Sunday, 29 January 2012

PALLAS'S LEAF WARBLER twitch (!!) and the Pine Buntings that followed

We succedeed at last!
Today me and a bunch of other birders from Trieste tried again our luck with the proregulus near Treviso. As soon as we arrived to the place where it was usually reported (at 9.50 am) we joined a small group of birders that were already watching the bird. A few indications of its whereabouts were given to us, a quick look on a high tree and seconds after, binoculars on it: a gorgeous tiny **PALLAS'S LEAF WARBLER** showing off its little golden crown and yellowish rump! Wooow!! Yes! Pure excitement followed as we enjoyed this magnificent little dwarf of the Siberian forests. It was on a constant move among the high twigs of alder trees, sometimes venturing a bit lower on some ivy.
After the first few minutes of watching, it then decided to show itself even better and started to descend the trees. From that time onwards we colud almost constantly watch it on low bushes at the sides of the Storga stream. Here it joined a group of 15 or so hyperactive Common Chiffchaffs and showed extremely well until 12.40 am - for nearly three hours! It usually preferred to stick around a low waterside bush just 2-3 meters away from us, making small flights over the water's surface and hovers as well. We all enjoyed the bird, showing off the typical characters for the rest of our stay. Due to its very mobile and restless behaviour I didn't even try to take some good pictures, but preferred to have some prolonged views instead. I did actually manage to take a few shots for documentation (above). The photographers pictured below were quite keen to take loads of full-frame pics and were very successfull.
Among the other Chiffchaffs there was still one Siberian Chiffchaff that gave close views as well. Higher up in the alder a few Siskins were also of note and a Cetti's Warbler sang nearby.
Photographers in action...

...and the result - by Igor Maiorano (here too):

And this is the bird as seen with naked eye:

Just before 13.00pm we decided to change location and visit the wintering stronghold of Pine Buntings in North-east Italy - Magredi del Meduna near Pordenone. Walking the vast gravelly bushy areas, we could immediately spot part of a large mixed flock of buntings. Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings were the commonest, with several colorful Rock Buntings too. Not long afterwards I already had in my scope a female PINE BUNTING followed by a nice male. As we continued to walk around, flushing hundreds of buntings from the ground, we could enjoy them on the trees (pics below). We managed to find 3 other males and at least 4-6 females, for a total of at least 10 Pine Buntings! Two males were especially handsome-looking with very bright white and reddish colouring on the face. A real pleasure to see them so well!
On the higher trees, flocks of Fieldfares moved around - we counted at least 40 birds. Among them was also a nice REDWING showing its reddish flanks. Just before ending the walk we added 6 Cirl Buntings to our day lists.
Pine Bunting male:

Pine Bunting female:

"Motorway sightings" earlier in the morning included 3 ROOKS near Palmanova and a flying Pygmy Cormorant near Cessalto.

I spent a really enjoyable Sunday, seeing great birds (special thanks go to the Pallas's Warbler!) and being in the good company of fellow birders.
I would call this one of those "memorable days"!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

BOOTED EAGLE, raptors galore & rare waders

pics by Paolo Utmar
Late in the morning me and a friend decided to do some "light" birding in the coastal areas around Grado. In the past few days the situation was quite interesting there with several reported scarce waders on the beach and most interesting: a Booted Eagle - local rarity!
We started with a wrong tide on the beach of Banco Mula di Muggia near Grado. Despite the low water level and some large areas of exposed mudflats, the waders were still tightly packed on their usual roosting site. After a while of scanning through the hundreds of Dunlins and Grey Plovers we soon found several Bar-tailed Godwits (4-6 in total). Some nice stockier and rounded waders appeared shortly nearby: at leats 3 Red Knots. This is one of the scarce species of waders we see here in winter. Usually it is found in single figures or small numbers. A few days ago there were about 14, but today we could only see 3-4. Anyway, always a great find and nice to see here! The second unusual thing we got was a winter plumaged Black-tailed Godwit, among the other Bar-taileds. This is probably one of the few records of wintering BTG in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Also this bird was reported few days ago. In the area we could also see 5-6 Kentish Plovers, 1 Sandwich Tern, 1 ad Mediterranean Gull and several Goldeneyes and Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea.
Later we moved to Bosco San Marco-Belvedere (near Aquileia) the winter raptor hot-spot! Shortly after arriving, a massive flock of Woodpigeons took off from the fields and we were immediately alerted by the presence of a bird of prey. A female Goshwak flew past...and almost at the same time, higher in the sky a Peregrine materialised. Both raptors entertained us for a few minutes, causing panic among the pigeons and doves. Later we saw the Goshawk several times, also perched on a pine. Then around 15.00 pm "the big one" appeared: a splendid white-morphed BOOTED EAGLE flying past over the fields!! Wow! We lost it as it dropped over some pines, but it later gave some more flight views - quite brief unfortunately. As it then headed out towards some far-away fields, we checked the distant trees and re-found the bird, sitting on the top of a distant pylon. Even at a distance the pale, cream markings were clearly visible on the back, as well as the different body structure and jizz. The above photos, taken by Paolo Utmar on 26th Jan, show the Booted Eagle in question.
Also in the area were many of the other usual birds like Skylarks and Reed Buntings, 1 Sparrowhawk, several Kestrels and Buzzards and some Firecrests in the pines.
We had a quick look in the lagoon of Grado too, which produced: Greenshanks and Redshanks, lots of Dunlins and Grey Plovers, flock of 40 Shelducks, Curlew, Black-necked and Great Crested Grebe, 1 Kingfisher and Wigeon.
Total score: 6 raptors today!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Sibe Chiff, Lesser White-fronts and Tundras

