Sunday 31 July 2011

Babblers at Birecik

Once we had finished our 5 course meal at Oymapinar Baraji, we headed east. We used the coast road, heading from Manavgat to Alanya to Silifke - this road was awful, loads of bends and heavy traffic. However, near Mersin we picked up the motorway and in no time powered our way past Adana and Gaziantep to Birecik. After a rather frustrating 12 hour journey, we were in bed at the Hotel Merkalum by 2am.
Iraq Babbler - now easy to see at Birecik, having only been discovered here as recently as 2006
Up again at 6am on 25th July, we quickly found our target species - Iraq Babbler. As it was 7 years since I last visited Birecik, when this species was not known north of Syria, it was remarkable to see (and hear) just how common these birds are now in the Birecik area. We saw what were presumably a couple of family parties, with more calling from the reeds. The best site is at the northern gravel workings - you take the first road west of the hotel (so you're on the west bank of the River Euphrates), drive north through all the buildings and you'll come out with an obvious pool/flooded area on your right and some reeds to your left. You'll know you're in the right place as the power lines cross the track in this area too. Some showy Little Stints here too, as well as a couple of Menetries' Warblers, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers and a nice flock of c.50 Desert Sparrows.
adult Little Stint
Before I go on, a word of warning for coming to Turkey in late July. It was bloody hard work - not just the heat, but some birds that are common and easy to see earlier on in the season have bred and lie low/already headed off from their breeding grounds. Let's be honest, if an Olive Tree Warbler can make in to Shetland by mid-August then you know you may be in the sh*t with this species late July. Also, Upcher's Warbler and Cretzschmar's Buntings weren't seen in places where they were plentiful earlier in the season. And we couldn't locate any Yellow-throated Sparrows in the orchards to the north of Birecik either. Loads of Dead Sea Sparrows and Rufous Bushchats there though - both very nice to see feeding young. We also found a couple of Black Francolins in these orchards, showing rather well at times.
Rufous Bushchat

male Black Francolin
We also checked a newish site for See See Partridge - just east of the town, after you've gone through the tunnel on the road to Sanliurfa there is a truck stop on the right (a few skanky shops). The obvious plateau area and nearby wadi are meant to be good for this species, although we failed and thought it a rather noisy area for such a secretive species. So, back to the wadi by the Ibis Centre, we climbed up onto the plateau and had a couple of adults and a nice family covey. Plenty of caged Bald Ibis too.
view looking west over the River Euphrates from the wadi near the Ibis Centre, Birecik

Friday 29 July 2011

BFOs in Turkey - a legend laid to rest

Without doubt, the biggest news of the summer on the WP front has been news that Brown Fish Owls are present at a public site in Turkey. In fact, so much so, that normal tourists have been gripping all us birders off for years. It was only through some holiday snaps that were mailed to a birder that the news has now reached the birding masses. So here's the first post from a 6 day trip to Turkey with CB, AH and JJ.
adult Brown Fish Owl, Oymapinar Baraji July 2011
On 24th July, we arrived at the site known to tourists as 'Green Canyon', but to Turks and people like me who like to go native with site localities it's called Oymapinar Baraji. This place is only 20 minutes drive north of the town of Manavgat, and half an hour from the tourist grot hole of Side. So if you want to combine it with a family holiday then go for your life. But be warned, the entourage on our Thomas Cook flight last night was a combo of Britain's social detritus and morons akin to the TV show Benidorm.
adult Brown Fish Owl - one of the two parents

young Brown Fish Owl - looking inquisitively from trees near nest cave

Anyway, the owls - they were absolutely stunning. We were the first boat in the canyon, arriving in it just shy of 10am. There were four of them - two adults and two young - that were perched in trees on the steep-sided canyon, looking down at us rather circumspect. Given that there are usually 400+ visitors to them per day, they seem to have got used to the party boats that tour around the lake.
'Little Canyon' - the BFO site at Oymapinar Baraji
Our boatman Erdal said that they've been ever present here since he started in 2003, and in fact it seems as though there is another pair (that probably haven't bred this year) in a canyon leading off north from the lake (our birds were in the southeast canyon). When you've grown up on tales of BFOs been found in Adana markets, and the rumblings of further individuals in remote Turkish canyons, it's a privilege and really exciting to have now seen this legendary WP species. Thanks to all involved who helped with logistics - you know who you are.

Friday 22 July 2011

Going for a duck?

