Promoting observation, free range exploration, sense of place and citizen science, through the field notes of a naturalist.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Birding on a family holiday: Fuerteventura

I don't really do birding holidays, but where the opportunity arises I will squeeze in some birding when on a family break. Fuerteventura, has become a regular bolt hole for us, plenty of sun bathing for the wife combined with long coastal walks for me. This was the first time we had visited during December so was a bit of an unknown quantity weather wise. We had expected more rain and lower temperatures but it turned out to be wall to wall sunshine with daytime temperatures at around 24 degrees. As usual we based ourselves in the north of the island in the tourist hot spot of Corralejo. Away from the coastline with its combination of sandy beaches and extensive low tide rocky areas, the landscape is dry and volcanic with sparse vegetation, a desert like natural park on the southern outskirts of the town was within walking distance.

Day One - Sunday 2nd December

After what seemed like an age travelling, day one included a late start, but not before I was awoken by the resident collared doves with a few chirping Spanish sparrow thrown in for good measure. Just before lunch I took a short walk past the now semi-derelict water park to a patch of land on the edge of town. This area was covered with small razor sharp volcanic stones that made walking in lightweight canvas shoes something of a challenge. Some vegetation was good perching for a Southern great grey shrike and great cover for a singing spectacled warbler. A couple of Berthelot's pipit picked their way through the arid terrain as a kestrel alighted on a large roadside advertising hoarding. Just 50 metres away small groups of holidaymakers were walking to town, as, to my surprise I flushed two stone curlew. A barbary ground squirrel put in a brief appearance.

There were a lot more butterflies around than I can remember on my previous trips to this Canary island. One of the most attractive was the greenish black tip (Euchloe charlonia). A large grasshopper with powerful flight capabilities was encountered frequent and was identified as the endemic Canarian band-winged grasshopper (Oedipoda canariensis).

On the way back to our hotel as small group of unkempt roadside confer trees were dropping cones onto the pavement. Here around a dozen Spanish sparrow were accompanied by two or tree common linnet (Carduelis cannabina harterti). Later that afternoon two swifts were noted high above our hotel. These were considered to be pallid swifts.

Day Two - Monday 3rd December

Most of the rest of this holiday involved coastal birds. The good thing about Fuerteventura is that its wetland birds are so accessible, they don't seem to have the same fear of people that we are accustomed to with birds in Britain. The first opportunity to walk the coastline is always a holiday high spot. From urban Corralejo we wandered south to the sand dune area, just as the tide was falling. 

A couple of little egret fished at the water's edge as a party of sanderling ran around a sandy cove. Where the beach was punctuated by rocks up to to hundred wading birds were scattered. Common sandpiper and turnstone were actively feeding whilst whimbrel and grey plover were just loafing and very approachable. A decent party of ringed and little ringed plover moved grudgingly revealing a single dunlin as they did.

Day Three - Tuesday 4th December

Day three included another few hours exploring the coast, but it will be remembered largely for a mass migration of painted lady butterflies. Hundreds of thousands of these insects were everywhere moving southwards through urban areas and some directly out to sea. I watched a monarch butterfly arrive from its cross sea journey and disappear out of sight inland. Bird wise, yellow-legged gull were numerous and a small party of bar-tailed godwit were noted.

Day Four - Wednesday 5th December

The fourth day of the holiday didn't add too much the species list. A couple of common raven were active over our hotel and a brief stroll along the town beach produced a distant ringed sandwich tern. A spectated warbler in scrub on the edge of town was a bit more visible for a photograph, but only a bit.

Day Five - Thursday 6th December

With continuing cloudless skies today's walk took in the urban-rural interface close to the sand dunes nature park. At this urban margin is a significant amount of dereliction, unfinished holiday resorts that seem to blight this part of Correlejo. Nonetheless, this edge of town landscape was very interesting.

Here southern great grey shrike were frequent often perching on lamp posts and fencing. Up to three hoopoe were vocal and a single kestrel was montionless on a large rock. The barbary ground squirrel in this area were very numerous. Botanically it was good to see the endemic Canarian sand loving plant Androcymbium psammophilum this species is listed on Annex 2 of the European Habitats Directive. Also found was the Canarian crested grasshopper (Dericorys lobata). The only moth encountered was a crimson speckled (Utetheisa pulchella), this moth is a rare migrant to Britain.

