Sunday, 31 March 2013

A Blue Rock Thrush...in the garden!

Local patch: found this female BLUE ROCK THRUSH in the garden today. Actually the sighting is quite exceptional, because this is no kind of ordinary garden bird. Needles to say it's the first time I see it here. The bird was probably on migration, going to its breeding grounds and stopped in the gardens to take a break. Actually the weather doesn't help that much - we're having north-east winds and constant rain for quite a while now.
Yesterday also the year's first Swallow for the patch was seen migrating NW. There's an increase in Robins and Blackcaps in the gardens and quite a few Black Redstarts around.

Friday, 29 March 2013

ALPINE ACCENTOR - a patch first!

Local patch: a miserable day weatherwise, with rain and fog. I thought it might be a good idea to check the cliffs in the afternoon for any potential migrants stopped by the bad weather. So there I went. As predicted, the situation was quite lively in the bushes along the path and on the steep rocky slopes. Most were common migrants though: 7 Black Redstarts, 8 Goldcrests, 10 Chiffchaffs, 5 Song Thrushes, 1 Mistle Thrush and lots of Robins & Chaffinches. After the rain had stopped (just for a few minutes) the whole woodland came into life with singing birds including Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Blackcap, Green Woodpecker and so on.
One of the major highlights was a juvenile Peregrine soaring around the cliff faces and "interacting" with the local pair of angry Ravens.
The best came at the end though, when I decided to have a look on a steep rocky slope where there was some movement. The movement was actually produced by two Black Redstarts and a flock of 6 ALPINE ACCENTORS feeding among the grassy tufts and rocks. The accentors were quite mobile (and vocal) and soon flew off further down along the karstic ridge. However I managed to have some good views on three birds that were the most showy.
Alpine Accentor has been reported a few times here in winter but I actually never managed to see it. So now it finally goes on the local patch list (156th species!). The above photo is from Mangrtsko sedlo in Slovenia (Julian Alps).
Interesting to see was also a Wild Boar walking around the woodland and visiting the garden of a nearby house.

By-the-way sightings from Koper (today and yesterday) included 2 Common Swifts and small flocks of House Martins and Swallows. Also a Sandwich Tern spotted from a car park and Black Redstarts literally everywhere now. The small joys of urban birding... 

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Wheatears are back

Škocjanski zatok NR: still pretty cold this morning with a stiff northeasterly and cloudy skies. Most probably these proved to be good conditions for a little fall of passerines. From the above photos you can see that WHEATEARS were the main subject of the day. These handsome little migrants were present in almost every part of the reserve, but mainly concentrated on the grazing marsh. I counted at least 16 birds in total of which just 3 or 4 were females. Another year's first was a very welcome Common Swift drifting over the freshwater marsh and heading east.
The skies were not properly full of hirundines, but about 20 Swallows and 10-15 House Martins were present.
But migration was especially evident on the ground, where along the Wheatears were tens of Song Thrushes (3rd pic above), Robins, White Wagtails and Black Redstarts (last pic above).
Other birds of interest included: 7 Pygmy Cormorants, 1 Gadwall, 30 Wigeons, 56 Shovelers, 162 Teals, 2 male Garganeys, 2 Ferruginous Ducks (m & f), 1 Tufted Duck, +6 Marsh Harriers (usually hunting over the reeds), 1 Kestrel, 5 Black-winged Stilts, 8 Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Ruffs, 4 Common Redshanks, 2 Dunlins (1 in the lagoon and 1 in the marsh), +18 Skylarks, 9 Water Pipits (in nice breeding plumage), 7 Yellow Wagtails (all cinereocapilla males), 6 Stonechats, 1 Fieldfare, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Serin (year's first), 8 Chiffchaffs, Penduline Tit and Reed Bunting.
While scanning through the grazing marsh, at one point I had a Fieldfare, a Wheatear, 2 Song Thrushes, 1 Yellow Wagtail and 1 Little Ringed Plover all in the same scope's field of view! One of those magic spring days...