Ok, before I get going on this one I'll give you all the background. A couple of years or so ago, I was fortunate to be given some files by Dominic Mitchell from a deceased guy called Roy Alderton who watched Rotherhithe (a.k.a. Surrey Docks) in the halcyon days on the 1970s. Anyway, to cut a long story short, one sweet September day he stumbled across a pair of American Wigeons (the drake intermittently seen for 11 days) - the only record for London still to this very day. And it looked like this: -
London's only American Wigeon... ever

Confiding, confused but on the London list
Perhaps it's just the timing of the photo, but does the top photo seem to suggest that the bird is squawking for bread from the photographer? And it's tricky to judge colour on black and white photos (now there's a stupid statement if ever I wrote one), but there seems to be a paleness to the mantle and scapulars, and the flanks seem pale. The coverts are well vermiculated too, but within range for American Wigeon and the plumage is worn. Here is what birding's demi-God pre-Mullarney had to say about things in a letter addressed to the observer: -

Peter Grant's letter about the American Wigeons. Rotherhithe was a former patch of this birding trailblazer, before he headed to Kent.

The BBRC have, until at least now, given this bird the benefit of the doubt... but is it time that the London list was decreased by one and we wait for one at Rainham with a feel good factor?

There were more birds back in those days...

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Almost there...

Not the number one target in Turkey!
After a long week or so snowed under with work, with the birding highlight being 3 Common Terns that have almost fledged in Rotherhithe, my long summer holidays are about to start. I'll be off to Turkey for the fourth time on Saturday, and it's not hard to guess what will be the number one target there. It could well be my second boat trip of the month that yields a new bird...
Turkey, July 2009

Sunday 10 July 2011

Twitching by pedalo

Red-footed Booby at Lac de Sainte-Croix
The Red-footed Booby was a shimmering white haze in the middle of the lake, and then a small boat sailed past it at point blank range. So we hastily got our gear, parted with a bit of cash and had our own boat charter (well, pedalo but this doesn't sound as impressive).
Charter boat station
Arriving at the bird, it was immediately obvious that it wasn't bothered by us, and continued to sit rather forlornly on the lake. Then, after half an hour or so it decided to have a fly about - skirting the sparse vegetation on the lake shore, presumably wishing it were the rainforest shores of the Caribbean.
Red-footed Booby at Lac de Sainte-Croix
For much of the afternoon, the bird stood and preened on a rock exhibiting its red feet and its small size was really apparent here. Additionally, it once again showed rather well and I imagine that these views would have been stamped on immediately back in the UK, with the Birdforum banter going into overdrive.
JJ and the RFB
Admittedly, when the bird was trapped and ringed, it was surprising that it was not taken into care although it was a very healthy weight. Of course, these boobies love a bit of attention in their native land so perhaps its confiding nature shouldn't be deemed a trait of ill health. But, whatever its physical state, it sure is a crazy bird to have turned up on a lake in France thousands of km from where it should be...
Lavender fields of Provence in the evening light

Saturday 9 July 2011

The Booby Prize

Red-footed Booby, Lac de Sainte-Croix, Alpes de haute, France
Superlatives in birding, like in most other things, are used too much. Everything is either unprecedented or amazing. But I'm going to use both of these words to describe the Red-footed Booby that is currently residing in southern France - well inland at Lac de Sainte-Croixe. And what's more, to get the best views of the bird it's a twitch by pedalo across this picturesque spot.

With its closest open ocean breeding colonies being in either the Caribbean or Indian Ocean, this amazingly showy Red-footed Booby is a truly unprecedented record. Well, it's not really that unprecedented as seabird records never cease to amaze - look at the Yellow-nosed Albatross sat next to a Greylag on a small pond in Lincolnshire, a Long-billed Murrelet drowned in a fishing net on Lake Zurich (plus of course the Devon bird and one in Romania too) and a Soft-plumaged Petrel in Arctic Norway to name just a few in recent years.
Good times in Devon, November 2006

Sunday 3 July 2011

Relaxing times

It's been an enjoyable weekend, on the back of a rather hectic week at work. In Rotherhithe, Reed Warblers have successfully bred at Canada Water, the Common Terns are busy feeding young while Black-headed Gulls (including a few juveniles) are back in town and over the next few weeks will hopefully bring the odd scaly juvenile Med Gull with them.

Marbled White
People often go on about the decline of England's wildlife. Anyone been to Hampshire recently? I spent the weekend there, with my parents and at a mate's BBQ, and with the sun shining it was a delight. Just within the confines of my parent's garden I recorded 10 species of butterfly (including Marbled White and Ringlet) as well as a Yellowhammer singing and a juvenile Green Woodpecker calling rather pathetically. Reckon a few Quail could have been found if I'd had the time too...
Meadow Brown