I attended a mid sized twitch today for a Pallas's Leaf Warbler near Treviso, but dipped miserably. Not to mention that the bird was refound in the afternoon, when we already left the site!
In the area there was a Siberian Chiffchaff that we all enjoyed well though. It continued to give the characteristic "sad" call for the whole morning and gave nice close-by views. Plenty of other Common Chiffchaffs around too.
In the afternoon we got some kind of consolation at Isola della Cona reserve with the geese. After scanning the large flock of White-fronts (cca.800 on the fields) we could spot 6 Tundra Bean Geese and later also the four LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (see pic above - size comparison between White-fronts and Lesser White-fronts).
Two male Hen Harriers were also nice to see, hunting on the saltwater marsh. There were good numbers of Pochard and Tufted Duck too, plus also the usual common ducks. A flock of about 30 displaying Goldeneyes was on the river Isonzo - one female also in the freshwater.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

January mist

Škocjanski zatok NR: once again I chose the worst day in the week to do the monitoring. Ok, it was not raining or windy, but the reserve was again in the mist. Very wet and chilly conditions - and the temperatures were around 0 degrees C even by 11.00 am. So most of the freshwater marsh and some parts of the lagoon were still ice-locked. Despite that, there was a greater movement than last week. The gull numbers were again very high with totals of 292 Black-headed, 212 Yellow-legged, 5 Common, 2 CASPIAN GULLS (yes, still around!) and 1 adult Herring Gull.
Otherwise, the major interest was provided by a White-fronted Goose which dropped down into the marsh at mid morning. As soon as it landed among the other wildfowl, it was mobbed by a Mute Swan (very aggressive) and minutes later took off, heading to the lagoon instead. A very brief appearence indeed.
Here the main problem for the geese are the swans which are very territorial and tend to mob any big intruder. So usually the geese stay for a short time...unfortunately.
Other birds were mainly the common species seen regularly. It was nice to see two Water Rails (males I suppose) chasing each other, out in the open on a grassy bank. Seven Skylarks were mixed among Water Pipits on the grazing marsh and 3 Hawfinches provided interest on the hedges (pic above). 1 Green Sanpiper was in the lagoon with 11 Curlews and several Greenshanks. Interesting ducks included 9 Pochards and 3 Tufted Ducks on the same freshwater reservoir and 4 Shelducks. The only Penduline Tit I had today was at Jezerce. In the same area, feeding on the path was a flock of 13 Cirl Buntings.
Coots total number today: 530... decreased!

By the way THIS is the new website of the reserve - a new look finally! The link can also be found on the sidebar to the right.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

LESSER WHITE-FRONTS return from Siberia

This morning I went to pay tribute to the four Lesser White-fronted Geese, present since last week at Isola della Cona. The birds were seen among the many other White-fronts, usually feeding on the grassy fields just out of the reserve. As I arrived to the area I immediately spotted the 800 or so White-fronted Geese, just a few tens of meters away from the road. Within minutes of scanning I soon found the 4 LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE. All were pretty obvious with a clearly visible yellow orbital ring (see the pics above). One of them had some more white on the forehead than the others and more black on the belly, thus suggesting an adult.
Unfortunately, after about 15-20 minutes of watching, some cameramen from a local television flushed the whole flock, as they walked into the field. What a shame! The flock moved to a central area of the same field, but quite far away. Thus the Lesser White-fronts were impossible to pick out from that distance.
As I hadn't much time to spare I decided to move towards Grado. Near the town of Aquileia I visited the area of Belvedere-Bosco San Marco. Here my targets were Stock Doves as it was quite long ago from the last ones (several years). Although regular in winter, the species is far from common and can be tricky to find. The best places are lowland-farmland areas with lots of other pigeons/doves around.
When I arrived there was quite a lot of movement as always here: 1 male Stonechat, large mixed flocks of Skylarks, Reed Buntings and +50 Corn Buntings. Separately were about 100 Tree Sparrows feeding on the ground too. A Great Grey Shrike was glimpsed flying over a hedge - later I couldn't find it again. Commoner birds included Jackdaws, several Buzzards, Kestrel, 1 male Sparrowhawk, Chiffchaff, Firecrest ect.
The first pigeon-like birds I spotted were in fact 12 Stock Doves. The small flock circled around over the fields quite a while before settling, so I could take some flight images (see below). Even at a distance, the white-grey wing panels were really obvious and I could even see some glossy-green on the neck at certain angles.

