I was in America last year when a Short-toed Eagle was found and extensively twitched in Wareham Forst, then later in the New Forest. Had it returned for a second summer and was I to get a second chance?

IMG_8692 Charborough Park

Well, I did see a large raptor along side a Buzzard briefly appear over the tree line in the photo, which is in the privately owned Charborough Park about three miles away to the north-east, but again there was nothing conclusive.

IMG_8687 Common Buzzard

After some nine hours of scanning from various vantage points over four days the only raptors conclusively identified were Common Buzzards (above), Kestrels, Hobbies and a single Red Kite.

IMG_8745 Martin Down

We recently spent one morning on Martin Down, just over the border in Hampshire.

IMG_8744 orchid

This wonderful reserve is famed for its chalk downland flora (such as this Fragrant Orchid) and butterflies but along with so many other places much of its bird life has declined in recent years. Nightingales, Willow Warblers, Grey and Red-legged Partridges and even Stone Curlew used to be common or at least regular ….

IMG_8761 Turtle Dove

…. but at least there are still several pairs of Turtle Doves.

IMG_8728 Turtle Dove

This species has undergone a precipitous decline, the result of agricultural intensification here in the UK and on their wintering grounds in Africa and wholesale slaughter on spring and autumn migration in some areas around the Mediterranean.

IMG_8130 Red Kite

Though in many ways its ‘all swings and roundabouts’. Although some of the farmland birds have declined, others such as the beautiful Red Kite are increasing in numbers and I have recently seen two in North Dorset, one over Corfe Mullen and one near Wareham Forest. Don’t pay any attention to those misguided individuals who tell you that the increase in raptors numbers are the cause of songbird decline. It simply can’t be, under that scenario if their prey was declining then raptors would decline too. Also Nightingales and Turtle Doves declined in this area long before Red Kites made a welcome reappearance and Willow Warblers have merely moved their breeding range northwards as a result of climate change (something that others who can’t understand the principle of cause and effect choose to deny). Photo taken recently in Austria.

IMG_8736 corvids

Perhaps less welcome is the large increase in corvids in the Martin Down area. Rooks, Carrion Crows, Jackdaws and even Ravens were regularly encountered, often in large flocks.


Over the last few weeks I have been doing some ringing, but for the type of ringing I usually do, migrants at a coastal locality, it is definitely the quiet period. However I have ringed at several sites, usually with trainee ringers and caught a series of juvenile birds such as this Nuthatch. I have had some interesting retraps including a Chiffchaff hatched at our Fleets Lane site last year that returned there this year to breed.


Something that we have been involved in during the winter months is the ringing of wintering Chiffchaffs. We recently sent off some feathers for DNA analysis on this bird which looked like race tristis,  the so-called Siberian Chiffchaff and on another which was nowhere near as striking and indeed had lots of green tones in the upperparts. To our surprise both came back with a mitochondrial DNA sequence indicating they were tristis. The individual above had a sequence identical to those Chiffchaffs that breed in the Yenesei Basin in central Siberia. I would like to revisit this subject in a future post as I have been writing an article on it for the Dorset Bird Club newsletter, but for now I can suggest that if you find a Chiffchaff looking like the one above in the winter months then it is almost certainly a tristis. This bird was ringed by Paul Morton in January of this year and photographed by Ian Ballam in February.


Recently I have been asked if I would like to participate in an exciting project on Nightjars on one of the heathland areas in East Dorset. Researchers want ten electronic GPS tags attaching to Nightjars, which will then recaptured a few days later, the tags removed and their movements downloaded. Our ringing group, which has a lot of expertise in catching and ringing Nightjars, has been asked to help. The tags are attached to the tail feathers, so if any bird avoids recapture the tag will be shed at the next moult.


Last night we trapped a female Nightjar, which had been initially trapped on the far side of the heathland area the week before, and the tag was removed. It will be very interesting to see what it reveals. So far we have deployed nine of the ten tags and have recovered one, more will follow in subsequent weeks.

14th – 18th May 2015: Alps trip part 7 – the wedding   Leave a comment

Late on the 14th we arrived at Dornbirn, the largest town in easternmost Austria. Margaret’s nephew Marc lives here (convenient as he works for a Swiss company), although her sister Cathy and husband Wolfgang live in easternmost Austria (see posts for July 2013). Photos of the birding and sightseeing we did whilst in this area have been uploaded in the last post.

IMG_6153 at Marc's flat

On arrival we assembled at the apartment that Marc shares with his bride-to-be Elizabeth. L-R: Rene’s fiancée Danielle; Rene, Marc’s brother; Wolfgang, Marc and Rene’s father; John, Margaret’s son-in-law now living in Essex; and with his back to the camera, Daniel, Marc’s best man. Note the neighbours are practicing their mountaineering techniques on their roof!

