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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

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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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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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Catching up with chat and a Stonechat

Bob Radford and I set off in good spirits during a horrendous Friday afternoon trip to Lancashire, it was a six hour journey! We made the effort to visit the NW to catch up with Graham and Jeremy at the formers home and have a night out in the excellent Burscough Bridge public houses. On Saturday we had tickets to join the travelling ‘Gasheads’ (Bristol Rovers supporters) at Boundary Park, home of the Latics (Oldham Athletic). Bob is an avid Oldham fan so we had some fun with the football banter. All of us could have done with an earlier bedtime!

After a highly favourable 0-2 win for the Pirates (Bristol Rovers) we dropped Graham and Jeremy back, had a snack and said goodbye, Bob and I made a late decision to head to the East coast so we booked a room in Hull, ate an Italian meal and settled down for a much needed early evening. We stayed at the functional Gril Campanile Motel, had a continental breakfast surrounded by Blackbirds, tits flocks and Goldcrest and were soon on the road early for Kilnsea, We parked up in breezy sunshine and took a look at the sea. 2 drake Eiders and 4 Gannet went N, Red-throated Divers were heading S.

We briskly walked the three miles from Kilnsea to Spurn Point seeing various birds on the way, the light would be better on the way back so we didn’t linger. At the point we searched the Sea Buckthorn and dunes for the interesting Stonechat reported the day before. This active bird could well be a Stejnenger’s Stonechat, a far eastern representative of the Saxicola group. Initially it was hiding, we spent the time scanning the Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests, Reed Buntings and watching thrushes such as Redwing and Fieldfare drop out of the sky.

Putative Stejnenger’s Stonechat at Spurn Point
I was struggling to digi-scope this mobile bird, there were plenty of photographers present that will undoubtedly produce detailed images.

Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (3)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (4)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (6)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (7)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (9)_edited-1

Eventually the Stonechat re-appeared and gave us good scope views but it was always on the move, it often towered into the sky to catch flies and never stayed on one perch for long as it ranged the sheltered side of the point. After a good hour or so with this busy bird we wandered back along the peninsula birding along the way. Apparently droppings were collected for DNA analysis, this and the hundreds of photographs taken should help identify the origin.  Dark-bellied Brent Geese, scores of waders, a Northern Wheatear, Great Tits, Blackcaps and commoner passerines were all noted. It was generally quiet especially compared to recent weeks here. Back at Kilnsea we put or feet up, had a brew and a cake in the Blue Bell Café and decided to start back for home.

A very enjoyable sociable weekend with a bit of birding thrown in, thanks to Bob for all the driving and good company throughout.

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A forty eight hour day trip! Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire, 7-8 October 2016

Pallas’s Warbler, Donna Nook, Lincolnshire.
What a cracking little entertainer.

Pallas's Warbler 1, Donna Nook, MJMcGill  Pallas's Warbler 2, Donna Nook, MJMcGillPallas's Warbler 3, Donna Nook, MJMcGill

A day out was promoted with a week to go, the night before I mooted making it an overnight stay. All who were keen to attend were flexible, brought an overnight bag. We had a very early start on Friday morning (0530hrs) and set off North up the M5. The decision as to which direction we should head in was made as we reached Birmingham, we turned to the East to meet the many migrants that were still arriving. Over the previous few days an Eastern Crowned Warbler had been showing at RSPB Bempton Cliffs and we gambled on it remaining just one more day.

 with plenty of other birds about if it decided to move on it was to be our first stop. We had our answer well before reaching this East Yorkshire site, the bird had gone but carried on to see what else may have arrived. After passing through the swanky visitor centre we studied the adjacent copse and enjoyed good views of tired, grounded Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and at least two Yellow-browed Warblers as they fed in the sallows, a few other common passerines were also seen around this site.

A good tristis Siberian Chiffchaff candidate was among the dozens foraging about the site. Five Barnacle Geese flew South and flocks of Redwings streamed inland. It was difficult to ignore the large numbers of noisy Tree Sparrows around the car park, visitor centre and copse, it was brilliant to see so many.

A short drive to Thornwick Bay followed and we took a cliff top walk above the chalk cliffs and stacks, two Wheatear, three Stonechat, a Peregrine and numbers of feral pigeons pretending to be Rock Doves were all seen, Gannets streamed by over the sea below which made the Black-browed Albatross seen a couple of days before something to dream about, sometimes it is all about timing. We didn’t see the Great Grey Shrike that had been seen an hour earlier but it was fairly breezy.

High above the sea cliffs a Short-eared Owl was flapping about being mobbed by Jackdaws, it hung in the air waiting to be allowed to descend and presumably hunt the grassland. At the North Marsh we had great views of a juvenile Taiga Bean Goose in the company of a small party of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese.

Moving on to the lighthouse we joined others who had seen a Ring Ouzel, the field and hedges were full of Redwings and Fieldfares, Linnets,  Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers and Song Thrushes. After looking over the sea and lighthouse fields we loaded again up to head south toward Alkborough Flats to try for the Western Swamphen before dark.

Arriving at the site we overlooked the vast wetland area from a vantage point, the birds were distant but as the conditions were so calm it was possible to hear most of the birds calling. A few Marsh Harrier came in to roost. Large numbers of Avocet, a few Ruff, Greenshank, Dunlin, Snipe, Bearded Tits and other unidentified species busied about in the reeds and on the flood.

The light faded, it was too late to see anything else so we headed back to the car, twenty minutes of information gathering and a group decision to seek accommodation and stay in the East was made. We booked bargain rooms above a busy Scunthorpe pub hotel, checked in and settled down to a drink, bargain evening meal and a pub singer belting out tunes we all know.

We had an early night as we had to be up and out at 0630 to try for the Swamphen again, it was great to watch the sunrise at Alkborough Flats and see the birds waking. Pink-footed and Canada Geese stirred and headed out for the day, Water Rails were bold and ventured out to the open mud. Six Little Egrets left the roost for the creeks, scanning through the waders a couple of Spotted Redshank were seen chasing fish, whilst we all focussed on them the Western Swamphen came out of its roost site and flew across to its chosen feeding site to give us a variety of action views albeit distantly.

Happy with our start we moved off to the Lincolnshire coast with a quick stop at a pleasant tea room for breakfast near North Somercotes, a few late juvenile Swallows still begged their parents for food on the roof. I am glad to say our breakfast was a little more civilized. Getting back to the birding we drove the couple of miles to Donna Nook and walked out along the sheltered seawall scanning the bushes along the route. We racked up 40+ Goldcrest, 5 Redstart, a Ring Ouzel, 40+ Robins, 20+ Reed Buntings, 5 and 6 Brambling, thrushes, pipits and other common passerines including a female Blackcap. Neil spotted two Hen Harrier that were hunting over the rough grassland and a party of Common Scoter from the seawall, as we walked back toward the car park we had more views of passerines and a few flocks of different wader species flying over.

Back at the car park we saw three Blackcap feeding on berries and were soon all watching a stunning Pallas’s Warbler as it hovered to pick insects from the sallow. Yet another party of Tree Sparrows fed nearby. We decided to take on the walk to where a Siberian Stonechat was showing but it wasn’t straightforward to access, we tried a route through the dunes seeing more Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs along the way, the fields held Curlew, Golden Plover and flock of Starlings.

We gave up trying to get to this bird, MOD land and the Sea Buckthorn hedges being part of the reason, we decided to call it day seeing more Tree Sparrows and the Pallas’s Warbler again on the way back to the car, a good drive back saw us back in Whitminster by 5.30pm to conclude this ‘day’ trip.

Thanks to my three eager birding companions for the company.

Martin

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