Thursday 25 October 2018

Gray Catbird Twitch

Storm Callum may have mucked up our travel plans for France but it did mix things up on the birding front with some good birds appearing in the UK including a gray catbird at Lands End in Cornwall - although the cancellation of our trip to France did mean I got to see the Isabelline Shrike at Thurlestone.

The gray catbird was found on Monday 15th October but I wasn't free to go and look for it until the 20th October and fortunately it did remain at Treeve Moor near Lands End during this time. However the 20th was a Saturday and also the first Saturday it was on site, it was also the beginning of half term holiday hell and a sunny and warm day and so I decided to give it a miss and went for a walk at Wembury instead (and I have seen a gray catbird before in Central Park in New York in 2007).

It was glorious at Wembury with warm sunshine and little breeze and it was nice to see a few butterflies on the wing - a small copper, red admirals, small whites, speckled woods and at least 3 clouded yellows were all seen - but there were no moths present in the toilet block.

Clouded Yellow, Wembury

Bird wise it was very quiet with a chiffchaff, a blackcap and 3 goldcrest in the pine trees at The Point with blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits, and a chiffchaff heard calling in the valley to the beach being the only sign of migrants. Also seen were a flyover grey wagtail, 12 Canada geese in the stubble field before flying off when a pheasant shoot began on the nearby hillside, 2 curlew along the foreshore with oystercatchers, mallards and a little egret, meadow pipits and skylarks feeding in the fields and flying over and a patrolling female kestrel.

It became very busy as the day warmed up and after a pasty and coffee on the beach for lunch I headed home away from the crowds but it had been a very pleasant mornings walk.

Violet Sp. in flower, Wembury Bus Stop

Wednesday 24th October was my next free day and with the gray catbird still showing well down at Lands End I decided to go for it despite my reservations of attending a Twitch. I caught the 06:28 train from Plymouth to Penzance (a stinky Cross-country train but with the usual lovely crew) and on arrival in Penzance at 08:20 I had a quick look off the sea wall where a male eider was out on the water with an immature male and a female also nearby.

I caught the 08:40 bus to Lands End, arriving at 09:30, and just before my bus stop I passed a field full of cars and birders where the catbird was showing. I walked back along the road and down across the field to a group of assorted birders peering over a hedge and within just a few minutes heard the bird calling but missed the brief sighting of it perched on top of a bush. A few minutes later it reappeared in the top of a bush and this time I caught a brief view before it disappeared again and shortly after it reappeared again for a few seconds before flying off, flashing its chestnut undertail coverts as it went.

Gray Catbird, Treeve Moor, Lands End - photo courtesy of Mashuq Ahmad, CBWPS Website, 24/10/18

I was pleased to see it and so quickly but wanted better views and so I walked around to the other side of the field and within a short time it appeared in a bush, mostly obscured by leaves as it busily preened itself showing its black eye, black cap and grey plumage. After a few minutes it moved out into the open to snaffle a red berry, a very smart looking bird and larger than I expected, before it dived into cover again. I managed a few more good but brief views as it moved through the undergrowth until it became more elusive as the day warmed up and I only managed a further brief flight view and a brief call before I left the site to catch the bus back to Penzance at 13:00.

Gray Catbird - not even a record shot!

For a Twitch it wasn't too bad with the usual mix of a mostly nice bunch of birders - friendly local birders chatting away and keen to get all the visiting birders onto the bird, birders with massive cameras who just had to keep inching forward towards the bird, the usual telescope and handbags at dawn spats between birders especially when somebody started trying to lure it out with a recording on their phone (which I have to agree isn't acceptable), the usual loud and obnoxious twat who goes on and on about all the birds he has seen recently, those who stand around nattering and waiting for somebody else to find the bird for them along with everyday birders who just want to see the bird and including a few who looked like they were going to pop if they didn't.

Also seen while watching and waiting for the gray catbird to show were flyover peregrine, kestrel, sparrowhawk and buzzard, gannets offshore, jackdaws galore overhead, flyover meadow pipits and a pair of feeding stonechats.

Back in Penzance and I had a quick look again off the sea wall where the male eider was still around with the female and now 2 immature males nearby and then I caught the train to St.Erth for a quick look at the Hayle estuary.  The tide was beginning to come in and feeding and roosting out on the mudflats were 2 black-tailed godwit, a bar-tailed godwit, 5 Dunlin and 100+ golden plover with lapwing, redshank, curlew and oystercatcher, teal, wigeon, a male mallard, shelduck and a greylag goose, herring, black-headed and great black backed gulls, 2 little egret and carrion crows. 

The highlight though was a great white egret roosting on Ryan's Field which showed very nicely, quite undisturbed by the traffic passing nearby.