IMG_6152 from Marc's flat

Marc and Elizabeth have a superb view from their apartment balcony. The restaurant where the reception was to be held the following day can only be reached by cable car and is situated on the left hand most peak.

IMG_6157 Marc's flat

Marc and Elizabeth have a beautifully equipped modern apartment. L-R: Wolfgang; Margaret (back to camera); Marc; Daniel – John’s cousin and Marc’s friend, originally from SA now in Canada; John (back to the camera); Danielle; Roual (also back to the camera) – Daniel’s brother, also now in Canada; and Rene.

IMG_6171 Marc and family

In Austria the civil wedding ceremony is held on a different day and at a different location from the church ceremony. In the afternoon of Friday 15th we assembled at the town hall for the civil ceremony with many of the family wearing traditional Austrian costumes. L-R: Wolfgang; Cathy – Marc’s mother and Margaret’s sister, Elizabeth – Marc’s bride, Marc, Rene and Danielle.

IMG_6165 bridesmaid elizabeth marc daniel

L-R: Bridesmaid Christine, Elizabeth, Marc and best man Daniel (not to be confused with Canadian Daniel).

IMG_8024 civil ceremony

The civil ceremony.

IMG_8050 John with the ladies

John poses with the ladies. L-R: Christine, John and Elizabeth.

IMG_8109 Panorama restuarant

The weather was against us but fortunately improved for the church ceremony the following day. Margaret had been dreading the ascent to the Panorama Restaurant by cable car for the reception ….

IMG_8068 in the clouds

…. but by the time we got there the clouds had closed in and you couldn’t see a thing, much to Margaret’s relief.

IMG_8075 Margaret Cathy & Martin

Margaret with sister Cathy and older brother Martin (who flew here all the way from Australia). Her younger brother, Duncan, was unable to make it due to work commitments, which is a shame as the four of them haven’t been together since school days.

IMG_8087 Anita Roual & Cathy

We had a lovely meal at the restaurant and as you can see from the photo quite a lot of what John calls ‘personality’, ie alcoholic beverages. L-R: Anita – Margaret’s daughter; Roual – John’s cousin from Canada; Cathy and Danielle.

IMG_8094 view as we were leaving

When it was time to leave the clouds had cleared somewhat, revealing this view over Dornbirn, but in the dark Margaret made the descent without any problems.

IMG_8117 the wedding church

The following afternoon we gathered at the church in the nearby village of Bildstein for the church ceremony.

IMG_8121 the church

We were asked not to take photos during the service, an exception being made for the official photographer seen here, so I took this quick shot before we all went in. It was a Catholic service (which I have never experienced before) and of course was in German, so I had no idea what was going on, but the priest, a friend of Marc’s, did thank those who had travelled from Britain, Australia and Canada in English.

IMG_8138 Marc & Elizabeth

The bride and groom after the service.

IMG_8140 releasing doves - Copy

Bride and groom releasing white doves. I was a bit slow on the shutter button!

IMG_8135 post wedding

The 200 or so guests gathered outside the church for champagne and canapes 

IMG_8153 Jean Martin Caroline - Copy

Margaret’s brother Martin and his wife Jean were joined by their daughter Caroline, who flew out from the UK just for the church ceremony.

IMG_8157 reception

Another day, another reception and yet more alcohol.

IMG_8176 Marc & Elizabeth dancing

Marc is one of the most capable and organised people I have ever met. A company director and local politician by the age of 30, nothing seems to faze him, except perhaps having take part in the first dance (particularly when your wife’s hobby is ballroom dancing).

IMG_6185 Switzerland from the plane

Our activities on the following day, Sunday 17th, have been detailed in the last post. On the 18th we left early to drive back to Zürich and catch the plane to Heathrow. To conclude here are a few shots from the plane of northern Switzerland ….

IMG_6190 from the plane

…. the neatly patterned fields of Germany ….

IMG_6193 London from plane

…. and the cloudier conditions as we descended over the London Eye and the Palace of Westminster.




Posted June 22, 2015 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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13th – 18th May 2015: Alps trip part 6 – Liechtenstein, Austria and Germany   Leave a comment

From Lucerne we headed for the principality of Liechtenstein before arriving in Dornbirn, Austria for a four night stay. The purpose of coming here was to attend Margaret’s nephew Marc’s wedding and to meet up with other members of the family. Photos dealing with the wedding and associated social events will be uploaded in the next post. This post concentrates on our sightseeing and birding in the three countries mentioned above.

