Archive for the ‘Pete Morris’ Tag

Southern Spain – Lynx special: 5th-11th January 2020.   Leave a comment

Spain is my most visited country outside of the UK. Previously have made 14 trips there: two to Mallorca, three to the Canaries, two to the north and north-east and two to the south or south-east. In addition I’ve made five visits to Bilbao, return boat trips from Portsmouth, mainly for seawatching and cetaceans in the Bay of Biscay.

However I’d never been there in winter and although I had seen the ‘avian specials’ there were a few that I wanted better views of or ones I had only seen before they were split from other more widespread forms. But most importantly, there was a mammal that I really wanted to see, the endangered Iberian Lynx.

Although my other trips to Spain were arranged by myself, on this occasion we opted to go with BirdQuest. Some of my friends had tried to see the lynx, sometimes with success, sometimes without, but I knew the BirdQuest leader Pete Morris well and he has an excellent record of finding the target species, so joining him seemed the best plan. Margaret was keen to come as well, and we decided to add on a number of days on our own at the end to explore Madrid (which will be the subject of the next post).

Pete is also an excellent photographer and uses 1st class equipment. He provided a CD of photos to the clients, so with permission I’ve used many of them in this post as they are superior to mine. All his photos are marked ‘©PM/BQ’ ie ‘copyright Pete Morris/BirdQuest’. The remainder, unless marked otherwise are mine.

 

After meeting at Madrid airport we drove south, stopping at Castillo de Calatrava la Nueva, from where we had this great view and saw species like … ©PM/BQ

 

this rapidly disappearing Black-winged Kite … ©PM/BQ

 

… the common (and truly wild, unlike in the UK) Red-legged Partridge … ©PM/BQ

 

… the widespread Black Redstart (this one’s a female) … ©PM/BQ

 

… gorgeous Black Wheatears … ©PM/BQ

 

… Thekla’s Lark, which can be told from the similar Crested Lark by its preference for rocky habitat, different song and a shorter bill with a curved culmen. ©PM/BQ

 

The big surprise though was finding an Alpine Accentor which usually winters at higher altitudes. My first Alpine Accentor was an even bigger surprise, I was at Portland in April 1978 on one of my first ever visits when someone said ‘have you see the accentor?’. I had no idea what he was talking about but he directed me to a point on the the cliff edge where Dorset’s first Alpine Accentor was feeding – my first UK rarity and there was no body else watching it but me! ©PM/BQ

 

After dark we arrived at our rural hostel in the Sierra de Andújar, so it was the following day before we discovered what it looked like. ©PM/BQ

 

Our next couple of days were spent along the La Lancha road in the Sierra de Andújar.

 

There were plenty of Red Deer visible along with some Fallow Deer (of true wild origin here unlike in the UK) … ©PM/BQ

 

… and I was delighted to see some Mouflon, a species of wild sheep that was a lifer for me. ©PM/BQ

 

Of course many of the species we saw were familiar from home like Dartford Warbler (that breeds just up the road from my house), one of the few Sylvia warblers that doesn’t migrate south in winter.

 

Also present were Long-tailed Tits, here of the rather different race irbil. ©PM/BQ

 

Firecrests have become quite common in the south of the UK in recent years, no doubt as a result of global warming. We had fantastic views of several along the road. ©PM/BQ

 

Along with the closely related Goldcrest, Firecrests are the smallest European birds. ©PM/BQ

 

Overhead we saw good numbers of Common Ravens. ©PM/BQ

 

Of course there were Spanish specialities too. Mainland Spain (away from the Canaries and Balearics) has no endemic birds, but there are four that are endemic, or nearly so, to the Iberian Peninsula. The first is Iberian Grey Shrike.

 

Pete’s photo shows the pinkish tinge to the flanks well. Originally a race of Great Grey Shrike, the southern group of races (from Iberia and the Canaries across N Africa and the Middle East to Central Asia) were split off as ‘Southern Grey Shrike’, but this did not agree with DNA findings. More recently the Iberian form has been split as a ‘stand alone’ species and the other southern forms lumped back into Great Grey Shrike – although I doubt if this is the last word on the subject. See my posts on India and Mongolia for more. ©PM/BQ

 

The second Iberian endemic is Iberian Magpie. Birds very similar to this are found in Japan, eastern Russia and eastern China. It used to be thought that Portuguese navigators returned from the Far East with these birds which then escaped and established a population in Iberia. That idea was quashed with the discovery of 40,000 year old bones in a cave in southern Spain. DNA evidence has shown that the two populations diverged long enough ago to be considered separate species. ©PM/BQ

