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Notes from a January weekend in Madrid

I’ve actually landed at Madrid’s Barajas airport on many occasions but was always Extremedura bound.  Soon after collecting a car or minibus I was out on the road and skirting around the city on the way to the famed birding destination or returning via the scenic Sierra de Guadarrama on the way back. Madrid was a long overdue visit so my wife and I booked a weekend trip. We used public transport and walked many miles about the city and parks. Tired legs and aching feet needed regular intakes of ‘fuel’, the tapas culture is a great excuse to stop for a while to replenish your energy levels. The food didn’t disappoint, we carefully searched out suitable venues and menus which was all part of the fun. We visited some of the historical sites including the Museo del Prado. The urban environment offers wildlife experiences, there’s no way I would ignore any creatures or birds that might show up.

Saturday 20 January

After having a nose at the huge Atocha station with it’s indoor tropical garden we had breakfast, the first Black Redstart (a male) of the trip was hopping about outside the station entrance and confiding Magpies were numerous, they are everywhere. Interesting to see other nationalities photographing them with their smart phones. Visiting other sites along the way we walked through the city and stopped at a small garden, Jardin del Principe del Anglona. The berry trees on the roadsides attracted squabbling Blackcaps and Blackbirds and in the garden, a singing Serin.  With more sightseeing we found ourselves in the Parque de Oeste only to find the cable car was closed for repairs. It wan’t a problem, we walked on to the destination of Casa de Campo, a large area of heath land park west of the river, once a former royal hunting ground.

Among the first birds noted at the park were Chiffchaff and Great and Blue Tits, it was impossible to ignore the introduced Monk Parakeets that fly noisily over the streets of the city and gather in the parks. They demand attention and if nothing else are fun to watch but may have a negative ecological impact. A party of c20 Tree Sparrows and Great spotted Woodpecker were also noted, a visit to the lake found it completely drained, I scanned the puddles and mud in hope of waders but only Black-headed Gulls were present.

Sitting outside a cafe we had the parakeets for company whilst we enjoyed the mild weather and a coffee. Moving further into the park more Black Redstart on the south facing slope plus Robin and Stock Doves. A few Iberian Green Woodpeckers were hopping about and allowed close approach as did couple of Short-toed Treecreeper. We walked through the park as the sun came out, more Chiffchaff and a few Chaffinches were along the stream as we made our way toward the Metro station. If you’re using public transport and short of time, this is the wildest of the parks and well worth a visit, hop of at Lago Metro station and do a loop of the park, apparently not the place be after sunset though.

Iberian Green Woodpecker Picus viridis sharpei with Magpie, Casa de Campo

Iberian Woodpecker and Magpie, Casa de Campo, Madrid, MJMcGill

Iberian Woodpecker, Casa de Campo, Madrid, MJMcGill 001

Iberian Woodpecker, Casa de Campo, MJMcGill

We stopped to enjoy a smart Hoopoe near the station for a time then boarded the train heading back into the city for museums and a sunset drink in Plaza de Santa Ana , a good night out in the city followed.

Hoopoe Upupa epops (south side of the Casa de Campo)

Hoopoe, Casa de Campo, Madrid, MJMcGill (4)_edited-1

Sunday 21 January

The Jardin Botanico was opposite our hotel, breakfast was taken at an adjacent cafe and we sat outside in the sun, welcome blue skies and warm temperatures with a few Stock Doves, screechy parakeets and other folks for company. Having pre-booked tickets for the Prado it was going to feature at some point but the weather was so pleasant this ended up be the only part of the day that we spent indoors. A great walk through the Retiro park added a party of eight White Storks as they flew through low heading north. I heard Iberian Green Woodpecker call and noted a few more Short-toed Treecreeper and a few Mallards on the ponds, two Black Swans were not of wild origin. A Red Squirrel bounded across to spend time licking sap from a tree.

Red Squirrel, Retiro Park

Red Squirrel, feeding on sap, Retiro Park, Madrid, MJMcGill (3)_edited-1 Red Squirrel, feeding on sap, Retiro Park, Madrid, MJMcGill (9)_edited-1 Red Squirrel, feeding on sap, Retiro Park, Madrid, MJMcGill (12)_edited-1

 

Our wandering took us back to the city centre for lunch in the sun drenched Plaza Santa Ana where another large flock of White Stork circled overhead. The park lured us back for the afternoon, it was glorious and the warm 19-20c temps made it feel like a spring day, just what we needed to see out the day and wrap up my birding opportunities for the weekend.