IMG_7983 Vaduz

Before we arrived in Austria we spent a few hours looking around Vaduz, the capital of the tiny principality of Liechtenstein.

IMG_7985 Vaduz

I was last in Vaduz in 1975, a brief visit as part of a long coach trip around Europe. All I can recall from that visit is seeing the castle perched high above the town. Well that looks just the same ….

IMG_7997 Vaduz modern art

…. but the pedestrianised centre is now populated with examples of modern art ….

IMG_8001 Vaduz modern art

…. such as this representation of businessmen riding pigs.

IMG_8011 Vaduz modern art

I particularly liked this jet of water confined between two narrow, high walls. Not a drop fell on you as you stood below. By varying the shutter speed and your position with respect to the sun you could create modern art of your own.

IMG_8018 Vaduz modern art

After a tour around the various statues and pieces of art we drove to Dornbirn, the largest town in western Austria.

IMG_6162 Donbirn

Our first visit to the centre of Dornbirn on the morning before Marc and Elizabeth’s civil ceremony was in heavy rain but ….

IMG_8098 Donbirn market

…. the following morning the weather was much better and the local market was in full swing.

IMG_8128 Black Kite

The Dornbirn area was good for raptors and over the next three days we saw a number of Black Kites ….

IMG_8129 Red KIte

…. Red Kites ….

IMG_8196 male HB

…. and even a few Honey Buzzards.

IMG_8307 meadow

In surrounding meadows ….

IMG_8308 White Stork

…. we found a few White Storks.

IMG_8239 Fussach

We originally thought that some of Margaret’s relatives would still be around on the Sunday following the wedding but it transpired that most had to head for home. With a day mostly to ourselves we drove to Fußach on the shore of the Bodensee for some birding.

IMG_8214 Bodensee

The Bodensee itself was host to a number of Great Cormorants and Red-crested Pochards

IMG_8225 Great Reed Warbler

…. and in the reed beds Great Reed Warblers were quite numerous and their guttural kara-kara-gurk-gurk  song was a feature of the area.

IMG_8301 RFF

The highlight for me was views of five Red-footed Falcons, in particular this male which showed well. these birds are long-distance migrants and have just arrived from their wintering grounds in southern Africa and are pausing on route to their breeding grounds in easternmost Austria eastwards through the steppes of eastern Europe to central Asia.

IMG_8326 Anita & Margaret

We returned to Dornbirn and spent the afternoon with Anita and John, Margaret’s daughter and her husband. We visited the area of Rappenlochschlucht ….

IMG_8336 Rappenlochschlucht

…. a picturesque area with elevated walkways, narrow gorges ….

IMG_8340 Rappenlochschlucht

…. waterfalls ….

IMG_8343 Rappenlochschlucht

…. and lakes.

IMG_8199 Fussach

On our final evening we drove around the east end of the Bodensee and into Germany.

IMG_8379 Lindau

Our destination was the picturesque town of Lindau

IMG_8381 Lindau

We headed for the harbour, the entrance guarded by a lighthouse and an imposing statue of a lion.

IMG_8389 Lindau

From the lion statue we had a great view of the harbour and ….

IMG_8395 Mute Swan on nest

…. and could look directly down on an incubating Mute Swan.

IMG_8405 Lindau

So we concluded our trip with this lovely view of the harbour at Lindau. All that was remained was to drive back to Zürich and fly home. Over the last 17 days we covered 3000 km and visited seven countries and saw some of the best scenery in the world.

12th – 13th May 2015: The Alps part 5 – Interlaken, the Jungfraujoch and Lucerne, Switzerland   Leave a comment

Incidently this blog is four years old today. The first entry was on 17th June 2011, the day I retired. Since then I have uploaded 446 posts, which averages just over two a week and covered many subjects, but have concentrated, of course, on my main interests of birding and travel. In that time my blog has been viewed over 66,000 times.

IMG_7674 Interlaken lakes

Late on the 12th we arrived in Interlaken. As the name suggests the town is situated on land between two large lakes, Thunersee and Brienzersee. This is the view a short distance east of the town over the Brienzersee.

IMG_7679 on route to Jungfraujoch

The main tourist attraction in the area is taking the train all the way to Jungfraujoch, a view-point at 3475m between the Jungfrau and the Eiger. If you start at Interlaken West the almost 3000m climb involves three changes of train and takes about two and half hours.

IMG_7684 on route to Jungfraujoch

A mainline train took us to Interlaken East, where we changed for Lauterbrunnen. From here another train took us steeply through the alpine meadows and coniferous forest ….

IMG_7693 on route to Jungfraujoch

…. until, under the shadow of the Jungfrau, we were above the tree line.