Before returning home I made a quick stop on the beach at Lido di Staranzano to check the sea. The tide was very low and the sea very far... plus I had the sun in the eyes and there was a bit of mist too. These terrible conditions allowed me to pick out just a few thing on the sea and shore: 3 Goldeneyes, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, Curlew, Grey Plover, Dunlin and many common Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Common winter birds on Cerkniško jezero

Today I've spent a lovely sunny Sunday on the Cerknica lake. Even if the temperatures were reported as very low in the morning (-10 degrees C) me and a friend of mine decided to give it a try. Fortunately the sun made everything easier with the temperatures rising considerably by midday.
On the way to Cerkniško jezero, the usual "must-stop" near Planina produced a fine male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling over our heads (first two pics above). Some Siskins were heard there too, but nothing very special around.
The Cerknica lake instead was almost completely frozen over. All the wildfowl was confined to a larger patch of ice-free water in the middle of the lake. Unfortunately as we scanned, we discovered that all the ducks were in fact Mallards - over 2000 birds! Just about 10-15 of them were Goldeneyes (both sexes). During the day we didn't see much else around but had some other birds like: 30-40 Buzzards, 3 Great Grey Shrikes (in different parts around the lake), a total of 10 Hen Harriers (6 together; all females except 1 male), 5 Common Gulls, Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Mistle Thrush (drinking on the ice - see pics above), 1 female Sparrowhawk on Grahovo's church (last pic above), 2 Great Egrets, flock of 10 Fieldfares around Gorenje Jezero, 2 Kestrels and 4 Roe Deers in the forest.
On the way back home (in the afternoon) we stopped at Rakov Škocjan, where we could add a few Crossbills to our short day-list.
An enjoyable day, despite the lack of birds!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Back to the monitoring

Škocjanski zatok NR: this morning I was back again counting birds and it was really miserable...weatherwise. The visibility was very poor and the air was thick with mist and moisture. The kind of day you usually see nothing special and very few birds at all. In fact that was more or less my situation! In the whole day I heard just a single Water Rail for example... They probably didn't bother to come out and sing.
With a bit of scanning I could relocate two first-winter CASPIAN GULLS within smaller numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls. And also 5 Common Gulls were around today.
At the end of the morning I was happy to confirm once again, that my pishing skills are very effective with reedbed birds. 11 Penduline Tits and 4 Reed Buntings materialised in front of me just 3 second after my first sign of "pish". Showing extremely well of course. I'm now wondering if that works with Bearded Tits too... that would be amazing!
Another nice thing today was to see a female Sparrowhawk with a prey in the talons. It spent the whole morning flying around or sitting on different perches (see pic above), waiting for a meal. At the end it finally caught a sparrow just next to the feeding station. I actually flushed it when walking down the path - it took off from the ground...fortunately with the prey in the talons.
And now some numbers from the monitoring: 6 Pygmy Cormorants, 3 Great Egret, 2 Greylag Geese (locally interesting record), 4 Shelducks, 22 Wigeons, 63 Shovelers, 427 Teals, 10 Pochards, 5 Tufted Ducks, 1 Buzzard, 674 Coots, 12 Curlews, 2 Green Sandpipers, 1 Spotted Redshank (the wintering bird-see pic), 14 Greenshanks, 1 Snipe, 187 Black-headed & 38 Yellow-legged Gulls (both decreased in numbers), 7 Water Pipits, 7 Hawfinches.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Norfolk & Suffolk trip report

The report is now available here or by clicking on Norfolk & Suffolk (England) January 2012 on the sidebar.
Above: my three favourite pics of the trip: Barn Owl, Dartford Warbler and Shorelark

Monday, 9 January 2012

Norfolk mission accomplished!

Yesterday I came back from a seven-day trip to Norfolk and Suffolk (England). Hopefully I'll soon post a complete report with additional pictures. For now just the above Shorelark, taken at Holkham NNR.