If visiting Madrid I’m sure it possible to record a large number of species, the nearby Sierra is super, a car hired for the day with add numerous species to a visit. Further research may reveal this trip is possible with public transport, worth a punt if you’ve got time. Martin.

Short-toed Treecreeper, Retiro Park, Madrid

Short-toed Treecreeper, Retiro Park, Madrid, MJMcGill

Spotless Starling, a few were seen and heard singing about the city and parks.

Spotless Starling, MJM

 

 

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Martin

at 7:50 pm

North Norfolk 8-10 November 2017

Ruddy Turnstone at Salthouse

Turnstone, Salthouse, MJMcGill

 

Our party of six set off for Norfolk early morning arriving in the county a few hours later, our first stop, Cley next the Sea. We made a short stop at the Cricket Marsh at Cley NWT, Brent Geese being the attraction, searching through the flock Dark-bellied Brent soon revealed a Light (or Pale) bellied Brent but not the Black Brant (or Pacific Brent) that had been around. Other birds could be seen in the distance with Marsh Harrier being particularly obvious, a Stonechat used the telegraph post strainer wire as a handy lookout nearby.

A stop at the Cley NWT visitor centre allowed us to enjoy a hot drink and scan over the marshes. Lots of Wigeon and Teal were on the scrapes with three or more Marsh Harriers in sight at any one time. A walk along the East Bank to the sea followed stopping to scan for a Grey Phalarope that had been seen in the preceding days. Waders noted included parties of Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Redshank. A gathering of gulls contained a first winter Caspian candidate. Seven Eider flew close inshore heading N along the beach, another flock of 13 followed on a bit later, the drakes looked superb.

Turning our attention to the beach shingle it didn’t take long to locate a flock of 43 Snow Buntings, in flight they were very much a blizzard in the blustery wind. Flocks of Wigeon, Brent and Teal also ploughed through into the head wind, no doubt heading for favoured wintering areas. A few Common Scoter, a Gannet and distant divers also passed by. A scan over the marshes gave us a flock of Ruff but these and the other birds present were very mobile.

We searched headed back to the visitor centre and carefully scanned the marshes from the viewpoint, fortunately, although distant I was able to locate the busy Grey Phalarope on Simmond’s Scrape as it manically fed among the other wetland birds. A couple of Little Stint were also picked out.

Finding ourselves back at the cricket marsh we once again tried our luck searching through the Brents, best bird was a Barn Owl that Chris spotted, it gave us sunset views with the famous windmill beyond, this rounded off the day nicely. We made our way back toward Hunstanton where we were to stay for the next two nights.

9 November

After breakfast we were on Hunstanton cliffs by 0920am watching the busy visible migration as 1000s of birds streamed down the Wash Coast. The majority were Starlings in their 1000s, Chaffinches in their 100s as well as Lapwing, Teal and Wigeon in over the sea. Lesser Redpoll, Brambling and Siskin were also seen. On the sea a Red-throated Diver or two, a few Great Crested Grebe,  a Guillemot, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Scoter were added to the list. The local Fulmars put on a good show, no effort needed in their mastery of flight, the strong wind helped.

At Choseley Drying Barns we managed to locate Corn Buntings, flocks of Fieldfare, Blackbirds and Redwing and a flock of 400 Golden Plover but the Dotterel that was seen a couple of days before had clearly moved on.

At Titchwell RSPB the usual winter gathering of ducks were in evidence with large flocks of Golden Plover arriving on the fresh marsh, we headed straight to the sea to catch the top of the tide getting close views of two Bearded Tit and a Chinese Water Deer whilst on the way. It was a good move, two Long-tailed Duck fed close by with their characteristic long dives beginning with wings open in readiness to fly underwater. Another female flew in and landed a little further out. A Red-throated Diver gave good scope views, other species noted included Guillemot, 12 Common Scoter, 7 Red-breasted Merganser, 12+ Great Crested Grebe and a Slavonian Grebe.

The beach was busy with Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone. A Red Kite made a nice change from Marsh Harriers. As the tide dropped we watched waders on the saline scrapes as well as Little Grebes and a Little Egret fishing. Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Curlew were enjoyed. Back at the visitor centre we took a lunch break and watched Coal Tits on the feeders.

Black-tailed Godwit at Titchwell, RSPB

Black-tailed Godwit with shellfish, MJMcGill

Burnham Overy was our next stop, Barnacle Geese were recorded as well as a handful of Pink-footed and small numbers of Greylag. Driving and stopping a bit further on added a Great White Egret. In the Harbour at Wells next the Sea we saw Brent Geese, Little Grebe and saw another hunting Barn Owl over the fields.

