Sunday, May 31, 2015

Birding In The Box

As promised, here is an update on a visit to Oakenclough on Saturday to check with Andy the progress of his nest boxes. 

The target bird for the nest box project is Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), a small passerine bird of the Old World flycatcher family and part of a group of insectivorous songbirds which feed by darting after insects. This flycatcher winters in tropical Africa, spending the summer in the northern hemisphere but as far south as the Iberian Peninsula where it is quite common. 

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatchers breed in upland broadleaved woodland. This means that in Britain they are limited due to geography mainly to the North and West where they prefer mature oak woodland with natural tree holes, i.e. dead trees, or dead limbs on healthy trees. The species also takes readily to nest boxes with high horizontal visibility, in woodland where there is a low abundance of shrub and understorey, but a high proportion of moss and grass for their nests. 

Andy - checking a box

A good number of the boxes we checked were occupied by Great Tit or Blue Tit with the adults still brooding tiny youngsters or sitting on clutches as low as 4 eggs or as high as 14 eggs. Given that the weather in the month of May has been mostly poor, the progress so far has been better than expected.   

We found one box contained Nuthatches and ringed 6 youngsters. Four boxes were occupied by Pied Flycatchers where we found females sitting on either 6 or 7 eggs and where by a week or so the youngsters will be large enough to be ringed. 

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher

The eggs of the Pied Flycatcher are about 18 mm by 13 mm in size, pale blue, smooth and glossy. The female builds the nest of leaves, grass, moss and lichens, and then lines the cup with hair and wool. The duties of incubating the eggs are performed by the female with the newly-hatched young fed by both adults. 

Pied Flycatcher nest

The Pied Flycatcher is a well-studied species, partly because of its willingness to use nest boxes provided by bird watchers and bird ringers. Detailed study has found that Pied Flycatchers practice polygyny, usually bigamy, with the male travelling large distances to acquire a second mate. The male will mate with the secondary female and then return to the primary female in order to help with aspects of child rearing, such as feeding. 

There are a number of theories around how this apparently poor system benefits the species, but no one knows for sure except that in practice it does work. In 2005 the European population of Pied Flycatcher was estimated at up to 12 million pairs, helped in part by the provision of nest boxes in parts of the species’ range. 

We checked our ringing site for Willow Warbler nests and found at one nest a brood of tiny youngsters, at another nest a female sat on 6 eggs. Dotted around the site a good number of males are in steady song with little sign of their mates, suggesting that most are still at the stage of incubating eggs. Willow Warblers are now a little late this year, no doubt as a result of the poor Spring weather to date. 

Willow Warbler

We’re promised warmer weather for mid-week - let’s hope so. 

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Where There's Muck

Two weeks today we returned from our Menorcan holiday. Since then I’ve barely got out birding due to a combination of domestics and dreary, windy and often wet weather. To put the record straight, Another Bird Blog is very much alive and well and will soon be back to normal. In the meantime, here are yet more pictures from Menorca. 

Hoopoes seemed rather scarce this year. Even the ones which feed in the hotel grounds without fail were not seen on their usual daily basis. Mostly we caught glimpses of roadside birds or heard their unmistakeable “hoop-hoop” calls from the countryside. Like lots of Menorcan birds, the Hoopoe isn't especially easy to see.


Bee Eaters were scarce too. Perhaps with the fine weather the island had enjoyed for weeks beforehand we’d missed many migrant birds which pass through our regular viewing spot. Then a day or two later when we looked again there were workmen digging up the road, laying pipes alongside the breeding colony and very few Bee Eaters using the fence where they sit between feeding forays. Maybe Bee Eaters don’t have the same degree of protection as they do in the UK but even so to be undertaking major highway work adjacent to breeding Bee Eaters would seem to very irresponsible. 

Bee Eater

Happier times were had at Es Grau where a single Whiskered Tern fed over the water and Black-winged Stilts had good sized juveniles. One or two late adults were still sitting closely on eggs. 