Great White Egret with Black-headed Gull, Ryan's Field, Hayle

Great White Egret

Great White Egret with Redshank

And so a very enjoyable day, the twitch wasn't as bad as I was envisaging with a nice crowd and nice views of the gray catbird (only the 2nd for the UK) and a bonus great white egret on the journey home - not bad at all. 

Monday 15 October 2018

Isabelline Shrike Sp. at Thurlestone

Since returning from holiday it has been fairly busy with work, family, tidying up, sorting out, catching up, etc., but there was light at the end of the tunnel with our annual Brittany Ferry trip to Roscoff in France on October 12th to keep us going. However Storm Callum decided to appear in the early hours of the morning of the 12th and it was not until 16:30 that afternoon that we were informed that our 22:00hr ferry was cancelled. We were offered the opportunity to board the ferry as scheduled at 22:00hrs on the 12th but would not sail until 11:00hrs the next morning on the 13th, meaning a 13 hour stay on board the ferry in Plymouth Docks, and on arriving in Roscoff at 18:00hrs on the 13th we would just have time for dinner and a nights sleep at our hotel before returning on the ferry the next morning at 09:15hrs - needless to say we cancelled the trip.

The weather remained very windy on the 13th and the morning of the 14th was very wet but by lunchtime it was clearing up and so we drove out to Thurlestone to look for the reported Isabelline Shrike and to have a spot of lunch.

We soon found the scrubby area between the golf course and the coast path where the shrike has taken up residence and quickly spotted it perched on vegetation being admired by a bevy of birders. It gave some good if mostly distant views as it actively fed on bees and flies buzzing around the bushes, being very mobile and regularly disappearing from sight amongst the scrub before reappearing elsewhere a short time later. It often perched openly and did the lovely shrike thing of circling its rufous toned tail around while scanning about and then dashing off - a very lovely bird with much better views than I had of one at nearby South Huish Marsh back in 2015 and I managed to get a few record shots too.

 Isabelline Shrike

 Isabelline Shrike 

 Isabelline Shrike 

 Isabelline Shrike 

 Isabelline Shrike 

 Isabelline Shrike 

 Isabelline Shrike 

 Isabelline Shrike 

Isabelline Shrike 

I watched it for a while before we headed back to the pub in Thurlestone village for some lunch and then home - a pleasant day out and some good (and easy) views of a cracking bird. If only more birding trips were as easy - although the birds actual ID of either Turkestan- or Daurian Shrike is proving not so straight forward.

Friday 12 October 2018

Istanbul - Part II (October 4th - October 6th)

Thursday October 4th and we flew back to Istanbul for the last leg of our trip, arriving at our hotel in the Sultanhamet area of the city at around 2pm. It was cool and grey but blue skies were creeping in on the horizon and by late afternoon it was sunny but still cool. Luckily our sight seeing plans were all very close to the hotel which meant David didn't have to do much hobbling around.

We visited the Archeological Museum which was very good but parts of it were closed for renovations and while sitting in the museum garden enjoying tea and cake at the end of our visit I watched Alpine swifts flying around overhead with jackdaws and Alexandrine parakeets flying into the trees to roost as the sun was setting.

The next morning was sunny and warm and before breakfast I spent some time admiring the view from our hotel room looking out across the Sea of Marmara and the entrance to The Bosphorous and was delighted to see small flocks of Yelkouan shearwaters flying across the water heading up into the Black Sea. Even better were bottle nose dolphins feeding offshore, mostly unobtrusive and difficult to keep track of but occassionally leaping out of the water and tail splashing.

The View from our Hotel Room

We spent the day visiting the Haghia Sophia, the Hippodrome and the Basicilca Cistern and while wandering around saw the usual birds - hooded crow, laughing dove, house sparrow, yellow legged gull and starling along with a sparrowhawk, a lesser whitethroat and a flyover grey heron. And the end of the day saw us enjoying a beer on the Galata Bridge again, watching the comings and goings of the ferries as the sun was setting

 Haghia Sophia

 Haghia Sophia Mosaic

 Haghia Sophia Mausoleum

Hippodrome Obelisk

 Laughing Dove

 Laughing Dove 

 Laughing Dove 

Bosphorous Ferry from The Galata Bridge

Saturday October 6th and it was time to head back to the UK with a 9:30 transfer to the airport. I had a last scan of the sea from our hotel room before leaving but there was no sign of any shearwaters or dolphins but 2 noisy Sandwich terns were a surprise. Watching the yellow legged gulls stealing food from the tables on the hotels breakfast terrace was also fun.

 Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

Arriving back at Heathrow and it was wet and windy again but I did see 2 red kites on the drive back to Plymouth (M3 and A303) and red legged partridges near Stonehenge.

And so another great trip, some good wildlife sightings and some interesting sight seeing but a mixed bag of weather and I've arrived home feeling more tired than before I left - so a good holiday all round!