IMG_7805 N face of Eiger from Kleine Scheidegg

At Kleine Scheidegg, with the north face of the Eiger dominating the view, we changed again to a rack and pinion railway

IMG_7699 Jungfraujoch train

…. which then climbed into a tunnel that went right under the Eiger. The terminal was still underground and we had to ascend several floors to reach the observation platforms.

IMG_7748 Jungfraujoch

The view from the top was magnificent. This shot gives a panoramic view of the valley below.

IMG_7735 Jungfraujoch

This is the same view zoomed in.

IMG_7753 Interlaken from Jungfraujoch

To the right Interlaken was visible in the distance.

IMG_7707 Jungfraujoch

In other directions an endless vista of ice and snow was revealed ….

IMG_7741 Jungfraujoch

…. including this wonderful view over the Grosser Aletschgletscher, at 23 Km long, the biggest glacier in the Alps.

IMG_7764 my Taiwanese friend

I had been chatting to some Taiwanese tourists on the way up, and this nice Taiwanese girl wanted to be photographed with me.

IMG_7785 ice eagles

As well as being a viewpoint, the site has been developed into a bit of a theme park with a restaurant, these ice sculptures ….

IMG_7777 ice tunnel

…. and tunnels cut in the ice that you can slip and slide along to your heart’s content.

IMG_7837 Jungfrau

On the way back we changed trains at Klein Scheidegg and then returned via Grindelwald to the east. This gave a different perspective on the mountains ….

IMG_7828 meadows from train

…. and also gave great views of the flower filled Alpine meadows.

IMG_7840 from train

I would highly recommend this journey, it’s not cheap, about 200 Euros pp from Interlaken, but it takes you through a complete cross-section of the Alpine habitats, from lowland valleys to flower filled meadows, coniferous forest, open areas above the tree-line to the land of permanent ice and snow at the top. If you want to see Switzerland and have only a short time available then here it is in a nutshell.

IMG_7865 Lucerne church

We spent the evening in Lucerne. First we visited the impressive church ….

IMG_7873 Lucerne Church

…. arriving in the nick of time just as it was being locked up, there was only the opportunity for this one photo.

IMG_7884 Alpine Swift 2

Apart from Les Alpilles in southern France, Lucerne was the only place we saw the somewhat inappropriately named Alpine Swift.

IMG_7942 Lucerne

The Chapel Bridge and Water Tower were built in the 14th century and are Lucerne’s best known tourist attraction. The bridge served as a rampart and part of the town’s fortification. The Water Tower served as a dungeon, archive and treasury vault.

IMG_7924 medeval paintings

In the 17th century the bridge was adorned with a set of paintings depicting the development of the town and the Republic of Lucerne and the life of two patron saints.

IMG_7919 photo of Lucerne fire

Tragically on the night of 17th August 1993 a fire broke out on the bridge, burning 81 of the 111 bridge paintings, only those at the two ends escaped. The bridge structure was quickly renovated (at a cost of about £1.5 million) and some of the paintings removed in the 19th century (when the bridge was shortened to make way for a new quay) have been hung in the place of those destroyed. Photo taken from an information board by the bridge.

IMG_7960 RC Pochard

The surrounding waters held a healthy population of Red-crested Pochards, some of which were quite tame ….

IMG_7906 GC Grebe

…. as were the Great Crested Grebes.

IMG_7965 pub Lucerne

We ended up in an ‘English Pub’ for dinner. It sounds a bit corny but it must have been ok as it was patronised by many locals.

IMG_7973 Lake at Lucerne

We headed back along the shore of the lake, getting our last view of the high mountains as Lucerne is at the northernmost edge of the Alps.

IMG_7982 river at Root

As hotels were so expensive in the centre of Lucerne we drove to one at Root, some way to the north. The following morning we took a walk along the bank of the nearby river.  We came across some species more typical of the lowlands like Garden Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. After all the mountain torrents we had checked for Dippers with limited success it was a surprise to see a pair flying over this lowland river.

IMG_7978 Black Kite

We had seen lots of Black Kites in southern France but there had been none in Italy or the mountains of Switzerland so it was nice to start encountering them again. From here we drove to the tiny Principality of Liechtenstein before meeting up with the family in Austria. More of that in the next post.

10th – 12th May 2015: Alps trip part 4 – Chamonix and southern Switzerland   Leave a comment

IMG_7531 Chamonix

Having left Italy and briefly driven through Switzerland, we re-entered France and headed for the lovely town of Chamonix.

IMG_7515 view of Aiguille du Midi from Chamonix

The town is dominated by the mountains of the Aiguilles Rouges, the most impressive of which is the Aiguille du Midi which has an observation platform at 3842m. This photo was taken from the town some 2,800m lower down.