Es Grau

Black-winged Stilt

Black-winged Stilt

Whiskered tern

Es Grau is a good place to find Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Sardinian Warblers, Cetti's Warblers  and Turtle Doves. Our botanist and birding companions for the day, Jane and Alan were hugely excited by their find of three specimens of Sawfly orchid Ophrys tenthredinifera. “A terrible photograph - stick to birds Phil” 

Turtle Dove

 Sawfly orchid

We stopped at picturesque Fornells for the mandatory coffee where from the outdoor café we watched an Osprey circle over the shallow waters. The Osprey drifted off to look elsewhere and we set off for Addaia. 

Fornells - Menorca

Amongst the Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Greenshanks, Ringed Plovers and Little Ringed Plovers at Addaia there was a single unexciting juvenile and un-pink Flamingo. 

Greater Flamingo

The (Greater) Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus is the most widespread species of the flamingo family. It is found in parts of Africa, southern Asia, Israel, and southern Europe. Although the species doesn’t breed in Menorca the ones that appear on the island during the winter and into Spring are probably short-distance migrants from the breeding populations of Southern Spain and the French Camargue. 

As usual there were one or two very flighty Wood Sandpipers about Addaia. But the not too good pictures below were taken at the local sewage works at Es Migjorn where a Common Sandpiper gave good comparison views. Yes folks, even on a Menorca holiday a birder must visit the sewage works. 

It’s rather like the old Northern expression “Where there’s muck there's brass” but slightly adapted to read “Where there’s muck there’s birds”. 

Wood Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper

Tomorrow is news and views from Oakenclough when I meet up with Andy for a peek into the nest boxes. Let’s hope the news isn’t too bad although by all accounts so far from other regions, the early season has been poor.

Linking today to Anni's Blog and Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Shades Of Green And Grey

My weekend was rather uneventful when a visit to the hills near Oakenclough and a mooch around the ringing plantation proved somewhat disappointing. I’d hoped to locate a few Willow Warbler nests but not taken into account how cool, wet, windy and changeable the Lancashire uplands had been during my two weeks in the warm Mediterannean. 

In the course of getting very wet feet I managed to locate at least 12 Willow Warbler territories without more than a sniff of where a few nests might be located. The first week of June is the historical peak of nesting activity with over the years c400 Willow Warbler nestlings ringed. A week or ten days of dry weather should see more intense activity as well as making the site more negotiable. 

Willow Warbler

During the watching and listening I ringed 3 Willow Warblers, all three showing the necessary signs of breeding activity. A Stoat ran across the road and into the ringing site. I hope it has a dietary preference for voles rather than Willow Warbler eggs or nestlings. 

Willow Warbler

There was a male Cuckoo doing the rounds all morning, flying over the fells, stopping off to “cuckoo” from the topmost point of a stand of pines, heading off towards Oakenclough and then circuiting the ringing station, a tour of a mile or two in the hope of attracting a female. There’s a regular Kestrel too and probably as a result of the number of voles amongst the heather and bilberry, the little animals darting back into the crevices as my feet sloshed through the heavy ground. 

I noted at least 4 overflying Lesser Redpoll, a pair of Pied Wagtails, 4 Swallow, 2 Bullfinch, 2 Mistle Thrush and 2 Song Thrush. 

Song Thrush

Two pairs of Greylags have 7 young between them and appear to be operating a crèche or “safety in numbers” system whereby 4 watchful and wary adults don't miss much. 

Greylag Goose

The Greylag or Greylag Goose Anser anser is the ancestor of the domestic goose and also the original “wild goose”, known in pre-Linnaean times known as the wild goose - Anser ferus. 

The Greylag, a native of northern and central Eurasia, has been domesticated and raised for meat and egg production for over 1,000 years. It can be white or completely grey like the wild form or somewhere in-between as a result of interbreeding with other geese. The often strange looking offspring from such marriages are guaranteed to cause confusion amongst those starting out as birdwatchers. 

The Greylag Goose is the only grey goose seen in numbers in the UK during the summer months. There are two breeding populations currently recognised - 1) the northwest Scotland (or native) population, which is the remnant of the population that once occurred more widely across Britain, and 2) the population of birds released primarily by wildfowlers during the period from the 1930s to the 1960s, birds which began the establishment of feral populations and a correspondent increase in the abundance and distribution of Greylags during the 20th and the early 21st centuries. 

