Wednesday, December 30, 2009

23rd December 2009:Olhos De Agua and the Alvor Estuary, Algarve, Portugal

A rare moment of blue skies! By migrating south to Portugal, we found we had exhanged snow for rain. Only two days out of eight were rainfree during our short visit.

Lesser Black-backed Gull. This was a family holiday rather than a birding trip, so most of my pics were taken near where we were staying, in Olhos De Agua, just outside Albufeira.

A selection of Mediterranean Gulls. 'Med Gulls' were at times the commonest gull around, and on other days completely absent.

One of many sea stacks just offshore, beloved of cormorants as roosting and drying out places.

A subadult Great Cormorant.

We paid a short visit to the A Rocha field studies centre where we were treated to warm Portuguese hospitality by the couple who run the centre, Marcial and Paula. We also drove down to the marvellous Alvor Estuary nearby, though sadly the weather was awful!

A group of 17 wintering Greater Flamingos was an incongruous sight!

One of several Common Stonechats feeding along the edge of the saltmarsh.

And a Common (Greater) Ringed Plover feeding on the estuary side of the sea wall.

Crested Larks were numerous in the fields were cattle were grazing.

As were Western Cattle Egrets - looking much smaller-billed than their eastern counterparts.

A Black-winged Stilt (a male presumably) with an exceptional amount of black on the head and neck.

21 - 22 December 2009: Norfolk, UK to the Algarve, Portugal

It started like this...

...And ended like this.

Amazing what a difference a three-hour flight makes!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

18-19th December 2009: Snow in Suffolk!

Much to the delight of the kids, we have had a good snowfall over the last couple of days, turning the village into a winter wonderland!

There was even enough to build a proper snowman ... er snow person!It's the first time I've built (or contributed to building) a snowman since I was a very small boy!

We decided she was probably a prophetess warning of the impending weather effects of climate change.

I guess that there must have been quite an influx of winter birds with all the north-easterly winds, and there are certainly more Fieldfares around than a couple of days ago. Fieldfares are usually very shy and difficult to get close to, but this one was blind in the right eye, so didn't see me approaching.

As soon as it turned around and saw me with its good eye, it was off, and I only managed to snap a this single pic.

Still, it supplied me with a good eye, which enabled me to perform an eye operation on the bad eye in Photoshop - rather crudely as I am away from my home computer - but it will do for now.

Finally, some birds and snow - Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail on a muck-heap. That's it for now - next stop Portugal, and hopefully some warmer weather!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

10th December 2009: Pennington Flashes, Hants, UK

Making best use of a rare sunny day, I persuaded my family to come for an afternoon walk at Pennington, where there just happened to be some nice habitat for waterbirds!

A Bar-tailed Godwit flew over as we arrived, showing a very different upper and underwing pattern to the Blackwits seen in the morning.

Three Northern Lapwings with a couple of female Eurasian Teals sandwiched in between. The old name for Northern Lapwing used to be Green Plover, and in the sun, it's easy to see why.

This flight pic shows the extraordinary wingshape of this species.

One of many overflying Eurasian Skylarks.

Choo Eng asked me to photograph a Magpie and a Wood Pigeon. Here's the first. Wood Pigeons are easy to see but it always seems such an effort to get my camera to point in their direction that I may fail to get any pics of them at all.

A Pied (White) Wagtail on the flooded fields. A rarity I've yet to catch up with in Malaysia.

There were quite good numbers of dabbling ducks on the flooded fields - Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Mallard and Eurasian Teal. I only managed to photograph the latter.

A male Eurasian Teal displaying to a female. Female Eurasian Teal can be distinguished from the superficially similar Garganey by, among other things, the pale flash at the side of the tail, the plainer face pattern, slimmer bill and by the fact that the rear end doesn't angle upwards as it tends to in Garganey.

A male Northern Shoveler in eclipse plumage. These are fairly unmistakeable if a decent view of the bill is had!

There was a good number of Red-breasted Mergansers offshore, and this subadult male briefly joined the dabbling ducks in one of the pools inland of the seawall. Mergansers are fish-feeders; the attendant Black-headed Gull obviously knew this and shadowed the merganser constantly.

The merganser soon got fed up of this, and headed back into open water, jettisoning excess baggage in the way!

Later on I watched this smart adult male come in to land on the river.

There were three Slavonian Grebes also out on the river, always nice birds to see in winter - here are two of them.

Spotted Redshanks are real rarities in Malaysia, and, despite keeping eyes and ears peeled, I've yet to see one there. So I was happy to renew my acquaintance with the species today. A sharp 'chewit' spun me round in time to see this 'SpotRed' gliding in to land - too quick for my camera to adjust to get the correct exposure unfortunately! The call is one of the best ways to locate them (though Pacific Golden Plover can sound deceivingly similar), and the plain wing pattern is an easy and quick way to eliminate Common Redshank.

Once landed, they're a bit more difficult. They have a surprisingly Common Redshank-like shape, but the long, droop-tipped bill is a good distinguishing characteristic.

In non-breeding plumage, they are grey rather than brown above, and the red on the bill-base is limited to the lower mandible (both mandibles are red at the base on Common). They have a characteristic preference for hunting in deeper water, where they are adept swimmers (but they don't spin like phalaropes).

The finely white-notched tertials and well-marked head pattern are two other good features.

A Water Rail made a typically furtive dash from one piece of cover to another.

A Ruddy Turnstone incoming.

Several of these were busily head-butting the seaweed to expose prey beneath.