Tuesday 30 April 2013

The Woodchat Shrike is back

A WOODCHAT SHRIKE was found early this morning on the meadows of Campo Carri - in the same place where it occurred two consecutive years (2010, 2011). The dates are also quite timely: 29th April in both 2010 and 2011 and on the 30th this year. Well a day later, but maybe the bird was already there yesterday, as nobody went to check.
Anyway I was on site by mid morning and the bird performed really well (see above). It wasn't so nervous as shrikes use to be. It allowed a closer approach and remained more or less on the same side of the grassland, at the border with the woodland and hedges. It also perched on an abandoned lamp (third photo). Nearby were also lots of Red-backed Shrikes (at least 5; just 1 female) and on one occasion both species were seen sitting together on the same bush (last photo above).
More entertainment was produced by 3 singing male Cuckoos and a crazy female flying around the grassland all the time and perching in full view on the pines (below).
Female Cuckoo performing well
Also in the area were my first Spotted Flycatchers of the year (at least 2), 1 male Golden Oriole (flying overhead), 1 Wood Warbler, 4 Tawny Pipits, 5 Whinchats, 2 Black Woodpeckers (flying above the woodland and calling loudly), some Crossbills flying overhead, 1 Goshawk, Linnet, Rock Bunting, Woodlark and so on. Very strangely no sign of the Wheatears.

Friday 26 April 2013

Mt.Nanos with Ring Ouzel and flowers

Been on the mount Nanos (1262 m - above) in nearby Slovenia today, with a couple of friends from university. We had more of a botanical trip (which was pleasant), but we managed to see a couple of interesting birds as well. On top of the list goes a gorgeous male RING OUZEL feeding on a Crocus-covered meadow on the top of the mountain. It showed quite well for several minutes, until some trekkers passed by and flushed it. Always a cool bird to see and a year's first for me. Never seen one on Nanos by the way.
After midday, in the hottest hours of the day, 4 Griffon Vultures appeared above the ridge, slowly gliding SE over our heads. While walking up on the mount earlier in the morning we heard a singing Cuckoo, 1 Song and 1 Mistle Thrush, seen 1 Rock Bunting and several commoner woodland birds. Also around the top were lots of singing Tree Pipits and a few Skylarks, along with some Black Redstarts in the rocky valleys. Otherwise just more or less the usual upland stuff including Kestrel, Raven, Buzzard and so on.
On the botanical front Helleborus niger was perhaps the most interesting, together with carpets of Crocus vernus and an awful lot of Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa), Hepatica nobilis, still several Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), and lots of other smaller, greener stuff.

Helleborus niger

Crocus vernus

Anemone nemorosa

Thursday 18 April 2013

Nightingale special

Local patch: spring is now in full bloom with green leaves and lush grass appearing everywhere and flowering trees exploding in white colour. There are several Nightingales singing at the woodland's edge and today I managed to watch one for quite a while as it delivered its song from an oak tree (above). It gave really brilliant views in full sunshine. I now presume more or less where this bird could be nesting.
Other birds of interest also included a Lesser Whitethroat, together with several Blackcaps, feeding on the blooming trees and a female Common Whitethroat nearby. But I still can't find a Subalpine Warbler in the patch this year...
Also lots of other commoner birds singing in the surroundings, like Green Woodpecker, Cirl Bunting, Black Redstart, Hawfinch, Serin and so on. House Martins and Common Swifts are now a usual sight in the sky and a few migrant Swallows pass by as well at times.
Scops Owls are now heard almost on a daily basis - usually late in the evening or at dusk.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

SHORT-TOED LARK & new arrivals

Škocjanski zatok NR: I had my weekly bird count this morning which was very productive in terms of migrants. Top highlight of the day was a SHORT-TOED LARK that I found in the freshwater marsh. It's something like the second or third for the reserve (the first in recent years) and the 11th for Slovenia (if accepted). Well, I consider it a true rarity and I also never seen one in Europe so I was very happy. The bird remained almost always quite distant while feeding on the grass in the middle of the marsh (viewed from the 2nd screening). The jizz was very distinctive with quicker foraging movements than the other larks and the body plumage was clear enough. I only managed some blurry pics for documentation (see above).
The now finally blooming hedges were stuffed with migrants and the commonest species seemed to be Lesser Whitethroats (+21 counted), Blackcap (+20) and Willow Warbler (40 birds). Some of the latter, along with a few Chiffchaffs, were singing incessantly. Also lurking in the bushes was my first Wryneck this year - always a pleasure to see. Another year's first, this time from the reeds, was Sedge Warbler with up to 10 birds recorded (also singing).
Lesser Whitethroats on Prunus bush
Other birds of note: 4 Pygmy Cormorants, 1 Purple Heron (year's first), 2 Wigeon, 2 Gadwalls, up to 115 Shovelers, 45 Garganeys, 6 Pochards, 1 Tufted Duck, 2 Ferruginous Ducks (m & f), 2 Marsh Harriers, 33 Black-winged Stilts, 5 Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Lapwings, 1 Common 5 Green & 1 Wood Sandpiper, 3 Common Redshanks, 12 Common Terns (already on the colony), 1 Skylark, 4 Water Pipits (in breeding plumage), 1 Tree Pipit (overhead), 1 Meadow Pipit, 18 Yellow Wagtails (mostly cinereocapilla, some flava and 1 male feldegg), 1 Stonechat, 17 Wheatears (most on the grazing marsh), 1 Song Thrush, 13 Penduline Tits and a few fly-by Serins.
The sky over the freshwater marsh was also teeming with life: mostly Swallows (more than 100), +30 House Martins, +10 Sand Martins, about 40 Common Swifts and later in the morning also two fly-by Alpine Swifts.
Male Wheatear
 Green Sandpiper

Yesterday evening I also had a few year's firsts in the form of: Scops Owl (1 singing in the patch), Nightingale (1 heard near the airport of Ronchi dei Legionari) and a load of Lesser Whitethroats.

