Saturday, December 23

Birding the Azores update

The only thing better than an unspoiled paradise is one that nobody you know has visited yet.

Flores is one of nine volcanic islands that make up Portugal's Azores region

Some people can say they’re familiar with the Azores, a group of nine islands some 901 miles off the coast of Portugal. But by and large, these rugged, salt-sprayed islands are one of Portugal's best-kept secrets in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.”
Picture emerald beaches, dazzling blue lakes, verdant pastures, volcanic caverns, bubbling mud pots, sprawling sunrises and cascading waterfalls. UNESCO designated the Azores a Biosphere Reserve in 2009 for their impeccable preservation. Indeed, the islands make a very good case for a must see place/visit.√

With the advent of cheap direct flights to the Azores from the UK, I've seen flights from as little as £16.00 and being out of the main tourist season. I thought it would be good to see what The Azores has to offer in terms of birding. I was not expecting to see much, as it was just a short non-birding breakaway.

View over Sao Miguel

Ponta Delgada
The Azores islands, an autonomous region of Portugal, form an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic and are characterized by dramatic landscapes, fishing villages, and hedgerows of blue hydrangeas. volcanic and remote, the islands were first settled in the 15th century and are popular for hiking, whale watching, blue marlin fishing, surfing, diving and bird watching.

Azorean Chaffinch
Due to the central position in the North Atlantic Ocean, the islands are internationally recognized as a bird watching destination for observing certain groups of bird species. Besides the Azores Bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina), one of the rarest birds in Europe and endemic to a small area of São Miguel Island, and endemic subspecies such as the Azores Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs moreletti), it is also possible to observe several migratory species which are occasionally seen in the Azores, as the weather throws some of these species off course on their migration route. The archipelago boasts approximately 30 breeding species. The number of occasional species already observed and recorded in the archipelago is approaching 400, including some extremely rare for the Western Palearctic.

With my partner Trish we spent just a few days sightseeing and
Sete Cidades
wandering around Ponta Delgada, but I did manage a few photos of some of the birds. And as I only had a small telephoto lens with me, It was a bit limiting due to the distances involved. All in all, it was a great place to visit, food and wine were of a very good standard and reasonably priced, very friendly people, picturesque locations and lots of potential for birding. If you fancy something different for a change why not give the Azores a try?

                Birds of interest seen but not the full list

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Great Blue Heron,
Grey Heron, Yellow-legged Gull, the Greater black Gull,
Lesser Black-backed Gull, Probable American Gull,  Grey Plover, Least Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Coot. American Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Azorean Buzzard, Azorean Woodpigeon,  Rock Dove, Azorean Chaffinch, Blackbird, Eurasian Starling,

Blackcap, Serin, Siskin, Gold Finch, Atlantic Canary, Robin, Goldcrest, Azorean Grey Wagtail, Long-tailed Parakeet, and more.
Least Sandpiper

Grey Plover

Monday, December 18

Jack Snipe San Felipe

Saturday afternoon Trevor and I had a few hour spare and decided to check out our local area, Santa Pola Salina, El, Pinet, San Felipe, and surrounding areas. The weather was sunny and warm, our first stop produced good numbers of Shovelers, Pochard, Slender-billed Gulls, a single Marsh Harrier, and a pair Black-necked Grebe, and a lesser black-backed gull… for only 5 minutes from my Casa and a 10 minute stop, it was good to start.

Slender-billed Gull
On to the Salt Tower for a scan around, Marsh Harriers in the distance, Redshank, Dunlin, Great white Egret drifted past. Quickly on to the standing stones lay-by, a really close flypast of 6 Spoonbill showing well there large, flat, spatulate bill and of course, the camera was in the car. ( I've got to stop doing that and be more prepared ) Trevor said what a treat to see them so close and see the yellow under the chin,  On the water, there was several Great-crested Grebe, and further away from another  'canteen Of spoonbills (30+ ) a flypast of a Great White Egret. I had to take my jacket off as it was to hot, balmy weather, only a few days before Christmas.
El Pinet was looking quiet, Avocets bobbin up and down, noisy Black-winged Stilts, Dunlin, Kentish Plover, Redshank. A rather nice Water Rail showed close by on the water edge, car keys please "Trev" of course the camera is in the car, Sh*t missed the best chance, when the Rail was at it's closest and in the sun but managed a recorded shot, it was turning out to be a good few houses out.

Water Rail 
San Felipe, now having been here recently myself and read a fresh report that there nothing much happing, I decided not to take the camera. "Big mistake"  Purple Swamp Hens slowly walking about taking no notice just ambling around, Red-knobbed Coots showing well, Red-crested Pochard, a few Common Snipe flying around and tucked in on the muddy margins, clockwork Blue throats running around a few Waterpipits
flitting about, Booted Eagle over and a Dark faze, 100 + Glossy Ibis over, you could clearly hear the wing beats - noise as there went on there way, a bit of a birding moment.

