Friday, 18 December 2015

Holiday to Musandam, Oman

Jenny and I flew out to Dubai with an onward two hour journey to a remote area of Oman - the Musandam Peninsula.

It is unusual in that it has no borders with Oman itself and is actually joined only to the UAE.

Our flight arrived at 07.30 (though it was 03.30 in our bodies!) so we half dozed on our journey.

Nevertheless, Hoopoe, House Crow and Red Wattled Lapwing were seen on the journey.

Our home for the next 7 days was Zighy Bay which is isolated on a beach below the Hajar Mountains.

I had spent a few hours literally here on an educational visit and knew that I should get a few birds that are a bit different here from the normal fayre in the UAE.

However, it was a chill out holiday so my birding was restricted to an hour or so first thing or last thing each day.

There are four common birds which were seen everywhere - White Spectacled Bulbul, White Eared Bulbul, Laughing Dove and Mynah.

Strangely, Rock Dove, Collared Dove and House Sparrow were seen much less frequently!

Our accommodation was a small villa with a few palms and trees around.

Chiffchaff visited regularly but was not see outside our garden!

The hotel grounds themselves produced a few additions.

Purple Sunbirds are tiny and fast and seen particularly on palms where they would tend to sit in the heart of the tree heard but not seen. They are in winter plumage so not as striking as the summer but quite exotic nevertheless.

A scrubby area near the staff car park gave Eastern Bonellis Warbler but no photos as it just flitted in and out of the bushes. A female Blackcap did pose briefly and I found this is a rarity for the area!

Lesser Whitethroat and the more common (and lifer for me) Desert Whitethroat were also seen but too flitty for photos.

A walk just outside the hotel gave Indian Roller flying by, Tawny Pipit and the gorgeous Green Bee-Eater.

Pale Crag Martins (also lifer) were common first and last thing of the day. Sand Martins and a solitary Barn Swallow were also noted. Another bird only seen in half light at the beginning of the day was Arabian Babbler. Saw daily in the same distant place but the light was never great.

Towards the end of the resort was a dried up river bed which looked very birdy but was fenced off. I managed to find a gap in the fence on my last morning but added Black Redstart, Woodchat Shrike and Chukkar which were lightning fast across the rocks. One not great photo!

However, this foray was really worth it for a new lifer which I git excellent views. Two Striolated Bunting pecked and played for a full 5 minutes not more than 40 feet away.

A small area of Pampas type grass gave Indian Silverbill which are supposedly very common here but note elsewhere in Oman and UAE

Very quick and hard the photograph so just a record shot here.

One bird I had seen briefly on my last visit but was keen to see again was Hume's Wheatear - a real speciality of the area. However, I found out that they never come into the resort (one did last time otherwise I would not have seen it!). More commonly they were high up in the mountains.

Fortunately, the hotel had a restaurant high up in the hills (where I took my opening photo). I arranged for a car to take me up on the one day the restaurant was closed. It would leave me for an hour then come and pick me up.

It is just barren and rocky up here so hard to pick out birds.

50 minutes and not a single bird!

Then, glancing high on the top of a boulder I saw my target bird.

It did not seem to be phased by me though it was always a fair way off. However, I got a couple of half reasonable shots.

On my last fleeting visit, the massive beach through up a few waders but was mostly bird free.

A scope would have given me more birds as most were way off and not identifiable with binos. I did see Socotra Cormorant again but only a walk to a tiny marine gave me anything more.

However, this did give me Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and Greenshank.

A single moored fishing boat had a solitary Western Reef Heron in white plumage and, although very distant, I did get it in dark plumage too.

However, there was one tiny area where a handful of Gulls and Terns congregated and ironically, all three species were lifers for me!

Most impressive were Sooty Gulls.

The other two species were Heuglins Gull and Lesser Crested Tern though the Terns always flew as soon as I got my camera to my eye!

Overall this trip was about quality over quantity.

Only 35 definite species but, with a scope I suspect it would have been over 40.

Nevertheless, 6 lifers and some great to see birds.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Day out with Jono

It was great to get a day off and arranged for Jono to pick me up at 7.30

We made out first point of call Lady Anne's Drive at Holkham where there were loads of Pink Footed Geese and Wigeon along with a Barn Owl on route to Thornham - our next stop.

We had hoped to find the reported Shore Lark but apart from one or two waders, did get a bonus in a flock of Twite - first year lister of the day.

Jono got a brief glimpse of a Black Redstart shortly after leaving but we could not locate so pressed on to Titchwell.

We had a quick glance at the feeders with the normal birds in view but no Brambling so headed straight for a sea watch. It was really chilly and coats and hats were a blessing.

Nothing much on the sea but added Knot to my year list on the beach. Jono took the opportunity to get some close up shots of a Black Headed Gull which befriended him. As you can see, the long lens was a bit of overkill!

A Turnstone also gave us confiding views

Off to the Parrinder Hide and a Snipe flew quickly which we managed to relocate. However, nearby was another year lister - Water Pipit.

Walking back gave large numbers of Godwit and Lapwings

Still no joy at the feeders so a quick coffee and a sausage roll for me before we headed to Cley via Choseley.

Both Partridge were seen but the highlight was a massive amount of Pink Foots which were disturbed by a tractor making a magnificent sight as they all flew off.