 

However I would query if Iberian Magpie is the best English name. Several of the clients thought that when Iberian Magpie was called they were referring to this bird above. Having heard something about Eurasian Magpie being split (that’s the Maghreb population not the Iberian one, although a different race these are decidedly the same species as the one we get in the UK) they thought this was the bird being discussed Wouldn’t it be better to call Iberian Magpie, Iberian Azure-winged Magpie and the other species Asian Azure-winged Magpie. OK, its a bit of a mouthful but the Iberian/Asian bit would be dropped for field use and there would be no confusion. ©PM/BQ

 

Picus viridis sharpei 033.jpg

The third Iberian endemic is Iberian Green Woodpecker. I have seen this species on all my visits to southern Spain but this is the first time I’ve seen it since it was split from our familiar European Green Woodpecker. Neither Pete or I got a decent photo of this bird so I’ve taken one from Wikipedia by Luis García

 

But the fourth endemic was the one I most wanted to see, Spanish Imperial Eagle. Back in 1984, before it was split from Eastern Imperial Eagle, I saw it twice – distantly in Monfragüe and close, but briefly though the trees in Doñana National Park. There is no doubt I’d seen the species but I wanted better views and that’s what we got, we could watch this individual for ages until … ©PM/BQ

 

… it took off and flew right over head. We saw this species several times over three days but it’s not clear just how many individuals we saw. ©PM/BQ

 

Also seen were a number of Eurasian Crag Martins … ©PM/BQ

 

… and as the weather warmed up so the vultures appeared. Up to 40 Eurasian Griffon Vultures put in an appearance (anyone whose read my account of our trip to India will know there has been a catastrophic decline in vulture numbers in Asia, but as yet Spain seems unaffected) … ©PM/BQ

 

… as well as a number of Cinereous Vultures.

 

Originally known as Black Vulture, this species isn’t as Pete’s photo shows, black but rather a greyish-brown. The name Black Vulture is also occupied by a quite unrelated, but mega-common New World species. There was a misguided attempt to change the name to ‘Monk Vulture’ but a change to Cinereous seems a good idea all round. ©PM/BQ

 

We’d had a great first day in La Lancha but no luck with lynx. So it was a cold, early start the next day.

 

As the sun came out there were great views over the wooded hills …

 

… as the early morning mist cleared.

 

Eventually we had a distant view of the Iberian Lynx. Although too far for decent photos we could a watch a pair for an extended period through the scope.

 

We also had good views of a closer pair wandering through the scrub but all the photos ended up being rear-end shots. The reason that the period from Christmas to early in January is the best to see the lynx is because the females are on-heat and the males follow them around wherever they go and as such they are (unlike other times of year) visible in daylight.

 

The group was pretty strung out along when Pete found a pair right by the road. Just about everyone got there in time before they skulked off into cover. From Wikipedia: The Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) is a wild cat species endemic to the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In the 20th century, the Iberian Lynx population had declined because of overhunting and poaching, fragmentation of suitable habitats, as well as the decline in population of its main prey species, the European rabbit caused by myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Fortunately, with protection the lynx seems to be making a slow recovery. ©PM/BQ

 

We also visited the nearby Jándula Reservoir. On the rocky scree above the dam we saw some Iberian Ibex, my third new mammal of the trip.

 

Whilst we were eating our picnic lunch a Black Stork flew over, a most unexpected find in January when they are supposed to be in Africa. ©PM/BQ

 

Next to the dam there were a couple of tunnels, one for the road, the other it would appear, as an overflow conduit in case of flooding.

 

In the roof of the tunnel we could see a number of roosting bats inside crevices. This is a Daubenton’s Myotis. ©PM/BQ

 

On the fourth day of the trip we left early (well not that early, about 0700 as it didn’t get light until well after 0800) and headed north to the plains south of Cuidad Real. There was still a frost on the ground when we arrived and it was bitterly cold, but there was no sign of rain, on the plain or elsewhere. ©PM/BQ

 

This is the sort of habitat loved by bustards and sandgrouse, open fields without hedges and only the occasional tree visible.

