Friday, May 24, 2019

Almost Smartie Time

A week after our return from holiday and the necessary catch-ups completed it was time to check out a few local places. 

I started at Cockerham Quarry where the Sand Martin colony should be well underway. It was - many dozens of holes and a hive of activity as 140 or more Sand Martins flew back and forth to their excavations. The martins were still collecting dried grasses from the quarry floor for lining their chambers situated mostly at the very top of the quarry face. I saw no early fledglings, just adults. 

Sand Martin 

The quarry face is unstable and the entrance holes very high which puts it into the realms of a mountaineering expedition rather than a modest mist netting session. We plan another visit in early/mid June and when there are youngsters about and when the increase in overall numbers may present catching opportunities at lower levels. 

There were a few Sand Martins over the water at Conder Green, just a flap and a glide from the quarry. A few Swallows too, but sadly, no sign of Swifts. Each year sees a decline in Swallows and Swifts all around us but the success of the nearby Sand Martin colony has increased their numbers in the local area. 

Waders and wildfowl now consist of those either likely too or in the actual process of breeding, and counts of 10 Oystercatcher, 6 Redshank, 4 Avocet, 2 Little Ringed Plover, 10 Tufted Duck and 6 Shelduck. The 4 Little Egrets are not nesting but a pair or two of Common Tern seemed to be among the six individuals that I saw argue and display over the islands and nesting platforms. 

Shelduck - male 

 Shelduck - female

Avocets have at least two feeding methods. In clear water, they feed by sight by picking prey from the surface of water or mud. In poor visibility and when locating prey from within the sediments, they forage by touch, sweeping the long, up-curved bill from side to side through water or loose sediment to locate hidden prey. In deeper water they swim readily and buoyantly, up-ending like a duck to reach food below the surface. 




Passerines along the hedgerow were not many - 3 Goldfinch, plus singing singles of Common Whitethroat, Reed Bunting and Blackcap. Just today saw the first juvenile Goldfinches appear in my back garden, fluttering their wings and begging to be fed by accompanying adults. 

Along Jeremy Lane I found the only Reed Warbler of the morning, singing from the roadside ditch but with none in the usual spots in the dense reeds of Conder Green. As ever, it is not necessarily the species and/or numbers seen. It is those birds that are absent which provide clues about the ups but mostly downs of bird populations. 

Further exploration of the lanes produced good numbers of Sedge Warbler, twelve or more singing along the ditches of Moss Lane, Jeremy Lane and Cockersands. In contrast, Common Whitethroats were few and far between with just three songsters along the same circuit, although I did happen upon a Lesser Whitethroat. 

As the name suggests, this warbler is smaller than its cousin the Common Whitethroat. It has dark cheek feathers which contrast with the pale throat and can give it a 'masked' look. Lesser Whitethroats can be skulking and hard to see, often only noticed when they give their very distinctive harsh, rattling song. In contrast, the song of a Common Whitethroat is fast, scratchy and scolding, often delivered from a conspicuous song post for all to see and hear. Today it was a blossoming hawthorn bush.

Lesser Whitethroat 

Common Whitethroat 

Common Whitethroat 

I saw good numbers of Lapwings, Brown Hares and Stock Doves in the cut meadows near Cockersands where I chanced upon a young Lapwing. Just the right size for a "D" ring - the first and probably last of the year. 

 Brown Hare


Lapwing chick

Back soon with more news and views.

In the meantime, linking with Anni's Birding  and Eileen's Saturday Post.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Scops For Breakfast

There’s a story behind the Scops Owl in the picture below. It’s not the best quality photograph and that’s because it’s a photo of a photo.

"Click the pics" in turn for owls and scenes from Menorca 

Two friends of ours, Alan and Jane, who also go to Menorca each year, had arrived a few days before us. One morning while they were sat eating their breakfast, Juan Ramon the head waiter, and knowing them as birders, said that there was a strange bird in the conservatory dining room, a room unused in early May. He and other staff thought the bird might be a Hoopoe! When Alan went to look, having grabbed his camera, a Scops Owl sat at the breakfast table. As Alan approached closer a second Scops flew up from the floor and the two sat together briefly before a hastily opened door allowed them to depart. 

The picture makes for an interesting story but for a technophobe who has yet to invest in a computer, the Internet, a tablet or a Smartphone, there was no way Alan could send me a picture other than a print when he returned to Leeds in June. So when he showed me the picture, the only way for me to obtain a copy was to photograph the digital display on the back of his Nikon camera and hence lose the quality of the original. 

Scops Owl 

Our guess was that the owls had entered the building the previous night in their search for a nesting site. In previous years we have seen the owls on a nightly basis and also roosting in pines nearby. Early May of 2019 came with a cool Tramuntana wind for a number of days which made for unsuitable owling evenings when the owls would normally visit the hotel grounds. We heard them in the early hours on two or three occasions but for the first time in 15 years, failed to see a Scops Owl. 