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

First Short-toed Eagle of the season

Local patch: today that the worst of winter was more or less over and the sun shone out once again, I had the chance for some vis migging. It was quite rewarding as one of the first birds I spotted was a SHORT-TOED EAGLE - my first this year. With peaceful soars it worked its way high up above the coast. Trying to change position with the scope I soon lost it somewhere in the sky and couldn't find it again. So I don't know where it headed to.
Today the thrush movement seemed to be doubled with still good numbers of Song Thrushes coming in from the sea and heading Karst-wards. During the whole day I estimated about 50 birds (seen). There were also loads of Chaffinches on migration and several stopped to feed on the snow-covered lawn. This gathering of finches soon attracted a pair of other more interesting visitors: two Cirl Buntings (male and female) which fed on the lawn for several minutes.
Also around today was the female Kestrel which frequently passed over the house and was also seen with a prey in the claws.
Four House Martins flying SE were also of note, along with the first Chiffchaff in a while (in the garden), 2 Black Redstarts and 1 Rock Bunting (garden on the edge of the woodland).
I then rounded up the day with 6 Grey Herons migrating above the sea at sunset.
I would like to say that the above Short-toed Eagle artwork is mine, but is not - thanks to Szabolcs Kokay.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Back to winter with the thrushes

Local patch: I've never witnessed such a crazy weather in March! Today I woke up again in a really wintery scenario with very strong and freezy NE winds and a thin layer of frost covering almost everything from trees to buildings. Needles to say I haven't got much to report, but some thrush movement is going on these days. There's a good influx of Song Thrushes with up to 6 seen flying past in half an hour (today and also yesterday). Some landed in the gardens and showed well while perched or feeding on the lawns (see above - purely documentative pic). Yesterday I also got 5 Mistle Thrushes flying past - a bird that I usually see when the weather is really terrible up on the Karst and drives the birds down to the coast.
Yesterday actually it was a bit livelier with also 1 female MARSH HARRIER blown by the wind over the coast (seen struggling over the sea later), 1 lost female Kestrel (flying above the rooftops) and a flock of 7 Woodpigeons (out of season for such a number). Several Chaffinches are back in the garden as if it is winter again.
At the moment of writing it's snowing quite heavily outside and the snow is accumulating on the ground.
Hopefully this will be the last cold spell of this long winter...

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Osprey today

New spring arrivals are falling down from the sky these days - birds like Hoopoe, Short-toed Eagle, Sand Martin, Marsh Sandpiper are all being reported from around Friuli Venezia Giulia.
Although I didn't see all the above yet, today I was equally happy to find my year's first OSPREY. The bird was seen earlier in the morning around Lido di Staranzano, near Monfalcone, and at about midday I relocated it in the same area. It was perched on a dead tree-trunk in the middle of the mudflats, feeding on a large fish. I only managed two distant shots of the bird (above).
Also in the area were numerous Grey Plovers, 150 Dunlins, 8 Common Redshanks and some Curlews, all in a feeding frenzy at the low tide.
For the rest of the day I worked properly the Lisert area which revealed some nice springy stuff. Hirundines in the air included 10-15 Swallows and more or less the same number of House Martins with a flock of +20 Alpine Swifts also nearby. Garganeys numbered 13 birds scattered around the different areas of the wetland and 3 FERRUGINOUS DUCKS were also nice to see. The brackish lagoon held some interesting waders in the form of 5 Black-winged Stilts, 2 Little Ringed Plovers and a few Spotted Redshanks. At least 6 Marsh Harriers were constantly in the air looking for prey. Other raptors included 1 Goshwak (flying past with a full gut), 1 Kestrel and 1 Buzzard. No sign of the three Short-toed Eagles reported here this morning. A Yellow Wagtail flying over the saltings was also a welcome migrant, along with a load of White Wagtails and some Water Pipits.
A look at the sea revealed a SLAVONIAN GREBE (unfortunately still in winter plumage), lots of GC and BN Grebes (all sporting the nice breeding colours), a flock of 20 Tufted Ducks, 14 Common Eiders (sitting on the buoys) and several Red-breasted Mergansers.
Black-winged Stilts
Marsh Harrier (male & female)
Industry all around the wetland...but still a great place

On the way back home, a stop at the Duino cliffs NR produced a singing Blue Rock Thrush (the first this year), 1 Peregrine, 1 Sardinian Warbler and a large flock of 200 Common Gulls roosting on the sea.
A blue dot in the rocks

Local patch news: this morning I also added LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL to my house list - a very dark bird (looking almost like ssp. fuscus) that I spotted from my bedroom's window. So now LBBG on my patch list gets a nice *.