Blue Throat
Suddenly my attention was grabbed by a small white-sided wader drilling in the mud I knew before my binoculars got to my eyes what it was, I shouted to Trev, "Jack Snipe" we quickly put the scope on it to confirm the ID, and off like a rocket! like Usain Bolt back to the ******* car for my camera, cursing all the ****** way there and back my stupid decision making. I arrived back, I shouted is it still THERE! "No" Trev replied but you should have been here 30 seconds ago it was right in the open, its gone now!! he said!  ( I think Usain Bolt would have been proud of me as I set a new World Recored for the car and back )  more bad language followed, followed by more, now there a bit of history about this bird "Jack Snipe." Trev and I have been searching for many winters with no success and just bad luck not connecting with it, although not a mega! ( although it feels like ) its a Spanish tick for both of us. The Jack Snipe did re-emerge and I got a record photograph but it was more than three times the distance away. I managed a few photographs on our way back to the car.

Common Snipe

I can't complain it was good afternoon out birding with Trevor, as we left San Felip we found where the Glossy Ibis had gone, a flooded field across the road, with 70 Lapwing, Plenty of Jackdaw, loads Cattle Egret,  Waterpipt,   White wags, Bluethroat, couldn't stay long, just scanned through the field, sun had almost set, we set for home,

Jack Snipe

Just wishing all my friends far and wide a very Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 17

Sierra Espuña

Today with my good friend  Trevor Asley we decided to visit Sierra Espuña, Murcia. leaving Gran Alicant  at 8.45 arriving about 10.30. Our target bird for today and hoping to see  was  "Hawfinch" which has  been seen there recently. A few stop on route to look at  birds on the way up the mountain. Adding  Jay, Crested Tit, Long tailed Tit, Crossbill, Coal tit, Great tit, Chaffinch, to our list.
Moving swiftly on to the top and a early lunch break. The weather was sunny, blue sky and warm with light winds, I said to Trevor no need for my thermals today, it was perfect conditions, soon we arrived at the Ice Caves, we were greeted by a good number of Mistle Thrush and Ring Ouzel flying around and calling.

Ring Ouzel

 We didn't have to wait very  long for our target  bird to arrive, maybe about 15 minutes, not one bird but two which showed  well and for a prolonged time.
 At this time we normally would have had a werther's moment, but sadly we didn't have any of these celebratory sweets! So we settle for a thumbs up,  Ring Ouzel's Redwings, Crossbills arrived frequently, giving great opportunity for photography.  And then the weather started to change  suddenly the clouds started gathering blocking the sun,  wind was picking up pace, and whistling  through the pine woodland,  temperatures were dropping like a stone. At these altitudes (1400 meters ) the weather can change very quickly, We persevered  for total two and a half hours, in freezing wind chill conditions thank god I had my Ron johns on??? ( long johns)
We left the ice caves battered by the ice cold winds but with a little skip in our step and happy, its not every day you get to see Hawfinch at a few meters, the best views I've ever had, and well worth the effort to get there,
Not a big list but quality day's birding and a few nice photos.
                       Many thanks to Trevor

History of Sierra Espuna Regional Park
Sierra Espuña generally enjoys a Mediterranean mountain climate. The Regional Park of Sierra Espuna is absolutely stunning! It is located inland in the province of Murcia and covers some 25,000 hectares. It has been protected since 1930 and in 1992 it was classified as a Regional Park. Pine trees cover most of the park and, as it has some 20 mountain peaks above 1,000 meters the views over the top of the pine forests are magnificent. It takes its name from its highest mountain, the Espuna at 1583 meters

 Ricardo Codorniu
The park has quite an intriguing history. The region of Murica enjoyed great prosperity during the late 18th century when it plundered its natural resources including most of its pine forests. When Ricardo Codorniu, a passionate nature lover and forest engineer returned to the region in 1889, he was devastated by the destruction which the years of economic boom had caused. He set about restoring the forest, replanting some 19,000 hectares and becoming known as the ‘apostle of tress’. As you drive though the park you’ll notice evidence of his hard work as a lot of the pine trees are planted in straight lines.
Today the park is criss crossed with many hundreds of kilometres of marked walking and cycling routes. The mountain road is very well maintained and there are numerous panoramic viewpoints as well as some great picnic and barbecue areas. If you’re lucky you’ll see the Moufflon mountain goats, wild boars and circling Golden Eagles.