Thursday 11 October 2018

Macedonia - Part II (September 30th - October 4th)

Sunday September 30th and we headed off to Skopje Airport to pick up our hire car. I always feel anxious with hire cars as David loves to floor the accelerator and my map reading skills are not great but it actually was ok with the roads generally pretty good and also pretty empty which David really enjoyed.

We headed off to Stobi winery first in sunny skies but by the time we arrived at the winery gates the clouds had rolled in and it was grey and cool with occasional spits of rain. The winery was closed for a private function which was a shame and so we headed onwards to Stobi ruins for a look around. The site was quite small but we eventually had the place all to ourselves and had an enjoyable wander around.

 Stobi Mosaic - Also on the Stobi Winery label and the 10 Denar Bank note

Stobi Theatre

The vegetation was very dry but there were little clumps of flowers dotted around which were magnets for good numbers of butterflies and despite the cloudy sky I managed to see a swallowtail along with clouded yellows, blues and whites.


Swallowtail close up

Birds were very obvious too and I had the best birdwatching of the trip here with tawny pipit, red throated pipit, swift, red rumped swallow, red backed shrike, chiffchaff, tree sparrow, white wagtail, house martin, swallow, wheatear, linnet, goldfinch, woodpigeon, starling, crested lark, spotted flycatcher, sparrowhawk and Syrian woodpecker all being seen.

 Tawny Pipit

 Crested Lark

Syrian Woodpecker

We carried on to Demir Kapija to look at the gorge but got a bit lost and ended up on a new motorway heading towards the Greek border! Eventually we managed to turn around and get back to the gorge before driving to Negotino for an overnight stay.

Monday 1st October and the sun had reappeared and after a quick visit to the nearby Bovin winery we drove over the mountains to the Roman ruins at Bargala, enjoying the amazing scenery along the way. The site was again small and again we eventually had it all to ourselves but the only birds I saw here were ravens, crested larks, tree sparrows and a juvenile red backed shrike. However with the sun shining it became very warm and there were butterflies everywhere - swallowtail, clouded yellow, whites including an Eastern bath white, small heath, blues, wall brown, small copper, grayling and Queen of Spain Fritillary. There were also hummingbird hawkmoths everywhere, I've never seen so many before.


 Queen of Spain Fritillary

 Grayling Sp.

 Small Heath

 Eastern Bath White

 Eastern Bath White


Puppy in the ruins

We drove on to Kratovo, a small town in the crater of an extinct volcano which was very quiet and laid back with old buildings and wonderful scenery. We stayed here for 2 nights and the next morning the day started well with the sun shining as we took a short drive to nearby Kuklica to view the stone dolls, weathered porous volcanic rocks that look like figures, and again we were the only ones there amongst the beautiful scenery.

Kuklica Stone Dolls

A Hermann's tortoise was a nice find wandering around the dusty and dry vegetation and there were plenty of jays around with a yaffling green woodpecker seen flying up into trees as we drove by. A skulking robin was a surprise plus all the usual butterflies were on view including what I think is a very worn male Adonis blue.

 Hermann's Tortoise

 Hermann's Tortoise 

 Grasshopper Sp. 

 Adonis Blue

Adonis Blue

We drove back to Kratovo and after a herbal tea in a cafe on the main square (no black tea on the menu) and a brief view of a flyover juvenile black stork we hiked up into the mountains to the small village of Gorni Kratovo, admiring the stunning scenery along the way. It was hot and sunny and I heard long tailed tits calling in the trees and saw at least 3 cirl buntings skulking in the bushes plus all the usual butterflies were on view including a large white and a female long tailed blue.

 Long Tailed Blue

Cricket Sp.

Things took a turn for the worse though when David, having decided to scramble up a rocky hillside, slipped on the way down and twisted his ankle. He luckily didn't break anything but was in a lot of pain as he hobbled slowly back to Kratovo and the next day had a very swollen foot developing some impressive bruising.

He was still able to drive and so we headed back to Skopje via Kokino, a megalithic observatory site referred to as the Stonehenge of Macedonia. David managed to slowly walk up to the rocky outcrop and around the rocky site where thrones have been hewn into rocks to observe the rising sun appearing between rock markers on certain days of the year. The scenery was stunning and we had the place to ourselves except for the ticket man and an English lady with 2 Macedonian friends who left not long after we arrived. A buzzard, a red throated pipit and a woodlark calling were the avian highlights and the usual butterflies were seen before we drove back to Skopje airport to drop the hire car off.


We stayed the night at the Hotel Mirror near the airport and for the only time on the holiday we actually sat in the sun by the pool enjoying a beer while I watched a juvenile red backed shrike, collared doves, a chiffchaff, a hovering kestrel and starlings feeding in the fields nearby.

  Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike

October 4th and an early start saw us heading back to the airport for our return flight to Istanbul for the final part of our holiday but Macedonia had been a delight, very interesting and virtually devoid of tourists and despite David's accident we had had a really enjoyable time.