Greylag Goose

So because Greylag Geese might be of uncertain provenance they are mostly ignored or treated with suspicion by the average UK birder. Birders prefer to spend time looking at wholly migratory and “authentic” grey geese like Pink-footed Goose or White-fronted Goose. It’s rather a shame because Greylags are certainly a characterful and handsome goose but with an unfortunate lineage. 

Half-term and grandad duties with Olivia and Isabella on Tuesday, Theo on Wednesday.

Back for more birding soon with Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday in Australia.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Birding Come Rain Or Shine

Well what do you know? the morning was grey, gloomy and drizzly! Just as well I completed a short trip out on Thursday morning although there’s very little to report from yet another cool, blowy and truncated session. I fear Spring migration has ended before it began and that soon it will be time to hang up the bins and let the birds get on with whatever they do in the summer. 

Conder Green proved very uninspiring, the high water levels giving little in the way of birds except for several Reed Buntings, two each of Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler and an unseasonal Goosnader. Glasson Dock was marginally better with a good selection of singing warblers as in 4 Blackcap, 2 Chiffchaff and singles of both Common and Lesser Whitethroat. 


Fortunately, and for regular blog readers who expect more than a couple of lines of prose and one picture from Another Bird Blog, there are more birds from Menorca 1st to 15th May. 

When exploring the area around Cap de Cavallaria in the north of Menorca I came across a very pale looking hedgehog. I managed to take one picture before the animal scuttled off into the undergrowth. By searching the Internet later I discovered the animal to be the North African or Algerian Hedgehog Atelerix algirus

North African or Algerian Hedgehog Atelerix algirus

The hedgehog is found in Algeria, France, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Tunisia and Spain. Because this hedgehog is native to Africa, it has been suggested that it was introduced by humans to the other countries where it is now found, including France, Spain and the island of Menorca. Specimens found inside a Bronze Age grave at the site of Biniai Nou in Menorca dated from the 13th century and indicated a rather recent arrival of the species on the island, probably via the Almohad invaders of that period. 

The North African Hedgehog closely resembles the European Hedgehog; however, there are several distinct differences between the two species. The North African Hedgehog tends to be smaller than its European counterpart. Its face is light in colour, usually appearing to be white, and the legs and head are brown. The underbelly varies in colour, and is often either brown or white. Its ears are highly visible on the head of the animal and are large in size. The body is covered in soft spines that are primarily white with darker banding. It was an interesting mammal find and a new one to add to my Menorca mammal list alongside the common and easily seen Hermann’s Tortoise and the less easily seen Stoat. 

Hermann's Tortoise

During the second week of our holiday there seemed to be a small influx of Red-footed Falcons, raptors which are late migrants and birds of open countryside, seen by us on overhead wires or circling recently cut fields in the areas of Cavallaria, Addaia and Es Grau. The largest group we saw was of 4 birds circling over Es Grau but a fellow hotel guest saw 10 red-foots together near Addaia just a day or two later. 

Red-footed Falcon

Red-footed Falcon

Red Kites seemed pretty plentiful this year while the normally common Booted Eagles proved scarce. Perhaps the endless sunny day kept the eagles soaring on high from where their binocular vision could easily locate prey without the birds lowering themselves to our level? 

Red Kite

Stonechats and Tawny Pipits were as common as ever alongside most highways, byways and the “camis”, the ancient bridleways and footpaths of Menorca. It’s along these routes that the three most common birds of Menorca are frequently heard but not necessarily seen - Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler and Sardinian Warbler. The adjoining fields hold good numbers of unseen but vocal Quail.

Cami de Addaia


Tawny Pipit

Nightingale-Photo credit: chapmankj75 / Foter / CC BY
Menorca farm

Menorca gate made from Wild Olive Tree (acebush) wood

This Menorcan boy and girl I met in Alaior were sheltering from the fierce sun. Either that or there’s rain on the way. 

 Alaior - Menorca

Rain or Shine there will be more birds soon with Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Anni's blog and Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Killing Time In Menorca

Wednesday began with yet more strong wind and showery spells from the north, hardly the best weather for finding later migrants arriving for the British Summer. Looks like I will have to invest in a pair of Stanfield's Canadian Thermal Long Johns for our UK summers.

So I took a day off birding until Thursday on the strength of a better forecast and set about creating a blog post about the recent Menorca holiday. 