 

Soon we located flocks of Little Bustards and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. ©PM/BQ

 

We followed the flocks down and tried to observe them on the ground. ©PM/BQ

 

The beautiful Little Bustards showed well in flight but were too elusive to photograph on the ground … ©PM/BQ

 

… however at least a few of the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse posed for photos. ©PM/BQ

 

Even more elusive were the Great Bustards. These magnificent birds still occur in good numbers of the Spanish steppes. ©PM/BQ

 

An adult male Great Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world, weighing in at up to 5.8kg. For the last 15 years or more a reintroduction program has being trying to produce a viable population of these magnificent birds on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire and in 2019 it was announced that they had succeeded in establishing a self-sustaining population of over 100 birds. I have been to Salisbury Plain a number of times to see them and the odd bird has reached Dorset in winter. Some birders are opposed to this reintroduction, something I don’t understand at all. Mankind was responsible for their destruction, the last Wiltshire bird was shot in 1832, and mankind should, if possible, be responsible for correcting past mistakes. ©PM/BQ

 

There are few more thrilling sites in European birding than seeing a Great Bustard in flight. ©PM/BQ

 

The following day we were back in the Sierra de Andújar where we saw more Iberian Lynx, including a very close female with cubs that were almost invisible in deep vegetation (I never did see the cubs) and explored some damp meadows where Hoopoes and Mistle Thrushes could be found.

 

In the late afternoon we explored the river around Encinarejo. ©PM/BQ

 

A few birds were seen around the river, such as this Common Kingfisher but I missed the flyover Goshawk … ©PM/BQ

 

However we did well for herps seeing a Horseshoe Whip Snake hiding in a rock crevice (I actually flushed it and saw it enter the crevice), this Vaucher’s Wall Lizard. ©PM/BQ …

 

… and this Stripeless Tree Frog (which seems to have a fairly obvious stripe down it’s side!) ©PM/BQ

 

We stayed by the river until sun set in the hope of seeing Tawny Owl, which we heard but didn’t see despite putting a lot of effort in. Views of the moon reflected in the water made it all worthwhile.

 

The following day we packed up and left Sierra de Andújar and headed for Laguna de Navaseca not that far from Cuidad Real. The commonest bird was Greylag Goose, not the feral ones that we see in Dorset but wild birds from central Europe here for the winter.

 

Half a dozen scruffy immature Greater Flamingos were also seen … ©PM/BQ

 

… along with a few Western Swamphens (once lumped in with Grey-headed Swamphen shown in my recent posts about India) … ©PM/BQ

 

… the ubiquitous Black-winged Stilt …

 

… and a few Black-necked Grebes. In the UK, although a few pairs breed we usually only see this species offshore where they occur regularly around Poole and Weymouth. ©PM/BQ

 

There were two ‘sort after’ ducks on the lagoon, a Ferruginous Duck which although visible never lifted its head up and several White-headed Ducks. ©PM/BQ

 

White-headed Ducks (WHD) has an interesting history. Although the eastern populations seemed secure, the Spanish population was under severe threat from hunting and by 1977 only 22 remained. Action by Spanish conservationists has seen their numbers rise to 2,500. Then a threat from the UK was realised. The related North American species Ruddy Duck had formed a feral population in England, originally from a few birds that escaped from Slimbridge and were now wintering in Spain and hybridising with WHD. It was clear that if nothing was done then the western population of WHDs would disappear into a hybrid swarm. Then feral Ruddy Ducks were found with WHDs in Turkey so even the eastern population was under threat. Under EU legislation the UK had no option but to cull our Ruddy Ducks. Yes, I miss seeing the delightful Ruddy Duck back home and regret they had to be killed, but prefer to see the bigger picture – that the global conservation of a threatened species (WHD) takes precedence over the enjoyment of a few UK birders who want to see a bird (Ruddy Duck) that is after all abundant in its native America. See here As an aside this brings up an interesting question, WHDs in the UK have always been considered escapes and indeed some of them are, I’ve posted images on this blog of one from St James Park, London that clearly falls into that category. Now when Ruddy Ducks were common there were a number of apparently wild WHDs discovered with them in England. The logical explanation isn’t that there was a mass break out of captive birds but the two species had paired up in Spain and the WHDs had migrated north with their Ruddy mates in spring. As soon as Ruddy Ducks were culled then WHD occurrences stopped. A strange co-incidence or should WHD be added to the British List as truly wild bird? ©PM/BQ

 

The margins of the lagoon yielded three top-class passerines – Bluethroat which Pete managed to photograph … ©PM/BQ

 

…plus Penduline Tit (photo by Martin Mecnarowski) …

 

… and Moustached Warbler – which neither of us did. (Photo by Marco Valentini)

 

Nearby we saw large flocks, possibly totalling over a thousand, of wintering Common Cranes. ©PM/BQ

 

A couple of Marsh Harriers may have spooked … ©PM/BQ

 

… as some of them soon took to the air.