Škocjanski zatok NR - brief update from yesterday: 4 Black-winged Stilts, 1 FERRUGINOUS DUCK (male), 1 Marsh Harrier, 2 Green Sandpipers, 1 Garganey and this year's first fledged juveniles from a pair of Coots - quite early in my opinion:

Thursday, 21 March 2013

First Alpine Swifts

Local patch: first day of spring (officially) with some warm and glorious sunshine. Done a bit of vis migging from home and got a few interesting species. The first ALPINE SWIFTS of the year were of special note - 1 seen at midday over the cliffs and 4 together migrating SE at dusk. A small group of 4-5 House Martins was also nice to see migrating overhead (but still no bigger flocks). Raptors included 1 Goshawk (patch year tick), 2-3 Sparrowhawks, 6 Common Buzzards and 1 Kestrel. Flying along them were two Ravens, frequently mobbing the raptors, as they rose up from the pine woodland.
Also a Marsh Tit in the garden (increasingly regular), a few Nuthatches singing in the neighbourhood, 1 Grey Wagtail and still a nice mixed raft of gulls floating on the sea (+200 ind), mostly Black-headed but also Commons (both very vocal).
A few butterflies were also around in the sunshine, but I only managed to ID a Red Admiral though. Noticed some nice spring wildflowers in some pieces of wasteland and abandoned gardens, like Ranunculus ficaria (Lesser Celandine), Vinca minor, Chelidonium majus and a couple of violtes.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Spring oh yes!

Škocjanski zatok NR: quite springy today in the marsh with some new arrivals of note like this year's first YELLOW WAGTAILS (1 flava & 1 cinereocapilla - pics above respectively) feeding on the wet grassland with +10 White Wagtails and several Water Pipits (still around). Then also 2 Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Ruffs, 2 Common Redshanks, 2 Green Sandpipers... actually everything in twos and sharing the same piece of freshwater marsh! The only really numerous migrants were Garganeys with up to 80 birds counted; they probably just came down from migration today, because they were almost all resting on the grassy islets. Some fine males were displaying though.
Two Swallows flying overhead were nice and the grazing marsh was infested with Stonechats (12 birds on the same piece of wire). Other birds of note included: 1 male Marsh Harrier, 6 Lapwings, 4 Tufted Ducks, 3 Pochards, 11 Snipes, 2 Curlews, Greenshank, 1 Penduline Tit, 12 Chiffchaffs (all in the hedges), 3 Gadwalls (2 m & 1 f).
 A bit of colour in the marsh
Garganeys
Little Ringed Plover
Stonechat

Local patch: it was a nice evening even on the sea, with literally hundreds of ducks everywhere. I estimated at least 500 birds, which were almost all concentrated in a huge distant raft. I suppose the most numerous were Garganeys. Of the closer ducks I indeed managed to identify +30 GARGANEYS, some mixed flocks of Wigeon and Shoveler, 2 separate flocks of Pintail (easy to tell in flight) and a fly-by flock of 25 TEALS (year tick for the patch). The Great Crested Grebes were also very numerous with 230 birds counted and 38 Mute Swans made a large circle above the gulf in the evening. At dusk I also spotted a small flock of Shelducks flying towards Trieste.
A few days ago I also had 4 House Martins flying past the house, up to 15 Mute Swans on the sea (almost daily), 2 Grey Herons on migration and 1 Red-necked Grebe (breeding plumage) + a few Red-breasted Mergansers from Miramare. Common Gulls numbered about 60 birds some days ago.

Sightings from further afield included a flock of 37 COMMON CRANES on migration over Socerb (Slovenia/Italy border) and a few Black Woodpeckers all on Saturday evening.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Migration update

Local patch: this morning an approaching rainstorm from the south-west brought some movement. Four HOUSE MARTINS flying overhead were the most welcome sight, along with a Peregrine soaring high in front of the cliffs (which put on show for about 15 minutes - above). The "raft" of 45 Shelducks was still present on the sea this morning, right in front of Barcola. Later they moved south-east and were seen even more towards Trieste in the late afternoon.
Today I managed to identify the bigger flocks of ducks on the sea (at dusk) which were mainly Wigeons, as I initially supposed (see first pic). About 10 Shovelers were also present in a separate flock and yesterday I spotted a few Pintails as well.
The calls of Common Gulls are audible almost every time I step out of the front door (yesterday also at night). Other birds of note included the two Red-breasted Mergansers (m & f) still present at Miramare, 3 Black-necked Grebes in breeding plumage and about 50 Great Crested Grebes in loose flocks on the sea.

Monday, 11 March 2013

MIGRANTS BACK FROM AFRICA!