IMG_7522 Margaret at Chamonix hotel

We had a spectacular view from our hotel room ….

IMG_7528 view from hotel Chamonix

…. and after dark the view just got better. The dot of light on the mountain to the right of centre is from the observatory on Aiguille du Midi, shown in the photo above.

IMG_6110 Chamonix from cable car

Margaret, who hates cable cars, stayed behind to do some shopping, whilst I took the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world (2807m) to the top of Aiguille du Midi.

IMG_6120 Aiguille du Midi

The cable car on the ascent and descent was packed. I was interested to see how many Asian tourists were visiting this area, I’m pleased that tourism is now a global affair and not just the domain of westerners.

IMG_7548 view from Aiguille du Midi

From the observation platform the views of the valley to the west ….

IMG_7546 view from Aiguille du Midi

…. and the east, were spectacular.

IMG_7545 Step into the void

Unfortunately the upper observation deck, which gives the best view of Mont Blanc, was closed for renovation until June. On the side they have fixed a glass skywalk (a perspex box) known as ‘step into the void’. If you step into it you have an unbroken 1035m drop under your feet. I’d love to have tried it although I know I would have been scared.

IMG_7581 view from Aiguille du Midi

With every step …..

IMG_7569 view from Aiguille du Midi

…. more and more magnificent panoramas unfolded ….

IMG_7570 view from Aiguille du Midi

….  in the distance the peaks of Monte Rosa, at 4634m the second highest in Europe (excluding the Caucasus) can be seen.

IMG_7580 Monta Rosa

…. and zooming in, here it is in more detail.

IMG_7552 view from Aiguille du Midi

To the south the highest peak in Europe (again, excluding the 5000m mountains in the Caucasus) can just be seen, the 4810m rounded peak of Mont Blanc.

IMG_7614 Hang-gliders

Aiguille du Midi wasn’t just used by sightseers and skiers, large numbers of hang gliders were using it to make their near 3000m descent.

IMG_7624 painting on house Chamonix

As I walked back through Chamonix I came across this building. All the balconies, windows and people are painted on. The balconies look so three-dimensional, but if you look at the shadows cast by the real balconies on the front you can see that are thrown in a different direction. Nice to see they have painted a Lammergeier on there as well.

IMG_7494 Martigny

The following day we re-entered Switzerland and obtained this spectacular view over the town of Martigny in the Rhone Valley.

IMG_7497 Martigny

Zooming in revealed a fascinating pattern of parallel lines.

IMG_7633 the Matterhorn from Zermatt

Although we had wonderful views of the Matterhorn from the Italian side, the most dramatic view is from Zermatt to the north. Fortunately we missed the sign that said you weren’t allowed to drive into Zermatt without a permit (and we really didn’t have the time to catch the train) but once in the town we got caught up with a load of lorries involved in delivering material for construction, so I just hopped out of the car, snapped this photo of the Matterhorn and retreated.

IMG_7641 Munster

We stayed the night in a quaint little town called Munster but we learnt that all the mountain passes between there and our destination of Interlaken were closed due to snow and/or road works. It looked like we would have a five-hour drive back to Martigny, and then north to Montreux and Bern before we reached Interlaken until we found out that we could take our car on the train.

IMG_6137 car train

So the next morning we turned up at the station at nearby Oberwald, drove onto this train and spent 20 minutes going through a tunnel ….

IMG_6133 car train

…. and then drove off again at Realp at the eastern side of the Furkapass. We still had to make a detour as far north as Lucerne before we could get to Interlaken, but it was a lot better than going via Montreux.

IMG_7661 Furkanpass

We were able to drive part the way up the Furkapass before we reached the road barrier and continued the search for high altitude species. As well as Alpine Choughs, we found some Snowfinches and Water Pipits and had brief views of an Alpine Accentor.

7th – 10th May 2015 – The Alps trip part 3 – the Italian Alps   Leave a comment

The last post dealt with our time in southern France. From there we crossed into Italy and then turned north towards Assendria and then on to Aosta in the Italian Alps.

IMG_6083 Ovada Italy

On the 7th we stopped for the night at a hotel near the town of Ovada in Italy. My reason for taking this route north to the Italian Alps was that I hoped to find Moltoni’s Warbler, a recent split from Subalpine Warbler. I think I have seen this species before, but the identification lies wholly on geographical grounds and I wanted to see and hear one well to be absolutely sure. This area is at the northern edge of its range and in spite of searching areas of scrub, field margins and waterside vegetation we drew a blank. The valley was narrow and held a six lane motorway, a railway line and the minor road we were travelling on, so noise levels were high – which didn’t help, but I did add a number of species to the trip list.