 

Later we visited an area where White Storks were already building their nests. I was of the understanding that wild populations (as opposed to some of the northern European reintroduction schemes) were totally migratory and the only birds to remain in Europe throughout the winter were birds too sick to make the long journey to tropical Africa. I was clearly wrong. ©PM/BQ

 

Having dipped on Eurasian Eagle Owl at the start of the trip we were keen to visit Pete’s back up site. There was no sign of it until it was almost dark and then it appeared on the top of the crags and gave great views in the fading light. ©PM/BQ

 

We were still enjoying the deep hoots of the Eagle Owl when the moon rose above the cliff. We then headed for our hotel in Daimiel, a short distance from Cuidad Real where we were two days earlier. You may wonder why the trip wasn’t arranged around four consecutive nights in the Sierra de Andújar. and two in the Cuidad Real area. The answer was simple, the main purpose of the tour was to see the lynx and if weather or other circumstances had prevented us from doing so earlier in the week then then the itinerary would have to flexible enough to accommodate an extented stay at La Lancha.

 

On the last morning of the trip we spent several hours driving to Pinares de Peguerinos, an area of mountainous forests north-west of Madrid.

 

Here we expanded our list with birds like Common Crossbill … ©PM/BQ

 

… and the lovely European Crested Tit. ©PM/BQ

 

This species has a strange distribution occurring in coniferous forests from Spain, through the Alps, the Balkans, and northern and eastern  Europe with an outpost in the Caledonian pine forests of Scotland. Thus to an English birder it seems strange to see them as far south as Spain. As you can see from the photo, the beautiful blue skies we had enjoyed all week remained until the last day. ©PM/BQ

 

But the bird we most wanted to see in these forests was Citril Finch. I saw this species in the mid 80s in the Austrian Alps but views were brief, then again in Andorra in 2006 but have never seen it as well as this. ©PM/BQ

 

Well all that remained was to drive back to Madrid airport. There Margaret and I said our goodbyes to the group and got a taxi to our hotel for the cultural part of the trip. The BirdQuest group at Pinares de Peguerinos, Far left co-leader Dave Farrow, Margaret is in the middle dressed in black and I’m on the far-right (my location, not my politics!). ©PM/BQ

 

But it would only be fair to end with the best sighting of the trip – the superb Iberian Lynx. ©PM/BQ

 

It had been an unusual trip, the first of the many BirdQuests I’ve done without a life-bird. But I had three new mammals including one that falls into ‘mega category’. In addition I had my best ever views of a number of Spanish specialities. We both thought it was a most enjoyable trip.

The next post will deal with our three-day extension; our visit to Madrid and Toledo.

 

Costa Rica photos from Pete Morris   1 comment

As with summer 2016 I have been so busy with ringing and the resultant paperwork that I have little time for my blog. From late-July to now I have been visiting Durlston on most days when the weather permits and have made 22 visits so far, I have also done some ringing at our Lytchett Heath site on several occasions.

My intention was to upload a series of posts about my excellent trip to the Lesser Antilles and Trinidad. I had spent many hours sorting the photos and had cropped, edited, and labelled about 800 of the 2500 I had taken. I stored them all on an external hard drive and took it with me when we visited friends and family in early July, unfortunately I appear to have lost the hard drive! Of course I should have kept the edited photos in more than one place, but I’m afraid I didn’t. I can’t face going through them all over again but remain hopeful that the drive will eventually surface. Failing that I may go through the unedited ones and pick out some of the best for a quick summary.

However I have some great photos to hand. When Pete Morris of Birdquest, the leader of my April Costa Rica trip, sent out the trip report he included a CD of his photos and agreed that I can use them on my blog. Pete is an excellent photographer and uses top notch gear. By and large I have chosen birds that I didn’t photograph or ones where my photos were poor rather than just select the very best of Pete’s images. The pics are in alphabetical order, for chronological account of the trip see the multiple posts I uploaded from May onwards or for the full tour report and more photos see: http://www.birdquest-tours.com/pdfs/report/COSTA%20RICA%20-ULTIMATE-%20REP%2017.pdf

 

Admirable Hummingbird – fairly common on Cerro de la Muerta, a recent split from Magnificent (Rivoli’s) Hummingbird. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Banded Wren of the arid NW of Costa Rica, one of 22 species of wren on this tour. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Bare-crowned Antbird – a single male was seen at Arenal, Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Our bird of the trip – the seldom seen Bare-necked Umbrellabird. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