Today another exceptional full day of birding, this time further afield. I visited the usual array of coastal wetlands, mainly in the search of some year's firsts - which I found in great numbers.
Let's start from the morning. First of all I checked the Lisert wetland near Monfalcone and immediately the reedbed held a calling SPOTTED CRAKE and 2 singing MOUSTACHED WARBLERS. Both birds were just heard, so no views this time. Anyway it was great to hear that early warbling from the reedbed once again!
Minutes later a flying flock in the distance revealed 21 COMMON CRANES migrating east. Excellent! Spring was in the air with singing Chiffchaffs from every bush and the local pair of Marsh Harriers performing some amazing aerial displays. Other birds here included: Water Rail, 2 Song Thrushes, Penduline Tit, 13 Common Buzzard (thermal), 4 Stonechats (first migrant birds), Skylark, 2 Pochard (inner pond), 5 Lapwings, 1 Gadwall.
Marsh Harrier - male
 Reedbed area in the Lisert wetland
My next stop was a field near San Canzian d'Isonzo, where a flock of +100 Golden Plovers was seen in the past few days. After a bit of search I only managed to find 20 GOLDEN PLOVERS which was good anyway. Here we don't see these birds so often.
Can you see them?
Nearby was a nice male Hen Harrier with a just-caught frog in the talons.
Valle Cavanata NR held a few waders in the form of Ruff (16), Lapwing, Greenshank and Spotted Redshank, plus 6 Spoonbills. I checked the Averto canal just briefly and saw still a few Goldeneyes and Pochards.
The afternoon was spent at Isola della Cona NR, where I was joined by a couple of friends. Almost immediately a fly-by SWALLOW appeared in the sky - the first of the year! Later in the afternoon we had about 7 other birds making a quick appearance over the marsh. What a joy to se them back!
The reserve actually held the biggest number of year-firsts; mostly waders. These included: 3 Black-winged Stilts, 3 Little Ringed Plovers, 10 Black-tailed Godwits and 3 Wood Sandpipers. To add a bit of spring essence there were also 2 GARGANEYS (m & f), a nice flock of about 150 Ruffs and an astonishing 1000 Lapwings (988 counted by myself). The waders were quite nervous at the beginning, because of a Peregrine soaring overhead, which later caused a great panic in the marsh.
A pair of Garganeys
 Black-winged Stilts
 Lapwings in the air
Within a miserable flock of 11 remaining White-fronted Geese we were amazed to find one of the LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE that wintered in the area. The bird was feeding on a grassy field just a few metres away from the second screening and showed very closely (see pic).

To round up the day we waited for dusk in the reserve's main hide and were rewarded with a flock of 15 COMMON CRANES landing on the mudflats to rest (below). A single Crane was also seen flying east, earlier in the afternoon.
A nice Bittern also flew past and landed in full view on a wet meadow (see below).
Other birds seen during the afternoon included: 5 Oystercatchers (on the mudflats to the south), 3 Green Sandpipers, 2 calling Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, 1 Firecrest (singing), Chiffchaff (singing everywhere), +10 Snipes, 1 Curlew, 6 Spoonbills, +10 Spotted Redshanks, 1 Temminck's Stint, 2 Marsh Harriers, 4 Dunlins, 5 Grey Plovers, 1 Common Redshank, 1 Grey-headed Woodpecker (singing), 2 Hen Harriers (m & f) plus all the commoner ducks, herons ect.
A day stuffed with birds!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

MAGIC day in the patch!

Local patch: absolutely brilliant day of migration-watching, vis migging and sea-checking today. First of all I must mention the absolute highlights: the year's first HOUSE MARTIN - circling above my house at 18.05 pm (very exciting) - and just a few minutes later a flock of 10 COMMON CRANES migrating past (even more exciting!). The Cranes appeared to be coming from the west and headed straight SE towards Trieste (see above). This is the 3rd record of the species in the patch (all three times spotted from the comfort of my home).
During the day the weather was awful with a bad fog on the sea and an almost constant, very annoying drizzle. Despite this, I also managed to add two completely new birds to my patch list. Thus, special mention goes to the 65 SHELDUCKS resting on the sea (6 at Grignano, 45 Miramare and 14 Barcola) and two fly-by REED BUNTINGS (over Grignano). The patch list now stands at 155 birds.
In short, other species of note today included: 1 Song Thrush (first of the season), 200 Starlings, 2 Sandwich Terns, 1 GREYLAG GOOSE (flying NW), +100 Common Gulls, 1 Hawfinch, 1 Kestrel (from home), 2 Water Pipits, 4 Grey & several White Wagtails, 1 Marsh Tit (garden), 21 Woodlarks (came in from the sea), +10 Med Gulls, 9 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers (still present), 2 Great Crested Grebes and 1 Red-throated Diver.
In the evening there was also the usual duck-show on the sea (watched from my balcony) with a nice flock of +70 birds that included several PINTAILS and SHOVELERS. Both species were identified by their body, head and tail shape in flight. The other ducks were most probably Garganeys, but the light was too bad to tell.
Med Gull
The raft of Shelducks also assembled in front of Barcola in the evening
Magic local patch!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Winter leftovers