Ring Ouzel

Saturday, December 9


Thought I would share some photos that I've taken on the Isles of Scilly over the years. its good to get some of these images on-line instead languishing on hard drives and in cupboards and draws. It reminds me of some good times birding and a lot of laughs, for every photo there a story behind. Hope you enjoy the photos and it brings back some good memories of Scilly

Ovenbird St Mary's 2004

Marsh Sandpiper St Mary's 2008

Little Crake St Mary's 2002

Semi-palmated Sandpiper St Mary's 2003

American Robin Tresco 2006

Black browed Albatross at sea 2009

Blackpoll Warbler St Mary's 2007
Front cover British Birds Oct 2008
Red eyed Vireo St Mary's 2003

Scopli's Shearwater at sea 2005 

Blackpoll Warbler St Mary's 2008

Snowy Owl St Martin's 2008

Cream coloured Courser St Mary's 2004

American Nighthawk 1998

Common yellow Throat St Mary's 1997
Red eyed Vireo St Mary's 2003

Wilson's Petrel at sea 2005

Wednesday, December 6

Crested lark vs Thekla Lark ID Guide

Thekla's  vs. Crested Larks in Spain an ID Guide

Possibly the most widespread and common lark species to be found in Costa Blanca   
Both Thekla's Lark and Crested Lark occur over much of the warmer parts of Spain, and frequently both species can be found in the close company of each other. Surprisingly, relatively little has been said about the separation of this difficult species pair: In fact, the possibility of misidentification of one species for the other has frequently been played down, simplified or largely ignored.
Many birders who come to Spain question me about field separation of Crested and Thekla Larks so much so that this is probably the single most often asked question.

So here I am attempting to summarise what can be said about the field identification of these two species in Spain. Or rather to express my own opinion about the criteria that are most valid for separating Crested and Thekla's Lark in the field.

Crested Lark

Crested Lark

Often in the cultivated countryside. Very common along coastal areas. Heavy in appearance and during the autumn and winter has brown coloured mantle and wings, although this can pale significantly with the onset of spring and summer. Crested Lark is longer billed and the top edge of its upper mandible curved throughout its length, though more steeply towards the tip, and a straight or slightly concave bottom edge to its lower mandible; and hooked at the tip
A  pale, not white, supercilium, indistinct and varied streaking to the upper breast. Song diagnostic also has a distinct 3 syllable call in the ascending.

Crested Lark

Thekla Lark

Thekla Lark

In my opinion bill shape and length is probably the single and most important  (although not infallible) feature. Comparatively speaking. Thekla Larks have shorter, stubbier, more triangular bills, while face patterns of Thekla Larks usually have a more contrasting face pattern, with “spectacles” and a  white supercilium and eye-ring, with heavy black streaking to upper and medium breast and a more “open” expression.  

Thekla Lark

General plumage colouration: if you see a very grey contrasting looking bird then it is almost certainly a Thekla Lark. The problem is that not all Thekla Larks are greyish, as this is a feature that largely depends on wear and local variation and time of year.

Outer tail feathers: apparently the Thekla Lark has more rufous and more contrasting outer rectrices Its difficult to see and it’s not something that I look for to separate this species.

Underwing: Thekla Larks have greyer underwing coverts than Crested Larks, but just how often do you think you will be able to check that out in the field?

Crest: a rather useless criterion in my own opinion. It depends too much on the wind, attitude, moult, individual variation and observer bias.

Voice: difficult to tell apart, even with experience. Both songs are similar, although Thekla's Lark’s is more melodious, less imposing and lower-pitched, with less tendency to imitation than Crested Lark. 

Distribution: there are large tracts of land where only one species (usually Crested Lark) occurs, which is a good initial indicator if you are familiar with the species’ local distribution.

Habitat: this is a good indicator, although beware of “microhabitats”. Thekla Larks usually prefer less “agricultural” landscapes, and more often observed in broken, stony terrain with scattered bushes. 
I use this method:   First Look at the length of the bill? Is it stubby- Dagger-shaped or long and curved top mandible? Next: I look at the facial pattern? Does it have a white supercilium and eye-ring or is it pale, not clear and drab looking dirty? Next: the streaking on the breast? Is it bold and pronounced more at the centre? Or pale and thin.   

Thekla's Lark

Last, but not least: is the bird perched on a bush or a pile of rocks, or is it a ground hugger? In the former case, there is a very good chance that it will be a Thekla Lark!

Thekla's lark

Reliable identification generally requires close views or photographs, it is necessary to base the identification on a combination of features.
some birds I just can't be ID, as the views are just not good enough to reliably say one way or another.

Crested Lark

Hope it helps

Bryan Thomas

Friday, December 1

BARGAIN BIRDING CLUB visit 13th to 20th November 2017

See full trip report @

Introduction: by Richard Hanman
This was the 8th ‘Bargain Birding Club’ (BBC) trip to the Costa Blanca area around Alicante, and our 4th in the Autumn. Returning BBC regulars were Trevor Hatton and Tim Rea, and we also had the pleasure of welcoming Kathy Gay on her first trip with us. As always, it’s great to buddy up with Bryan Thomas for his excellent local knowledge, wit and banter. Our base was the beachfront Santa Pola Hotel which gave us easy access to local reserve, and easy access to the motorways for trips further away.
A massive thank you to Richard Hanman and ‘Bargain Birding Club’ for the opportunity to co-lead there latest visit to the Costa Blanca area. There were so many highlights to this Bargain Birders visit to Costa Blanca and also some fantastic photo opportunities, see below some of my favourite photographs of their recent visit.
Bryan Thomas 

Great Bustard

Black-necked Grebe


Little Bustard

Little Bustard

Crested Tit

Ring Ouzel


Ring Ouzel