As we returned toward Hunstanton the plan was to call in at a few sites, first stop was a very quiet Land Anne’s Drive at Holkham, nothing of note other than the usual Egyptian Geese in the fields. A sort stop overlooking Burnham Overy again revealed a similar story. No sign of any large flocks of grey geese at all.

Our final sunset stop was at Thornham Harbour, a Barn Owl flew across the road but never stayed around for all to see. On the exposed seawall we realised and welcomed the fact that the wind had dropped, it was calm and still so we simply enjoyed the wildness of the area and the atmosphere.

10 November

We were greeted by another windy but sunny day, another session at Hunstanton cliffs we again used the seaside shelter as a windbreak but there wasn’t much happening on sea and no vis-mig to speak of. With the tide on the way we headed for Thornham Harbour again, Curlew, Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwits fed in the creeks as the water crept in. We located a flock of Twite in the saltmarsh, they obligingly lined up along the fence, 17 were counted before they made their way back to the saltmarsh seeds. Not wanting to be cut off by the tide we moved on leaving the many bird species of the area to carry on with feeding.

Twite at Thornham Harbour

Twite, Thornham, MJMcGill Twite, Thornham Hbr, MJMcGill Twite, MJMcGill

A few short stops to scan in the same places as yesterday didn’t add anything new to species recorded so far so we ended up back at Cley next the Sea. The Brents flew off as we arrived so we went to the beach car park at Salthouse, a tame party of Turnstones waited for us on the shingle allowing close views and photographs. The sea was pretty wild and viewing difficult in the strong wind, a Gannet and Guillemot the pick of what we could actually seein the swell. A flock of 1000+ Pink-footed Geese fed on the hillside nearby.

Another go at locating the Black Brant ensued and this time successful, it gave itself up but not easily. The Snow Bunting flock were also feeding in the fields probably having had enough of the windy conditions.

Various options were mooted to finish up our day but as a group we plumped for a goose search inland, I drove what is normally a reliable route for Pink-feet but there were none, driving a long way inland near to Flitcham we got lucky, a huge flock of Pink-footed Geese were settled with more in the area. A careful scan revealed an orange legged Pink-foot and a smart Tundra Bean Goose that promptly sat down.

Pink-feet

Pink-footed Geese, MJMcGill

Nearby at Abbey Farm we added Grey Partridges, a Red Kite and Tree Sparrows as dusk set in, a decent finale as these species were ‘requested’.

Thank you to Bettie, Barbara, Chris, Anita and Ruth for joining me.

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Martin

at 7:19 pm

25 October 2017 – Shags on the Severn

Two juvenile Shag came as a surprise on the R. Severn on such a calm and sunny day, three Grey Heron, Little Egret, Kingfisher and a Great-spotted Woodpecker that flew high south down the estuary, it was reluctant to cross the water. Dozens of Red Admirals were also migrating S down the estuary.

Two juvenile Shag over the Severn

Shag, juveniles, Hock Ditch, MJMcGill Shag, juveniles, Hock Ditch,2, MJMcGill

 

I watched these birds follow the shore until they cut inland toward Frampton on Severn. Subsequently checking Townfield Lake just after midday I managed to relocate them close to the shore but they flew very soon after due to a succession of gunshots. A dark ‘creamcrown’ Marsh Harrier flew over the lake and headed SE.

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at 8:01 pm

24 October 2017, a bit of local Gloucestershire vis-mig

An hour or two out along the Severn from 1030 t0 1145hrs produced 70 Chaffinch, 50 Starling, 5 Lesser Redpoll, flocks of Skylark and Meadow Pipit, Kingfisher, three Chiffchaff, 4 Goldcrest, 20 Redwing, a Pochard and a Tufted Duck south and hunting Marsh Harrier and two Kestrel, a male Stonechat was also noted.

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at 1:08 pm

Spurn, Kilnsea and Easington, 19-20 October 2017

 

 

Brambling, 2, Spurn, MJMcGill

 

Brambling on the beach, Spurn (above and below)

Brambling, Spurn, MJMcGill

Hot on the heels of the preceding day out to Dorset was a one night visit to East Yorkshire, we left early an arrived on the north shore of the Humber during mid-morning. The forecast looked great for arrivals from the North Sea. Unfortunately the sea mist and fog was getting denser, visibility reduced to the extent that birding mostly concerned calls. Tree Sparrows, Redpolls, Bramblings, Redwings and a few other species were heard flying over in the murk.