Local patch: not much serious birding in the last days (mainly due to rainy weather and fog) but a couple of good birds were around though: 1 Red-throated Diver, a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers (male above), 1 Kingfisher on the quay (always good to see in the patch), 2 Cormorants, 1 Black-necked and 4 Great Crested Grebes (breeding plumage) and a mixed flock of +100 Black-headed and about 16 Common Gulls. There seemed to be no flocks of wildfowl on the sea and early migration has now stopped with the bad weather.
Yesterday I also caught a glimpse of a compact flock of 250-300 Starlings flying NW. Unusual to see such a big flock in this season. The other day a very nice bird for the garden was a female Firecrest, feeding on one of the cypresses. One or two Coal Tits are still present in the garden (at the feeders) along with Dunnock and decreasing numbers of Chaffinches.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

First Tufted Ducks for the patch

Local patch: seems strange but it's true that Tufted Duck hasn't been recorded in the patch until today. Well after all, the species is not such a sea-loving bird, so the only way to see it here is possibly on migration. This afternoon I found 8 TUFTED DUCKS resting on the sea in tight flock. Four were males and four females. This record rises my patch list to 153 species. Not bad.
Lots of other ducks were present on the sea, as the other day, but I had no chance to identify the distant flocks. Some closer ones were probably Wigeons.
Otherwise good numbers of Common Gulls are still present in the gulf, as well as some fly-by Mute Swans (15 yesterday).

Today in the town of Koper I was greeted by an urban Crested Lark, running around the parking area and hiding under the cars! It used to be an everyday sight in Koper, but in the last years Crested Larks have seemed to disappear...

Sunday, 3 March 2013

White-fronts over the patch

Local patch: wildfowl and waterbird migration is still going on these days. A flock of +50 vocal WHITE-FRONTED GEESE migrating east over the karstic ridge (16.25) was the main highlight today. Later I had a look from my terrace across the sea and also had 10 Mute Swans flying SE (above), a mixed group of 6 GREAT EGRETS (4th for the patch) and 4 Grey Herons going E and good numbers of unidentified wildfowl migrating SE over the sea (most probably Wigeons). Up in the sky above the coast there was a very noisy "thermal" of about 100 Common Gulls that kept circling around the gulf all the time. It was quite impressive to see and also to hear.
The sea also held 1 Great Crested Grebe flying S and 1 Sandwich Tern passing by.
Other spring wildlife seen today included a few Red Admirals, 1 Nettle-tree Butterfly in the garden (year's first) and 1 Large Tortoiseshell. I also took a stroll into the woodland and checked a small local pond which held the first Smooth Newts (up to 5). The woodland was otherwise quiet with the usual birds around: Short-toed Treecreeper, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Green Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard ect.

Friday, 1 March 2013

First of March, first Garganey

Local patch: I'm finally glad to announce the arrival of spring! In the last couple of days there's been some kind of early movement; for example a flock of Wigeons heard flying over my house at night. Today instead I checked the sea for any other ducks and found 4 drake GARGANEYS - the firsts this year! The birds were floating in tight flock, not too close to shore, so to view them well I had to descend to the quay. Also on the sea were 3 Mute Swans, a large number of Common Gulls (I counted 43 roosting birds), 3 Black-necked and 4 Great Crested Grebes all in breeding plumage.

Yesterday at Škocjanski zatok NR some early migrants were around in the form of 45 Lapwings in the lagoon and good numbers of Skylarks on the grazing marsh (+30 birds). Raptors included a ringtail Hen Harrier quartering over the reedbeds, a fly-by Peregrine and a Sparrowhawk (catching an unfortunate Reed Bunting). The White-fronted Goose was still present within the flock of 4 Greylags and other birds included 7 Tufted Ducks, 6 Pochards, 1 male Gadwall, a few Snipes, Curlews and so on. A Water Rail showed well and close in a ditch by the path, oblivious to the people passing by.