IMG_7099 Gr Paradiso NP

We arrived in Aosta in the mid-afternoon. A short distance west of Aosta a minor road entered the Gran Paradiso National Park from the north. The weather had deteriorated and there was light rain.

IMG_7181 Corbe Gr Paradiso NP

At the end of the road we stopped at the small town of Corbe.

IMG_7076 Gr Paradiso NP Corbe

Fortunately the rain eased off although we didn’t get to see the 4000m peak of Gran Paradiso.

IMG_7123 Dippers

The river that flows through the town gave us great views of a pair of Dippers.

IMG_7167 Dipper

I have seen this species many times but usually they fly off at your approach or are seen distantly. On this occasion I could spend as long as I wanted photographing them

IMG_7178 Dipper

Note the white ‘third eyelid’ or nicitating membrane that protects the eye when they are underwater.

IMG_7191 The Matterhorn

The following morning we drove east to the town of Breuil-Cervinia. On route we had great views of the mighty Matterhorn, at 4478m one of the highest of the Alpine peaks. Note the ‘banner clouds’ just below the summit. This is caused by winds blowing across the summit causing an area low pressure in the lee (just like an aerofoil does) this in turn pulls warmer, damp air up from below which turns to cloud as it cools.

IMG_7204 Cervinia

The pretty town of Breuil-Cervinia is dominated by views of the Matterhorn.

IMG_7195 Willow Tit

Woodland on the edge of the town held a number of Willow Tits, a species that I use to see here in Dorset but it has been extirpated from much of southern England for some time now.

IMG_7308 Whinchat

Just north of the town near the ski lift we came across a number of nice birds such as Fieldfare, Water Pipit, another Dipper, Grey Wagtails and this Whinchat.

IMG_7314 Citril Finches

I was particularly pleased to see several Citril Finches as I have only seen this European endemic a couple of times before. Surprisingly two days after I took this photo Britain’s twitching fraternity were watching the UK’s second ever Citril Finch in Norfolk.

IMG_7368 House x Italian Sparrow

Since we arrived in Italy the familiar House Sparrow had been replaced by the newly recognised Italian Sparrow. Italian Sparrows occur as far north as Aosta but here at Cervinia, just a few Km from Switzerland a range of intermediates occur.

IMG_7375 House x Italian Sparrow

The white cheeks, supercilium and heavily spotted breast are all features of Italian Sparrow but the grey feathering on the crown indicates that it has House Sparrow genes in there as well.


For comparison, here is a photo of a pure Italian Sparrow taken by Lake Garda, Italy in 2013

IMG_7266 Cervinia

I took the cable car up above the snow line in hope of finding some high altitude birds ….

IMG_7244 Alpine Chough

….clearly the local Alpine Choughs were nest-building.

IMG_7219 The Matterhorn

I also had a brief view of an Alpine Accentor plus a pair of Snowfinches. The area was full of skiers taking advantage of the fact that they could still ski as late in the year as mid-May.

IMG_7263 Marmot

Whilst waiting to come down the ski lift I watched the antics of several Alpine Marmots.

IMG_7254 Gr Paradiso Mt

I asked a skier who was waiting to descend if he knew what this distant peak was, the answer was Gran Paradiso, the one that had been shrouded in cloud yesterday ….

IMG_7272 Alpine Ibex

…. but more importantly the skier told me there were many ‘mountain goats’ around when he arrived earlier that morning. With the ski lift on its way I just had a couple of minutes to see if I could locate an Alpine Ibex before it was time to descend. They clearly had moved some way from the ski lift but I found a group of three about half a mile away just before I had to board the ski lift. A new mammal for my list which means that I had three ‘lifers’ on this trip: one bird, one mammal and one country.

IMG_7386 nr Aosta

Later in the day we explored several areas closer to Aosta, seeing nice birds like Crested Tit ….

IMG_7392 ST Eagle

…. and this Short-toed Eagle.

IMG_7381 Cervinia area

The following day it was time to head northwest towards Chamonix in the French Alps.

IMG_7409 St Bernard Pass

Rather than go through the long (and expensive) Mont Blanc tunnel we decided to cross into Switzerland via the Gt St Bernard Pass and take the old road that climbs to the top of the pass before descending into Switzerland and then doubling back on ourselves to get to Chamonix.

IMG_7408 Golden Eagle

Unfortunately we found that this road was closed but we drove as far up it as we were allowed. Birding was good as we had the road to ourselves, and we found Firecrest, Black Woodpecker and this immature Golden Eagle.

IMG_7448 Valle de Ferret

We crossed into Switzerland via the St Bernard tunnel then took a side road into the scenic Valle de Ferret.