After making the most of the visitor centre facilities we decided to head for the East Bank.

The normal array of ducks and waders on Arnold's Marsh though Kingfishers flying past gave another year lister but decided to give a sea watch another go.

It was really busy with birds. Guillemot were quickly noted along with Black and Throated Divers (former being another year lister). Great Crested Grebes, Common Scoter, Gannets and Shelduck all flew by and an incoming flock of Snow Bunting were the first of the year too!

We had already decided that towards last light we would head to Warham Green for some roosting Raptors. A brilliant though distant view of a female Merlin gave yet another year lister, However, the sky was getting heavy and rain was moving in quickly. Though we decided to call it a day we did get wet on the walk back to the car.

A coffee at Wells Co Op did the job and as it was now getting clear we finished off back at Lady Anne's Drive.

The Pink Foots were slow coming in but the sunset was beautiful

A fabulous day with over 80 species seen!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Wells Wood

As usual with working, the times you cannot get out of the office are the times you hear the best report!

A load of lifers beckoned only a few miles away but I could not get out to see any of them!

My only free time was a couple of hours Sunday lunchtime so I elected to go to Wells Wood which is probably the nearest migrant hot spot from me.

I pulled into the car park and it was teeming with birders.

If you were not sure where to look it was easy. There was enough people to make a conga all the way to the drinking pool!

When I eventually arrived my main target bird, Red Flanked Bluetail had been showing well but disappeared 20 minutes earlier - typical!

I gave it 20 minutes but with time against me elected to walk a bit further.

Goldcrests were everywhere - I have never seen so many.

However, an eagle eyed birder next to me spotted a Pallas Warbler.

Although very flitty, it did come out well enough to get decent views and one good photo out of the 30 I took!

This was a lifer for me so really chuffed!

Back to the drinking pool and my luck had changed.

The birds had moved and was now further along the path past the drinking pool. I had a decent vantage point but the problem with woods is there is nearly always some branch or tree trunk in the way!
I got a couple of fleeting glances - enough to see the red but not the blue!

Eventually it moved to a branch that I had a clear view. Naturally, I wanted to get the view first then managed to get two quick photos before it disappeared again!

Still a lovely bird and yet another lifer!

I had now run out of time.

Hugely frustrated as I am sure I could have seen so much more.

Glancing at a hedge where a Buzzard had just flown past I noticed something dark. It was a long way away but careful scrutiny found me a skulking Ring Ouzel.

Photos is just a record shot as far to distant for anything decent!

Still a nice bonus for my two hour trip.

Working all week again so hoping that there are still good birds by the weekend!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Work Trip to Mallorca

Unusually, I was able to take Jen on this 3 night trip.

We stayed in Alcudia and apart from the first full morning, most of the time was our own.

After working hard Jen just wanted to chill out but I had heard of nature reserve very close to the town.

We had hired a car anyway and I found that the reserve was call S'Albufera and was 6 miles away.

After my hotel inspection I asked Jen if she wanted to come with me and to my surprise she said yes!

The reserve is on the coast road from Alcudia to C'an Picafort and there is a parking area.

From here you walk along a metalled path adjacent to the wide river. After some careful examination I noticed roosting Night Herons distantly on the opposite bank tucked well into the trees.

This path is around a mile long and leads to a visitor centre. I found out that the reserve is only open between 9am and 5pm which is crazy for birders but they were really helpful and provided maps of the reserve.

It was obvious that it was huge but to view all the main hides would be a two hour circlular walk which we took.

It is basically reed beds, freshwater lagoons and saltwater lagoons.

The potential for warblers was obvious but with a non-birder, stopping to hear birdsong amongst thick reeds was not on so I could only get Cettis, Reed and Marsh Warbler by song in passing.

The first hide was freshwater and apart from numerous Little Egret and Grey Heron, the most striking bird was Purple Galingule.

There were a fair selection of normal waders with Godwit (both types), Dunlin, Little Ringed Plover and Redshank in abundance.
However, looking at the mudflats I saw at distance a bird laying down - Stone Curlew!

Too far for decent photos but record shot below.

We walked round to the hides overlooking the saltwater lagoon.

Excellent views of Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Black Winged Stilt and Whimbrel supplemented the same waders as the other lagoon.

In the distance three Flamingoes were preening and feeding.

As we were watching these (even Jen liked them!) there was a dark shadow and a magnificent Osprey complete with fish dropped to a nearby branch and fed.

We were able to get fantastic views, easily the best I have ever experienced of this super raptor.

However, Jen was birded out by this time so we went for a couple of beers then back.

I loved it and decided I would try and wangle another hour or so the next day. It cost me a facial in the spa but I did get out for a fleeting visit.

In addition to the many birds I saw on our first visit I added Stonechat and from the Saltwater hide.

At the freshwater I added Kentish Plover, Wheatear and Red Crested Pochard

Last bird of the day was a rather lovely Wood Sandpiper which gave great views.

I had been out longer than anticipated but this was such a great reserve I could have spent hours.

Considering I did not get away from any of the main paths and with numerous routes to take, you could easily spend a couple of days doing this reserve.

In the total of 3.5 hours I had I saw 63 species of birds and heard a few others I could not identify.

I urge you to give it a visit!