Army Ornithological Society Blog
It has been 3 months since my last blog; where does the time go? In that period I spent a week in Lesbos with an AOS trip that I organised and a week in Corsica with a Natutretrek trip; all endemics seen. I also had a few days in Croatia with my son. The Plain has been out of bounds at times as we get multi-national exercises taking part for weeks at a time. I will admit I went twitching in Feb to see the Penduline Tit at Gloucester and Pallas's Warbler in Dorset. I also attended a Naturetrek weekend in Norfolk for the guides and staff with Lapland Bunting and Snow Bunting easily seen. On the Plain in late winter there were a few Woodcock around as well as flocks of Golden Plover, Fieldfare and Redwing. There were also plenty of Fairy Shrimp. During our unsuccesful Hen Harrier surveys in February the Starling murmuration at Gore Cross COTEC site was fantastic and we were 2kms away. There must have been around 1 million birds in the sky making dramatic patterns. More recently the summer migrants have arrived with Cuckoo, Whinchat, Whitethroat taking up territories. On the Centre in the hand (been ringing and deatils can be found on Wiltshire birds web site) I have had Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and Nightingale to mention a few. On the east I have watched Stone Curlew and twice now seen a male Montagu's Harrier. On the west there is Stone Curlew and Redstart breeding as well as the usual suspects of Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Linnet and of course owls. My nest boves have had a mixed reception but they do require checking again now I can get out there. At present there are still puddles with Toad tadpoles and orchids are starting to show. There has been an explosion of butterflies hatching when the sun shines with Marsh Fritillary and Blues. I hope to see you at the AGM in Scotland next month.Comments
I spent Christmas with a tour in Extremadura, Spain where I had great views of Spanish Imperial Eagle and at last added Penduline Tit to my list of birds seen. I had promised my wife that I would accompany her to the Salisbury Athletics Club Christmas function on 9 Jan; she won England Athletics Coach of the Year in 2015. I therefore spent the weekend before in Norfolk to start off my year list. It was not until mid month that I was really back on the Plain. I do not think it has been cold enough to push the birds down south. There is little life about the area and Short-eared Owls still escape me though for the last 2 weeks certain areas have been out of bounds as a large exercise takes place. On the Centre I did see a male Hen Harrier. On the west by Fish Hook there were some Woodcock and Shipe. Went to Carrymoor last week for Jack Snipe. I also visted the Cotswold Water Park for Smew, Great Northern Diver and Red-crested Pochard. Manadarin Duck are missing at Fonthill Lake. What is going on this winter? Back on the Plain it has been very wet and windy with the normal woodland birds plus corvids and pigeons about. There have been a few Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Stonechat sightings. There have been some reasonable numbers of Linnet, Goldfinch and Corn Bunting. Yellowhammer flocks are in short supply as are Redwing! There are plenty of Fieldfare often mixed with Starling but very few Redwing as is the case for Lapwing and Golden Plover. I have spent more time visiting other sites in Wiltshire due to the restrictions and weather to see birds such as Siberian Chiffchaff at Wesbury Sewage Works. I even managed to go ringing 2 mornings but both were cut short as the wind and rain picked up. Next job when the weather improves is to finish sorting out, and putting up new, bird boxes. Though a month has passed a Happy New Year to you all.Comments
After a very succesful trip to South Africa with a total of 380 species seen my next trip abroad was a week later. I took a tour to the Oman with 208 species which included a Black Drongo in the desert on a farm as we looked for Sandgrouse. In fact I found all 4 types of Sandgrouse and thanks to a tip a decent flock of Golden Grossbeak. I have also been to Frampton Marsh and Slimbridge in December with lots of duck and geese. More importantly I have been busy with SPTA West as I am now the Chairman of the Conservation Group so quite a few meetings to say hello to people. I led a walk at the end of November around Fish Hook and saw 6 Woodcock. There were also quite a few Coal Tit and Goldcrest besides the numerous corvids and pigeons. There were also decent sixe flocks of Fiedfare with some Redwing mixed in. Only 16 species were recorded. In December however the wind was much stonger as we walked on the western edge by Bigbury Wood and Bishopstrow Down. The wind was very strong and most birds kept their heads down. There were however large flocks of Starling, Fieldfare and smaller flocks of Goldfinch and Linnet. A female Great Spotted Woodpecker did not seem to mind the wind at Bigbury Wood. Even in the deep gorse that provided shelter the only bird regularly heard was Blackbird. At least 19 species were recorded that beat November's sorry tally. The next day whilst on a survey at Bridge Site 3 a ringtail Hen Harrier flew right past heading west. There was also a Barn Owl hunting as well as a Buzzard displaying. The majority of birds were however corvids including 2 Raven. At home there seems to be a paucity of birds though the Coal Tit is frequently seen besides the normal suspects. Even the Starlin mumuration at Gore Cross is disappointing with numbers in thousands rather than tens of thousands. There is even only small numbers of Lapwing and Golden Plover. We require some cold weather across the country and NW Europe!Comments