IMG_7427 Lammergeier

We saw quite a few birds here but the star of the show was this immature Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture, part of a reintroduction program to the Alps. The bird is clearly in wing moult but strangely the replaced feathers on the right-wing are white.

IMG_7456 Lammergeier

The bird reappeared after a while carrying a huge stick. I would have thought that it was too young a bird to be nest-building. Lammergeier’s are known to feed on the marrow of long bones by dropping them from a height to crack them open. Perhaps it was getting in some practice in with this stick.

From the Valle de Ferret we continued south to the town of Martigny then westwards and crossed back into France. We stayed the night in the beautiful town of Chamonix in the shadow of Mont Blanc. This will be the subject of the next post.

May 28th – June 3rd 2015 – two rare birds and a trip to the Palace   Leave a comment

IMG_8606 Margaret

Margaret is a member of the Woman’s Institute, the WI, who are celebrating their centenary this year. As a result a representative from each group across the UK were invited to attend a garden party at Buckingham Place on the 2nd and Margaret was delighted to be chosen to represent the Upton group. Coaches were laid from all over the UK to bring the 8000 delegates to the Palace. The Royal Family was represented by the Duchess of Cornwall and Princess Alexandra. Margaret had a wonderful time, her friend Dottie from South Africa, who now lives in Sussex, was also chosen and said to her ‘haven’t we done well, a couple of scruffs from Africa getting an invite to the Palace’.

IMG_8527 Titchfield Haven

On the 28th of May Margaret and I visited Titchfield Haven, a reserve in Southampton on the east side of Southampton Water close to where it joins the Solen

IMG_8486 Shelduck & brood

There were plenty of birds to see such as this female Shelduck and her brood ….

IMG_8503 Avocet

…. breeding Avocets ….

IMG_8512 Avocet chicks

…. with their cute chicks ….

IMG_8523 Shoveler m

…. and plenty of ducks such as this drake Shoveler (note it has started to moult into its dull ‘eclipse’ plumage) ….

IMG_8572 Gtr Legs

…. but our target was this rare Greater Yellowlegs, a wader from North America. Up to 2012 there have been 31 Greater Yellowlegs recorded in the UK compared to 334 Lesser Yellowlegs, its smaller and more northerly cousin. The bird gave us the run around for several hours before showing well from the coast road. I have seen this species once before in the UK, almost 30 years ago in July 1985 at Minsmere.

IMG_8656 WW Black Tern

Good birds kept being found. On the 2nd of June, whilst Margaret was in London, an adult White-winged Black Tern was found at Swineham gravel pits. In spite of the strong wind it gave good views.

IMG_8664 WW Black Tern

One of the most beautiful of all the terns, I was pleased that it stayed until the 3rd at least, so I could return with Margaret.

May 4th – 7th 2015 – The Alps trip part 2 – The South of France   Leave a comment

As I outlined in the last post, bad weather in the Alps caused us to retreat southwards. We left the rain behind once we were south of the congested town of Gap and then continued on our long drive to St Martin de Crau near Arles, where we booked into a nice hotel for three nights. We were heading for the huge wetland of the Camargue, the delta of the mighty River Rhône, but I was particularly interested in birding the stony plain known as La Crau. Once this was the delta of the River Durance until the river changed course and flowed north to meet the Rhône at what is now Avignon, the abundant stones on the plain were washed down from the Alps by the river in ancient times.

I visited the Camargue for several days in 1980 but the time spent on La Crau was rather short so I wished to explore the area again. In particular I wanted to see Little Bustard, a bird I have only seen on the 1980 trip, the famous Christchurch bird on New Years Day 1987 and once in Morocco in 1990. After 25 years I thought it was time I saw some more.

IMG_7043 La Crau

We had enough time on our first evening to visit the reserve at the northern end of the plain near Etang des Aulines.

IMG_6908 White Stork & YLG

An adjacent field held this White Stork ….

IMG_6914 Stone Curlew

…. and on the reserve were several very vocal Stone Curlew, but there was no sign of our main targets, Little Bustard and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.

IMG_6974 La Crau

Checking the map showed that there were a number of tracks at the south end of the plain but this was adjacent to the industrial area of Fos-sur-Mer and the nearby port, but they looked promising so we made the effort to arrive there soon after dawn. There was a military airfield nearby and when the fighter jets took off, the sound was deafening but at least all was quiet for the first couple of hours.

IMG_6937 Bee-eater

In spite of these drawbacks we had a great mornings birding with wonderful views of up to 50 Bee-eaters

IMG_6943 Hoopoe

…. several Hoopoe ….

IMG_6926 Little Bustard

…. but the highlight of the morning undoubtedly was getting reasonable views of this male Little Bustard displaying ….