There’s a well-worn route of ours via the ME1 and the Ronda which circumvents Ciutadella to reach Punta Nati, a rather desolate and sometimes windswept point at the north west corner of Menorca. Punta Nati is the place to see Ravens, larks, pipits, large numbers of Corn Buntings and when conditions are right, a number of raptors and other migrant birds. 

A mile before Punta Nati there’s a colony of Cattle Egrets in a pine plantation at the roadside. But the tiny stopping place leaves the car vulnerable to scraping the wing mirror on a stone wall or being hit by traffic zooming into Ciutadella a mile away. So it’s a quick point and shoot where the egrets are quite amenable as long as you don’t leave the car expecting the egrets to stay put. Many a budding photographer has discovered that should they approach on foot the egrets readily erupt into a cacophony of noise and action then depart the trees. 

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

The stone walls near the point provide lots of singing posts for Short-toed Larks, Corn Buntings, Thekla Larks and Tawny Pipits. In early May those species are well into the breeding season with much display, song and evidence of youngsters in the nest. 

Punta Nati, Menorca

Short-toed Lark

Tawny Pipit

Corn Bunting

Short-toed Lark

The Theklas proved harder to photograph this time, the only half decent pictures obtained on the single grey morning we encountered. 

Thekla Lark

The other speciality of the rocky landscape of Punta Nati is the Blue Rock Thrush, a species which like most members of the thrush family is generally shy. Here’s a somewhat distant picture of a male and female together. The Blue Rock Thrush is fairly common but not always easily seen in Menorca.

Blue Rock Thrush

Egyptian Vultures are usually about and it was here that on our second and sunny visit I came across an adult bird taking off from a rocky field and heading south, gaining height as it did so. The usual views of Egyptian Vultures consist of birds soaring over the Menorcan landscape at great height, where their almost 6ft wingspan makes them unmistakeable, even from some distance away. 

Egyptian Vulture

Egyptian Vulture

Egyptian Vulture

The Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), also called the white scavenger vulture or pharaoh's chicken, is a small Old World vulture and the only member of the genus Neophron. The use of the vulture as a symbol of royalty in Egyptian culture and their protection by Pharaonic law made the species common on the streets of Egypt and gave rise to the name "pharaoh's chicken". 

Egyptian Vultures feed mainly on carrion but are opportunistic and will prey on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They also feed on the eggs of other birds, breaking larger ones by tossing a large pebble onto them. The use of tools is rare in birds and apart from the use of a pebble as a hammer, Egyptian Vultures also use twigs to roll up wool for use in their nest. Populations of this species have declined in the 20th century and some isolated island populations e.g The Canary Islands and Menorca, are endangered by hunting, accidental poisoning, and collision with power lines. 

On our sunny visit to Punta Nati we clocked up Kestrel, Red Kite, Booted Eagle, Peregrine plus a good number of Whinchats and Wheatears. We didn’t see the Stone Curlew here this year which does occur around Punta Nati, but a shy species which is not easily spotted amongst the grey rocky landscape. However we did manage to see two at Tirant on another day and another story. 

It’s the trade-off for a morning’s birding at Punta Nati, a stop off in Cutadella, Menorca’s second but far from second-rate city. Here are a few pictures which give a flavour of this most picturesque, historic, vibrant and wonderfully authentic Spanish city. 

The cathedral Ciutadella

Cafe Culture - Menorca

The fish market - Ciutadella

Market Square - Ciutadella

Coffee time in Ciutadella

Photography Exhibition - Ciutadella

The Harbour - Ciutadella

Placa Des Born - Ciutadella
Another Coffee Stop - Ciutadella

We called into one of our favourite shops where the Jamóns are displayed along the shelves and where Menorcan quesos lie slowly maturing.  Jamón ibérico or "Iberian ham", also called pata negra is a type of cured ham produced in Spain. Meanwhile the Menorcan countryside is dotted with farms which sell home-made speciality cheeses. The aromas created by these and other delicacies in delicatessens are simply heavenly making it impossible to leave such a shop without indulging in one or two samples. 

Menorcan Cheese - Ciutadella

Jamóns - Ciutadella

More from home and away soon on Another Bird Blog.

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