Archive for the ‘Willow Tit’ Tag

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.

IMG_2136-Italian-Sparrow

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.

Christmas Eve 2014 to New Year’s Day 2015   Leave a comment

This post covers our time in Essex. Sussex and Derbyshire over the festive period plus the New Year boat trip in Poole Harbour.

IMG_4056 sunset

The famiy spent this Christmas in Maldon, Essex with John and Anita. We traveled up on Christmas Eve but Janis and Kara arrived the day before. In the late afternoon whilst the family watched TV, I drove down to the nearby Blackwater River for a bit of birding.

IMG_4049 Avocets R Blackwater

Good numbers of waders and ducks including this flock of Avocets was seen.

IMG_4052 Avocets Blackwater River

Avocets on the Blackwater River.

IMG_4075 unwrapping presents

Christmas Day Morning – the present opening ceremony. Clockwise John, Anita, Amber, Kara, Margaret and Janis.

IMG_4067 Amber & Kara Xmas 14

Sisters reunited. Amber has been living and working in Essex with her aunt and uncle since June, whilst of course Kara and Janis still live 100 yards up the road from us.

IMG_4081 family at Xmas

Merry Christmas from the Lewis/Dreosti family.

IMG_4084 Kara's prom dress

Kara shows off her new prom dress.

IMG_4092 Wallasea Island

On Boxing Day morning Margaret and I drove to the new RSPB reserve at Wallasea Island, about 45 minutes to the south from Maldon.

IMG_4107 Wallasea Brent's

It was a grey day on the saltmarshes with the temperature hovering around freezing. There were many birds on the reserve, large flocks of Brent Geese were to be expected but it was the large numbers of Corn Buntings and Stock Doves (both relatively scarce in Dorset) that impressed me. We also saw up to four Marsh Harriers, a Peregrine, Merlin, Sparrowhawk, Short-eared Owl, Common Buzzard and several Kestrels but not the hoped for Rough-legged Buzzard.

IMG_4105 conveyer belt Wallacea

The reserve is undergoing a major development. Using  spoil from the Crosslink rail project the land is being raised whilst basins are being created elsewhere. When completed the seawall will be breached in places allowing the basins to flood, so producing a mosaic of tidal lagoons, saltmarsh and rough grazing. The conveyor belt in the photo above is where the spoil extracted from beneath London is brought ashore from barges.

IMG_4108 Burnham on Crouch

Across the river from the reserve is the town of Burham-on-Crouch. Whenever I see that name I am reminded of the excellent, if saucy song ‘Billericay Dickie’ by Ian Dury ‘Oh golly, oh gosh come and lie on the couch with a nice bit of posh from Burnham-on-Crouch’

 

On the 27th we left Essex and headed north to my brother’s place in Duffield, near Derby.  On route we stopped at two sites in Suffolk, the RSPB reserve at Boyton and the famous archaeological site of Sutton Hoo. My reason for going to Boyton was to see the two Trumpeter Swans that have been present for the last couple of weeks, one of just five waterfowl species in the world that I have yet to see.

There has been some discussion at to whether these birds are wild or escapes from captivity. Arguments for them being wild are 1) they are unringed 2) the species is increasing rapidly in numbers in the USA due to re-introduction schemes 3) the species is partially migratory 4) there have been severe storms on the east coast of the States which may have induced dispersal out to sea 5) when they first arrived some staining, possibly iron oxide, was seen on the head, something that has been noted on Whooper Swans from Iceland and 6) another large bird from USA/Canada has occurred in the very same area – a Sandhill Crane in 2011. Arguments against are 1) they are adults, the vast majority of vagrants are first years 2) although the species is partially migratory, no really long distance movements have been noted and the swan is not found on the American east coast. The nearest population on the Great Lakes only makes short distance movements to ice free areas in winter and 3) they have arrived on the east coast when you would expect vagrants from America to arrive on the west coast or in Ireland, 4)the comparison with the Sandhill Crane is not really valid as that bird was a first year and had already made landfall in Scotland before moving south in stages, a pattern shared by the previous Sandhills in Britain.

There is almost always a case for and against a particular American vagrant being wild. If we were to give Chimney Swift, an undoubted vagrant, a score of 10 and Harris’s Hawk, a common falconer’s bird and a frequent escape, a score of 1, then I would allocate the Trumpeters a score of 4. Am I going to add them to my British list or my World list – no, am I glad I went to see them – yes, but only because I was in the area anyway.