IMG_6967 Little Bustards

…. and later we saw several pairs in flight.

IMG_6999 Les Baux

In the late morning we headed north to a range known as Les Alpilles and the hill-top town of Les Baux de Provence. The aluminium ore bauxite was discovered in these hills and was named after Les Baux. For the first time on our trip we saw the sun!

IMG_6979 Les Baux

Once a defensive fortress, Les Baux is now wholly given over to the tourist trade.

IMG_6995 Black Redstart

Black Redstarts were common and this singing male gave great views.

IMG_6982 Les Baux

It was a bit of a climb to the top of Les Baux, we stopped at the top for a cuppa before returning to the hotel for a siesta, as we had started so early. When we went out again about 1615 I realised I hadn’t got my camera – I must have left it in the cafe. We rushed back to Les Baux hoping we would get there before closing time. We arrived at the cafe at 1650, but it was too late, they were already closed.

IMG_6037 Etange de Vaccarès

On the 6th we spent the morning in the Camargue. First we visited some freshwater marshes near Mas d’Agon, before driving down the east side of the massive Etang de Vaccares. The big lake itself was almost devoid of birds but we saw lots in the adjacent marshes, but of course I only had my pocket camera.

IMG_6038 The Camargue salt lagoons

Eventually we arrived at the southern end near Le Paradis. Here were a number of saline lagoons with Stilts, Avocets, Kentish Plover and Little Stints.

IMG_6044 Camargue La Digue

We initially drove and then walked along the track called Digue à la Mer as far as the lighthouse, Phare de la Gacholle. We saw many interesting gulls, terns and waders plus of course many of the Greater Flamingos for which the Camargue is famous.

IMG_6722 Great egret

Without my camera I can’t post any photos of the birds we saw, which is a shame as it was the most photogenic part of the trip as far as birds are concerned. However I’ve included photos of two species that I have taken elsewhere, both notable because they were not found in the Camargue on my last visit 35 years ago and are relatively recent colonists. Firstly Great White Egret (photo taken in Ethiopia in 2011) ….

…. and Glossy Ibis (photo of a vagrant individual taken near Wareham, Dorset in 2012).

IMG_7030 Cafe people

By early afternoon we had to cut short our visit to this outstanding area and drive back to Les Baux in the hope of rescuing the camera. To my relief the people at the café still had it and to my amusement they had been using it to take silly photos of themselves!

IMG_7039 La Caume

After Les Baux we spent a while at the nearby lookout of La Caume. This is said to be a stake out for the scarce Bonelli’s Eagle but we had no luck, although we did see a distant Egyptian Vulture.

IMG_6047 R Rhone Arles

We continued on to the town of Arles which is situated on the banks of the mighty Rhône.

IMG_6054 Arles

After failing to find Bonelli’s Eagle this afternoon you can imagine my surprise when an immature Bonelli’s flew over this square in the evening. I got a reasonable view, but of course didn’t have time to get a photo. I would imagine it had been hunting over the Camargue and was returning to Les Alpilles, a short distance to the north, to roost.

IMG_7047 PT Sandgrouse

We spent the first couple of hours of the 7th back in the Etange de Aulnes area of La Crau. To our delight a flock of 12 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew over, nine of which are in this photo, but they flew directly into the sun and all I saw was a silhouette (however the ‘pin tail’ is just visible on some of the birds).

IMG_7058 St Maxime

Before we left the south of France we thought it would be a good idea to visit some of the resorts that have made this area so famous, and none is more famous than St Tropez. However as we entered the nearby town of St Maxime we hit a huge traffic jam. Rather than waste an hour trying to get to St Tropez on the far side of the bay, we called into the beach at St Maxime for lunch, which was just like any other beach resort in the Med.

IMG_7063 Monaco

The next stop was at Monte Carlo in Monaco. The only reason for calling in here was to add it to my country list (number 107). All we saw was loads of expensive apartment blocks and hotels plus masses of traffic. A sea mist had rolled in making it all look rather gloomy and we were quite glad to move on.

IMG_7065 into Italy

The rest of that day’s drive was quite demanding. We followed the A8 motorway east into Italy. It is an amazing piece of engineering; tunnel after tunnel joined by viaduct after viaduct with quite a lot of sharp bends. A challenging drive in itself, but made worse by big lorries taking up the narrow inside lane and a succession of BMW and Audi drivers following ridiculously close behind me, unhappy that I was driving at a mere 130 kph. Note that the moment we drove into Italy the houses all had the familiar red-tiled roofs unlike those in France. From here we headed north towards Piedmont and the Italian Alps (the subject of the next post).