Monday 22 December 2014

American Wigeon, Newquay, Cornwall

I haven't been out properly birding since my visit to Dawlish Warren on November 24th! And so with finally a free day on December 20th I was very keen to get out and about  - but where to go? With the pre-Christmas birding doldrums well and truly here there has not been a lot reported and as I would still like to try and add a few more species to my year list I decided to head to the Gannel Estuary in Newquay to have a look for the 2 female American wigeon being reported there.

I wasn't sure what to expect but after reading the excellent Cream Tea Birders blog my mind was made up and off I headed on the train. I had to change at Par for the branch line to Newquay and it was a very scenic journey although the train really chugged along quite slowly. A bit of a circuitous walk from the railway station at Newquay to the Estuary saw me arrive at the car park overlooking the mudflats at 10:30. I found the wigeon flock immediately, only around 60+ birds, but they were on the opposite side of the river and mostly tucked out of sight in the river channel due to it being low tide.

I headed back to the head of the estuary and crossed over a footbridge and managed to get into a better position to view the birds. A quick scan with my telescope and I immediately picked out 1 of the birds, a very well marked individual,  but it promptly tucked its head under its wing and went to sleep! It woke up briefly and flapped its wings showing its diagnostic bright white armpits (or rather wingpits) before going back to sleep. A dog walker then came too close to the birds and they all took off, circling around the estuary, and the white axilliaries were again very noticeable as it flew overhead. The flock soon settled back on the mudflats and I managed to find the second bird amongst them, not as well marked as the first bird I saw but still quite distinctive.

American Wigeon (upper centre)

 American Wigeon (left)

American Wigeon (upper centre)
American Wigeons (upper right and upper left)
I spent some time watching the wigeons despite them being regularly disturbed by dog walkers and I enjoyed listening to the whistling calls of the Eurasian wigeon. Also seen were plenty of gulls loafing around and bathing (herring, black headed, great black backed and lesser black backed) and I managed to find a smart adult Mediterranean gull amongst them. A kingfisher also flew downriver and 2 greenshank were feeding along the narrow river channel near the footbridge.

I headed back to the railway station, watching a little egret catching fish in the boating lake along the way, and while waiting for the train I had a quick look offshore, seeing a lone fulmar and gulls. And so I had had a pleasent few hours despite the gloomy conditions and occasional spits of rain, and it had been very interesting getting to grips with my first female American wigeons.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Hawfinch in Germany

Our annual pilgrimage to the Christmas markets in Germany began with a drive to Heathrow Airport on Saturday 29th November. From the car I managed to see a red kite near Stonehenge, a covey of around 10 red legged partridge feeding in a field close to the road and 2 roe deer. Unfortunately I also saw the usual dead mammals (fox, badger, rabbit) and dead pheasents along the side of the road.

Arriving in Hamburg and it was very cold and grey but at least it was dry and it stayed that way for most of the trip. The Christmas markets were very good and as usual we ate and drank far too much. Best bird in Hamburg was a grey wagtail around the hotel buildings one morning. Coot, mallard, tufted duck, common-, black headed- and herring gull, blackbird, house sparrow, cormorant and carrion crow were also seen around the city centre.

Common Gulls (1 with a leg ring), Hamburg

A day trip by train to nearby Celle and I saw lots of buzzards flying over the fields as we sped by, the few I saw close to the train were definitely common buzzards and not rough legged. Groups of roe deer were feeding in the fields and I had a brief and distant view of what looked like a great white egret feeding along a water filled ditch but I couldn't be sure. A walk around the park in Celle and I found the star birds of the trip, around 6 hawfinch feeding in the tree tops near the castle in the same area where I saw them on my trip 4 years ago. They were very flighty and mobile and kept high up in the trees but I had some nice views despite the very grey and dull light.

Hawfinch, Celle

Hawfinch, Celle

Hawfinch, Celle

Travelling by train to Berlin on December 3rd and I saw more buzzards and roe deer. I had a brief and distant view of a herd of around 50 large white swans spread out across a grassy field, presumably whooper, but I didn't get a view of any beak colour.

Berlin was very interesting and with a much better atmosphere than I felt on my trip in 2008. The Christmas markets were much improved too and again we ate and drank too much. There were lots of hooded crows around especially at dusk when groups were flying in to the small parks with jackdaws to roost in the tree tops. It was odd to see hooded crows in Berlin and carrion crows in Hamburg.The two cities are only around 300kms apart but there is obviously a line of demarcation somewhere between the 2 cities and the 2 species, a situation echoed in the UK with hooded crows in Scotland and carrion crows in England.

Hooded Crows, Berlin

A short toed treecreeper was seen creeping around the brick work of a ruined church in the city centre, looking most bizarre and eventually  being chased off by a great tit. A sparrowhawk was also seen flying low over trees at dusk, Berlin has quite a significant population of goshawks which can be quite confiding but it was definently a sparrowhawk that I saw due to its small size.

Black Headed Gull, Berlin

And so we had a great trip as usual, Germany is a really nice country to visit and the Christmas markets are always very fun and festive. I managed to see around 30 species of bird without even trying, not bad when visiting 2 of the largest cities in Germany on a non-birding holiday. We also managed to see our fifth and final Egyptian temple rescued from flooding by the construction of the Aswan Dam - the Kalabsha Gate. Unfortunately it is currently being poorly displayed in an enclosed space in a museum of surreal art but will be moved to a new wing of the Pergamon museum in the centre of Berlin in a few years time.

 Kalabsha Gate, Berlin

Nefertiti, Egyptian Museum, Berlin - a sneaky photo!

Amazing lobby of the Radisson Hotel, Berlin as seen from our room!