 

TS LGRE

In spite of the wind and rain I had great views of the Trumpeter Swans but then realised I had left my cameras SD card back in my laptop. The following photo was taken earlier in the month by LGR Evans and is used with permission. See http://bbabirding.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/trumpeter-swans-in-suffolk-and-review.html

IMG_4119 burial mound

By the time we reached the nearby Sutton Hoo archaeological site of Sutton Hoo the weather had improved. In the late 30’s burial mounds on the site were excavated, many had already been plundered by grave robbers but one was intact and proved to be a ship burial of a Saxon noble, probably King Raedwald who died about 625 Ad..

IMG_4118 Sutton Hoo treasure

The grave was full of the most wonderful treasures, which are now in the British Museum, but replicas of some are on show at Sutton Hoo. Saxon’s are often thought to be uncivilised people from the ‘Dark Ages’ but these burial goods have shown they could produce the most wonderful artifacts like this gold and enamel purse ….

IMG_4117 Sutton Hoo treasure

…. the fabulous metalwork of this sword ….

IMG_4115 Sutton Hoo helmet

…. or this helmet.

IMG_4113 ship burial replica

The visitor centre had a recreation of the ship that the king was buried in. His body was laid out surrounded by the goods that he would want to use in the afterlife.

IMG_4120 Edwardian House

One floor of landowner’s Edwardian Manor House has been preserved as it was at the time of the excavations.

IMG_4277 Cromford

When we arrived in Derbyshire we found that the rain we experienced in East Anglia had fallen as snow further north. The following day we drove north into the Derbyshire Dales and found a picture postcard landscape.

IMG_4195 Carsington

Our destination was the scenic Carsington Reservoir where we saw some great birds, a pair of Bewick’s Swans and a flock of 300 Pink-footed Geese flying between their wintering grounds in Norfolk and Lancashire.

IMG_4186 Dunnock

With the cold conditions plenty of birds, such as this Dunnock, were coming to feeders.

IMG_4198 Willow Tit

I was particularly pleased to get views of Willow Tut, a species that has long been extirpated from Dorset.

IMG_4204 Willow Tit best

These two photos show several of the subtle features that separate Willow Tit from the similar Marsh Tit. Willow Tits have a duller crown, thicker neck, a pale wing panel, a more diffuse border to the bib, a subtle gradation from the cheeks to the side of the neck, lack of a pale patch at the base of the bill and a smaller difference between the length of the longest and outermost tail feathers. In spite of all these fine pointers the best ID features remain the vocalisations.

IMG_4230 Tree Sparrow best

Another bird that we seldom see in Dorset but which is delightfully common at Carsington, is Tree Sparrow.

IMG_4282 Cromford canal

Later we went to the nearby Cromford Mill, a site where Hawfinches are often reported but are never there when I visit. This actual mill is considered to be the birth place of the industrial revolution. The canal which once brought materials to and from the mill is now a pleasant place for a walk or a spot to feed to feed the ducks.

IMG_4295 Di, Steve, Nigel, Margaret

During our time in Duffield we spent some time with my brother and his family and also visited several of my old friends. We picked up my old school and Uni mate Nigel (sat next to Margaret) and visited friends from school and also Di who was at University with me and her husband Steve.

IMG_4305 fireworks on TV

We didn’t do anything to celebrate New Years Eve and just ended up seeing the New Year in by watching the Queen concert and the fireworks on the telly.

IMG_4321 bird boat

We are very thankful to Mark and Mo Constantine for putting on their annual bird boat around Poole harbour on New Year’s Day. About 65 birders took up their kind offer and we had a good social as well as some good birds. Only a few are in this shot as most are upstairs enjoying the birding upstairs.

IMG_4306 raft race

Poole Quay was busy and parking places hard to find due to the crowds watching the annual New Years Day raft race which seemed to involve all contestants getting thrown into the water.

IMG_4319 Spoonbill

It was a very low tide and the boat couldn’t get around all the islands as a result we didn’t visit the area to the west of Brownsea which often holds interesting ducks or Arne where most of the Spoonbill flock hangs out. However we did see this Spoonbill near the boat near Ower Quay. Not being able to complete the circuit was to our advantage as when we retraced our steps we came across a Black Guillemot near Brownsea Castle. This is the first time I’ve seen this species in Poole Harbour. I didn’t get any photos but some along with another account of the bird boat have been posted on Steve Smith’s excellent blog at http://BirdingPooleHarbourandBeyond.blogspot.co.uk

IMG_4325 Purps

After the boat docked Margaret and I drove round to North Haven and the mouth of Poole Harbour where in spite of the crowds going for a New Year’s Day walk these Purple Sandpipers were dodging the incoming waves.

IMG_4336 Purple Sand

An arctic breeder ‘purps’ winter on rocky shorelines, in Dorset this means they are seldom seen away from Mudeford Quay at Christchurch, the North Haven in Poole, Portland Bill and the Cobb at Lyme Regis.