Monday 8 April 2013

MAGIC Pannonia in April

Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus by Igor Maiorano
Yesterday I got a very strong dose of Pannonian birding, as I ventured into north-east Slovenia with four other friends. We were mainly after some scarce and rare migrant species reported in the past couple of days and we were very successful in finding them. We first visited the Ormož lake (on the border with Croatia), then the lake of Ptuj and finally the Medvedce reservoir (near Pragersko). First of all I must mention the incredible migratory movement that we witnessed from the car along the whole length of the motorway, mainly involving Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus (+50) and Common Buzzards Buteo buteo and huge numbers of finches (mainly Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs), all heading north.
We first went to Ormož because of a lingering female WHITE-HEADED DUCK Oxyura leucocephala that we spotted immediately upon arrival to the lake's shore. And the morning started with the right twist...
The bird was not even too far from the shore and was usually associating with some Mallards. I managed a couple of pics for documentation. Probably the same individual was present in the past few months in Austria and was quite popular up there.

White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala

Apart from the commoner ducks and waterbirds, the lake held also a few other goodies in the form of: an OSPREY Pandion haliaetus flying overhead, 2 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus, a 1st winter Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans and a few Velvet Scoters Melanitta fusca.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

About 15 minutes later we were watching (from the car) the female LONG-TAILED DUCK Clangula hyemalis on the lake of Ptuj. The bird was still around in the same area where it spent the last months, but this time it was sporting a darker plumage.

Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis

Nearby were also some 5 Velvet Scoters Melanitta fusca, 2 Scaups Aythya marila and good numbers of Pochard Aythya ferina and Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula, plus some Goldeneyes Bucephala clangula. The lake's surface was covered in a huge cloud of Swallows Hirudno rustica (as were also Ormož and Medvedce reservoirs) and we must have had a total of more than 3000 birds in the course of the day. Mixed among them were also a few House Delichon urbicum and Sand Martins Riparia riparia.
From the female Long-tailed Duck we then pointed our scopes to the sky, where and adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE Haliaeetus albicilla was soaring. Impressive!
Later our first Common Terns Sterna hirundo of the season appeared over the lake's surface.
After the stop on the lake, we moved to the nearby fields to see the rare swans and we found just 1 remaining BEWICK'S SWAN Cygnus columbianus (adult), along with five Mutes Cygnus olor.
A small wet alder woodland provided some good entertainment as well. Here we found our first Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca (male) and Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix of the year which were feeding on the trees, along with a couple of singing Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus, Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla.

Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca

Overhead a Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis passed by (also year's first) and the open fields also yielded 2 Grey Partridges Perdix perdix, +100 Yellow Wagtails Motacilla flava, Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis and some displaying Lapwings Vanellus vanellus.
Here we also had a major (mammal) highlight of the day in the form of a STOAT Mustela erminea running around the edge of the woodland and showing extremely well.

Stoat Mustela erminea

In the early afternoon we moved to the Medvedce reservoir and before arriving there we stopped on the fields north of Pragersko.
We had a small detour because of a male PALLID HARRIER Circus macrourus that caught our attention from the car. We watched the stunning bird performing extremely well in front of us, frequently hunting along with a male Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus, thus allowing direct comparison. At a certain point we had the bird flying in front of our car (actually cutting our way!) down to 5 metres!

Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus (above by Igor Maiorano)

The Medvedce reservoir held quite a lot of wildfowl as usual, but the most interesting birds included: 1 White Stork Ciconia ciconia (year's first, but other were seen from the car as well), 1 Black Kite Milvus migrans (also the first this season), 1 OSPREY Pandion haliaetus (clearly another bird from the one in Ormož), 1 adult BLACK STORK Ciconia nigra (feeding on a tussock meadow, later in flight), 1 adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE Haliaeetus albicilla (soaring overhead and later perched on the ground, feeding on a carcass), 1 Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, 4 Night Herons Nycticorax nycticorax (year's first), 1 male Goosander Mergus merganser, some Stock Doves Columba oenas, 2 Rooks Corvus frugilegus, 5 male Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe, 3 Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus and a load of Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus.
The last big sighting of the day occurred when we were driving back home, just out of the town of Pragersko. A male PALLID HARRIER Circus macrourus flew yet another time directly in front of the car, showing beautifully the diagnostic underwing pattern and leaving us mouth-opened. What a better way to round up the day?
Other interesting birds seen on different locations during the day also included: Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula, Pochard Aythya ferina, Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, Common Gull Larus canus, Shoveler Anas clypeata, Garganey Anas querquedula (small flocks), Wigeon Anas penelope, Teal Anas crecca, Pintail Anas acuta, Skylark Alauda arvensis, Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella, Linnet Carduelis cannabina, Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, Siskin Carduelis spinus, Stock Dove Columba oenas (up to 60 in a single flock!), Mistle Turdus viscivorus and Song Thrush Turdus philomelos, Fieldfare Turdus pilaris, Stonechat Saxicola torquatus, Brambling Fringilla montifringilla, Serin Serinus serinus, Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus, Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula, Raven Corvus corax, Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus, Greylag Goose Anser anser, Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea (colony), Greenshank Tringa nebularia.

So far one of the most intense days of my birding career!

Happy team at the end of the day!