A reported Little Bunting and the long staying Arctic Warbler never appeared, the latter seemingly departed overnight. Another Little Bunting was seen at Spurn Point as well as Olive-backed Pipit and Shore Lark before the fog dropped so it was clear that things were happening, just not clear enough for us to see.

We carefully checked the hedges and scrub logging plenty of migrant Goldcrest, Robin and Redwing but decided to take a timely lunch break at the Blue Bell Cafe in hope that it might clear. Refreshed and watered we made for the sea breach in the gloom. Reaching the open sandy bank that kept the North Sea from the Humber visibility and our luck changed.

A few juvenile Gannets looked lost on the ‘wrong’ side of the sandbank, Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Redshank fed in the tidal pools. A Brambling dropped out of the sky and attempted to alight on Ian’s head opting to plonk down on the sand near him. This exhausted finch had just made it to land, it was in a sorry state but alive and feeding on tidal strand seeds. A Redwing did the same nearby, we began seeing flocks of these small thrushes arriving en masse, 100s of Blackbirds were in among them with a few Fieldfares.

As the afternoon progressed the migration tempo increased to phenomenal levels, 1000s of thrushes were arriving in off the sea, we began seeing numbers of Song Thrush and then Ring Ouzels. At least six were noted but I believe many more were involved. Four cracking drake Eiders flew along the Humber shore.

The thrushes were dropping into any berry bush, we even saw 100+ Redwing crammed onto one garden lawn with Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. A Short-eared Owl arrived overhead and dropped onto the salt marsh to rest, a few Reed Buntings were scrutinised and we had great scope views of feeding Ring Ouzels. A Stonechat and calling Water Rails added to the interest.

All the while the tide was coming in so we had huge flocks of Knot, Dunlin with Grey and Golden Plover, Curlew and a few other species of wader. There was so much to see. Another check of the Crown and Anchor pub car park gave us more views of Bramblings and Chiffchaffs, other than that we could only muster common birds.

We eventually ended up back at beach car park and conducted a little sea watch. Offshore were Little Gulls, a pair of Scaup flew by as did some unidentified auks. Gannets cruised about and a few scoter went through. Flocks of Teal, Wigeon, Pintail and more thrushes were logged, a few thrushes struggled over the sea only just making it ashore.

Finishing off our birding for the day we drove to our accommodation, the grand Royal Hotel in Kingston upon Hull to settle in for the night, a good meal included a ‘Hull pattie’ starter, a new one for those that tried it, a couple of drinks and an early night rounded off the day nicely.

A decent nights rest followed by a great breakfast and we were ready to go birding again, our first stop was at Weeton where we scoped a flock of 350 Pink-footed Geese, they were accompanied by 200 Greylag and a few Greylag x Canada hybrids, a rather unfriendly local let his German Shepherd dog run toward us and proceeded to ask what were up to, he wasn’t happy that we there, we must’ve looked so menacing. Later on it became clear that the goose flock that he hadn’t realised were there had been flushed, we guessed intentionally by him. Yellowhammers and Linnets could also be scoped feeding on the weed seeds nearby, at least they were cheering.

Moving on we stopped at Easington, the long staying Rose-coloured Starling arrived on time when Ian spotted it atop an aerial.

Rose-coloured Starling aka Rosy Pastor or ‘Pink Stink’.

Rose-coloured Starling, Easington, MJMcGill

Our next stop was at Kilnsea Wetlands where we saw Lapwing, 4 Whooper Swans (one juvenile), 4 Little Stints, a Ruff, a flock of Dunlin and a selection of wildfowl. Back at the seaside car park we tried another seawatch, flocks of Starlings were arriving, the dabbling ducks were still moving south and we had better views of a few passing Brent Geese and Common Scoter flocks. On the cliff top a Black Redstart fed which made a nice addition.

Wandering back along the lane seeing flocks of Tree Sparrows we stopped at Kilnsea churchyard where two Chiffchaff and a smart Yellow-browed Warbler gave intermittent views, the latter bird also called for us many times.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Kilnsea

 

Yellow-browed Warbler, Kilnsea, MJMcGill

 

Yellow-browed Warbler, 2, Kilnsea, MJMcGill

Another check of the Crown and Anchor pub car park we saw a few common passerines but it was now getting breezy and harder to bird. After another lunch stop and short birding walk we loaded up mid-afternoon and set off for home getting back for 7pm.

Thanks go to Ian, Bettie, Roberta and Dot for your company, it was so good to catch Spurn on a good vis-mig day.

Martin

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at 1:04 pm
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