It took some searching but after a number of unsuccessful evenings owling in the Cerro de la Muerta area we finally tracked down a Bare-shanked Screech Owl at Monteverde. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Bicoloured Antbird, seen at Carara and Braulio Carillo. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Black-and-White Owl, why did I leave my camera behind when we popped out after dinner at Arenal? Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Black-and-Yellow Phainoptilia, fairly common on Cerro de la Muerta. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Black-throated Wren, it took a while to find one but it showed well when we did. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Blue-crowned Manakin, bathing in the stream at Carara NP. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Broad-billed Motmot, one of six species of motmot seen on the tour. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Boat-billed Heron. I took many photos of perched birds but never captured one in flight. Pete’s shot reinforces what a weird bird this is. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Cabanis’s Wren, one of a three way split of the old Plain Wren. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Chestnut-backed Antbird, another rainforest speciality. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Chestnut-sided Warbler a migrant from North America. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Collared Forest Falcon. Forest falcons are elusive and seldom photographed. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Chiriqui Quail-Dove, one of five skulky quail-doves seen on the tour. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Common Paraque, a very widespread nightjar with a range from South Texas to central Argentina. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Dusky Nightjar: unlike Paraque this species is restricted to the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Dusky-faced Tanager, seen at La Selva. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

I mentioned in my final post that I almost stepped on the small but deadly Fer-de-Lance as I walked back from the restaurant at La Selva. Well here it is! Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Fiery-throated Hummingbird, hummers seldom show off all their iridescent colours in a single photo. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Golden-browed Chlorophonia, another beauty seen at Cerro de la Muerta. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Grey-headed Dove, a single bird was seen at first light at Cano Negro in the far north of Costa Rica. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Not much help in this photo. but the Large-footed Finch really does have large feet (can’t comment on any other part of its anatomy though) Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Lesser Violetear, formerly known as Green Violetear until it was split into two species. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture: similar to Turkey Vulture but with more contrasting wings, white shaft streaks, paler underwing and a more pronounced dihedral in flight, this bird flies low over open marshes. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Montezuma’s Oropendola, quite impressive in flight. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Northern Barred Woodcreeper. Of the dozen woodcreepers seen on the tour this has to be one of the most attractive. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Northern Royal Flycatcher, although I have seen the various ‘royal flycatchers’ on several occasions I have still to see one raise its weird laterally compressed crest.  Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Ocellated Antbird, one of the best of those skulking, understory hugging ant-thingys. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Olive-backed Euphonia, makes a change from the usual black and yellow colour scheme of euphonia. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, one of five Nightingale Thrushes seen on the tour, species in the same genus as the more familiar Swainson’s, Hermit, Grey-cheeked etc Thrush of  the Nearctic- Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Orange-billed Sparrow, another stunner – Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Orange-collared Manakin, there are few bird families that give as much pleasure as the manakins. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Pacific Screech-owl, seen at a day roost at Hacienda Solidar. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Red-throated Ant-Tanager, not a member of the Thamnophilidae like other ant-thingys, this one is actually a real tanager.  Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Rufous Mourner, a bird whose taxonomic affinities have moved around a bit through the years, once a cotinga, its now a tyrant flycatcher. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Semi-plumbeous Hawk, seen at La Selva as we walked to dinner. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Short-billed Pigeon, quite attractive when seen close up. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Short-tailed Hawk, a widespread species but always a pleasure to see. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Snowcap, one of the best birds of the trip. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Adult Spectacled Owl roosting at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Spotted Antbird, another forest speciality.  Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

We all saw this wonderful Spotted Wood-quail with its chicks but only Pete got any photos in the very poor light conditions. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Streak-breasted Treehunter on Cerro de la Muerta. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

This Streak-breasted Antpitta eventually gave good views. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Owling at Esquinas produced this Striped Owl. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

A Sunbittern making an aggressive display to two Black Phoebes intruding on its territory. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, who says all woodcreepers look the same. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

A confiding Thicket Antpitta. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Uniform Crake: once again I left my camera behind because the light was bad and ‘crakes never show well anyway’. Well the light improved and this crake hadn’t read the instruction manual. Fortunately Pete was on hand with his mega-lens.- Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Vermiculated Screech-owl at La Selva. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

White-collared Manakin, also at La Selva. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Wood Thrush, a beautiful migrant from North America. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Although it’s not in alphabetic order I can think of no better photo to conclude this selection than Pete’s shot of an Osprey with a fish flying into the sunset. Shame there are no photos of the Zeledonia as that would be an even better (and alphabetically more correct) finale. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

 

 

Posted August 31, 2017 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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