Scops Owl 

Scops Owls are widespread across Europe with most of the population migratory, however those on the Balearic Islands including Menorca are thought to be mainly non-migratory. The Balearic race Otus scops mallorcae is also said to be slightly smaller than other races, with less bulk and a smaller wing length, the latter probably as a result of becoming less migratory over many, many years: mallorcae is also said to show less colour variation than the more widespread nominate race. 

Here’s more pictures from our time in Menorca 2019. 

Es Mercadal 

At Son Bou marsh we saw a good number of species: Cattle Egret, Squacco Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Bee Eater, Marsh Harrier, Whinchat, Wheatear, Wood Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Little Ringed Plover, Woodchat Shrike,  Great Reed Warbler, Spotless Starling, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Sardinian Warbler, Nightingale, Cetti's Warbler, Turtle Dove. 

Son Bou Marsh 

Glossy Ibis

Turtle Dove

Cala Galdana 

Cala Galdana is the best place to see Alpine Swift, Egyptian Vulture and Firecrest: three unlikely compatriots.

Egyptian Vulture 

At Tirant - Red-eared Slider

In two weeks we saw just 5 Red-footed Falcons, all second year females, scattered along an overhead cable on the road to Cap de Cavalleria on the morning of 4th May. 

Red-footed Falcon 

Red-footed Falcon 

The roads around Binimel and Cap de Cavalerria proved the best for photographing Corn Bunting, Stonechat and Tawny Pipit.

Tawny Pipit 


Corn Bunting



Log in to Another Bird Blog another day for more birds and photos.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Do The Splits

We are back from Menorca where we spent two weeks enjoying this wonderful island for the fifteenth year.

We collected a Fiat Panda from Mahon Airport via our good friends Setta and Mixalis at Momple Car Hire.  The little Panda is the ideal car for negotiating the sometimes narrow lanes of the Menorcan countryside or the slender, immaculate streets of quiet inland towns. 

We split our time between sightseeing, birding and simply relaxing during the warm, sunny days.

"Click the pics" for bigger photos and a taste of Menorca.

Near Es Prat 

Near Binimel 

Cala Fornells

Es Mercadal 

Es Migjorn

Joan Riudavets Moll - Aged 114 years

Melons- Es Migjorn 

Es Migjorn 

Hotel Ses Tillets

I'm now busy catching up with friends and family alike. Until then the rest of this post is about a relatively common species wherever I go.  

I took quite a lot of pictures of flycatchers, birds that at home I would normally just label as “Spotted Flycatcher” Muscicapa striata, the common flycatcher of the UK that breeds in most of Europe and western Asia.  

Quite recently the International Ornothological Committee (IOC) decreed that the spotted flycatcher that breeds in the Balearic Islands (Menorca, Majorca, Ibiza) and also the islands of Corsica and Sardinia is a separate and distinct species, Muscicapa tyrrhenica. They named the species Mediterranean Flycatcher. 

A molecular phylogenetic study published in 2016 found that the subspecies M. s. tyrrhenica and M. s. balearica were genetically similar to each other but significantly different from the other spotted flycatcher subspecies. The authors proposed that these insular subspecies should be considered as separate rather than conspecific species. In recent years “splits” of previously conspecific species are all about genetics rather than appearance, and as one might expect, the description of each species is much the same. 

It is said that Muscicapa striata has “dull grey-brown upperparts and off-white underparts. The crown, throat and breast are streaked with brown while the wings and tail feathers are edged with paler thin margins.” In comparison Muscicapa tyrrhenica has “paler and warmer plumage on the upperparts, with more diffuse markings on the head and breast.” The sexes are alike in each case. 

Judge for yourself with pictures here from Greece, the UK and Menorca.

Mediterranean Flycatcher - Menorca

 Mediterranean Flycatcher - Menorca 

Mediterranean Flycatcher - Menorca

Spotted Flycatcher - Greece 

Spotted Flycatcher - Greece 

Spotted Flycatcher - Greece

Spotted Flycatcher - UK

Are you a splitter or a joiner? Maybe like me you just enjoy flycatchers - with or without spots?

Linking today to Wild Bird Wednesday,  Anni's Birding  and Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Few Days Away

We counted. This is our fifteenth time in Menorca. And yes, Menorca is that special. But it does get less quiet, much busier and more popular each year, and that's why this may be our last.

We left Joanne in charge of the house; well she is over 21. There’s very little blogging while Sue and I are away so I posted a few pictures from Menorca, both birds and photos of special places.

Don’t forget – “click the pics” for a trip to sunny Menorca.

Fornells, Menorca

Mahon, Menorca

Es Migjorn, Menorca

Coffee Time, Menorca

Fornells village, Menorca

Cattle Egret

Turtle Dove

Egyptian Vulture

Wood Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper

Menorcan Panda


Es Grau, Menorca

Black-winged Stilt

Cattle Egret

Greater Short-toed Lark

Punta Nati- Menorca


Audouin's Gull

Red-footed Falcon

Ciutadella - Menorca

Ciutadella - Menorca

Serrano Jamon


 Red Kite


Menorcan Friends

Ensaimada and Coffee - Menorca Style

 Back soon with more news, views and photographs home and away on Another Bird Blog.

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