My time in the Western Cape is coming towards the end. I arrived a week ago to brilliant sunny weather that I went up Table Mountain where I had fantastic views as did hundreds of others. A Rock Kestrel caught its prey from a steep drive. The next day was some serious bird watching at Strandfontein with lot of water birds and a Spotted Eagle Owl. It was my first ighting of African Oystercatcher which have mad a come back from the brink of extinction thanks to a French water snail that has colonised the shore line. In the afternoon I drove around the Cape visiting Cape Point (Souther Right Whales) and Cape of Good Hope. It was my first sighting of Ostrich as well and of course I stopped at Boulders Bay for Aftican Penguin. Sunday was the pelagic in a small boat. I was not sea sick thanks to a pill that kept sending me to sleep though one chap did not last a hour before he turned green! Anyway about 7 miles south of Cape Point we met a trawler that was finishing processing fish and then took up another catch. It was a superb experience to see so many birds including 5 types of Albatross. O the way back we picked up all 4 types of Cormorant and for good measure also added Black-bellied Storm Petrel. Monday morning I headed for the West Coast National Park and on the way followed the Darling loop. This was birding paradise with so many species with Blue Crane, Cape Long-billed Lark, Bokmakerie, Cape Bulbul and lots of Karoo Prinia which was to become a common bird. At the park there were a lot of waders as as well as Southern Black Korhaan and Black Harrier. A extension to the Cerebos salt Works for Chesnut-banded Plover proved fruitless as did a stop the following morning after successfully finding 2 Verreaux's Eagles. It was avery long drive to Karooppoort with roadworks that had a waiting time of around 10 mins. One way traffic for about 5 kms was the norm at least 3 times on one particular road. The Karro was warm unlike the coast and I spent ages trying to find Karoo specialists but only succeeded in White-backed Mousebird, Booted eagle, Karoo Chat, Lark Like Bunting, Grey Tit and Namaqua Warbler. Along drive back to Cape Town and experienced rush hour at Paarl; never to be repeated. On Wednesday morning met up with the Cape Birding Club at Kirstenbosch for just over 2 hours when they finished and I continued. The Spotted Eagle Owl was nesting in the courtyard and we could see the top of the chick. I added Cape Sugarbird and Brimstone Canary to my list. The afternoon was spent looking for the elusive Knysna Warbler that was heard but not seen so does not get added to the list. Yesterday I met the committee of the Hermanus Birding Club at Rooiels by chance. We had excellent views of Cape Rockjumper and Cape Rock Thrush as well as other birds. The next stop was Harold Porter Botanical Gardens with Cape Siskin and Swee Waxbill. I was shown a back road that was covered in birds including Plain-backed Pipit. The afrernoon I stood where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans met doing the tourist bit. Today is my final day here and more birds to find around Agulhas. My total now stands at 356 species for the trip.Comments
Blue Rock Thrush (juvenile male)
A dismal morning turns rapidly into a great day with good news and a fantastic catch. After the usual light round of Blackcaps and the threat of further showers and strong gusts threatening the safety of the nets, Julia returned with a single bird bag and a very big grin. Blue Rock Thrush - a target bird but very elusive. As the picture shows, the colour of the bird, despite being a juvenile, and length of the bill are both striking. Fortunately it was a male with little of the brown that characterizes females. Carl and my name were in the hat and I had the privilege of ringing the bird. What a perfect end to a great fortnight.
In the middle of the excitement, Richard Seargent texted to say that today he had reached his target of 200 members of the Army Ornithological Society and before he hands over. I know that we’ve all done our bit but great effort Richard!
There are two days remaining but my flight leaves soon and therefore this will be the last blog of the series. We have all benefited hugely from the experience of ringing birds out of our normal environments and with a lot of fun thrown in. Thanks to all my fellow ringers, Mark Cutts, Carl Powell, Julia and Robin Springett and particularly to Julia and Robin for setting up the exped. Lastly, Ann Powell has kept me under control and returning to the UK several pounds heavier. A great team.