Day Six - Friday 7th December

This was our final full day on the island, so I took the opportunity to re-visit the site that I had noted the stone curlew earlier in the week. On this occasion it was very quite, the spectacled warbler was still present but continued to be elusive. The surprise however was a grey heron a rather unusually species for the island. A short whistle stop visit to the beach added a single greenshank.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Trioza centranthi

This is the distinctive leaf roll gall of the bug Trioza centranthi. Noticed this on red valerian growing from the margins of a car park in Magor a couple of weeks ago. Returned last Saturday to take some photos. This bug has just a handful of records in Britain but is probably under-recorded.Checking various recording websites its seems this is the first record for the vice county of Monmouthshire.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

In the bin Herring Gull

A few years back I caught a fleeting glimpse of an adult herring gull swooping from lamp post to lamp post carrying just a metal ring. This was unusual as larger Larus are generally accompanied by a colour ring. The bird, in the car park of one of Newport's out of town retail parks, was obviously patrolling for discarded fast food. At the time I dismissed the chance of ever making contact with this bird again, regarding it as one of those frustrating one off encounters that was of insufficient quality to establish a ring number. As I know this retail park to be good for small numbers of loafing gulls, mainly black-headed, I took the opportunity, whilst in the area, to drop in again.

There were around 20 black-headed gulls, some standing motionless others sitting on the warming grey surface of the car park. A group of first year herring gulls were picking at a collection of car park litter, pulling at wrappers and calling loudly like a group of Friday night teenagers. Close by was a bin - why put litter in a bin when you can just throw it on the ground - with another small group of first year gulls. However, perched on top of the stainless steel rubbish receptacle was an adult herring gull carrying a metal ring. The bird made intermittent attempts to access food buried in the bin.  Opening my car door in an attempt get hold of my camera that was hidden away in the boot the bird took flight only to alight on the roof top of a distant building. Relocating a safe distance from the food laden litter bin I waited hoping for the return of the ring carrying bird. The bird did eventually return but disappointingly only chose to move between lamp posts, so once again I was unable to secure the number on the ring.I'll try again.

On to Riverfront Newport for the falling tide of the River Usk, the number of black -headed gulls are building yet the larger gulls remain surprsingly low in comparsion to previous years. Nonetheless, I could pick out an adult great black-backed gull along with the now regular yellow-legged gull. Scanning the rest of the tideline gulls it was pleasing to pick up a couple of Peter Rock's colour ringed birds from Bristol.


Sunday, 23 September 2018

I counted fifty

Early last Saturday I parked up in the mist of Mynydd Llanhilleth to walk around the interface between field and common land. Here the upland audio was dominated by a backdrop of whirling  wind turbines. Pausing at stile that signalled a footpath route across open farmland defined by margins of mature beech trees, I made way for a runner who passed the time of day and hinted at the imminent improvement in the weather conditions. 

Over the stile and onward through a field the remains of a farm building provided a resting point for a pied wagtail. A mixed flock of goldfinch, linnet and meadow pipit moved between ground feeding and fence post loafing. A number of skylark were overhead. Onward through the grassland surrounded in majestic beech a willow warbler called from the depths of one such tree.

Through a farm gate I emerged onto open common land where a distant kestrel dropped out of the sky before climbing to hover again. The dry stone walls in this area appeared in good condition. Intrigued by the distant wind turbines I set off across the open landscape of bracken and species acid grassland to join a newly created access road. This gave me the opportunity to view the valleys landscape westwards and doing so I was struck by the amount of wind turbines that now litter this area. Counting south to north a total of exactly fifty could be seen. Heading back I encounted more skylark, a single female wheatear and a small copse supported a chiffchaff in autumn sub song. 

Sunday, 9 September 2018

It's just a Hobby

Another late post from last weekend I'm afraid. Nonetheless, I wanted to check out progress of the alpine clubmoss that I found last year on a spoil tip in Canada Tips area of Blaenavon. With the on-going issue of illegal off road biking there is an ever present threat of the plant being damaged of even destroyed completely. After a bit of a walk I scrambled up a rather steep sided tip and was thankful to be able to relocate this interesting clubmoss sprawling amongst the heather. A family of walkers breezed by as I was on my hands and knees parting the heather - a penny for their thoughts!

From the top of the tip I had a panoramic view of the rest of this expansive area of coal and sandstone spoil and wondered why I seem to be the only naturalist willing to search this landscape for wildlife. I suppose I'm old school, willing to investigate the wider countryside to record nature rather than sitting in a hide on a nature reserve - wheres the sense of exploration in that!

Down the other side of the clubmoss tip I stumbled but kept my footing as the loose material rolled away underfoot. There was a well worn path with recent bike tyre tracks that led to a rather attractive pond formed at the base of a couple of similar sized tips. The large hoverfly Sericomyia silentis alighted and a good number of emerald damselfly were still on the wing. From the stark barren landscape of the tips I emerged onto that typical upland mosaic of marshy grassland and dwarf shrub heath habitat. One of the red brick shelters that can be found over looking Canada Tips caught my eye so off I marched. 

As if waiting for a bus I stood in the doorway of the building as a hobby flew low across the heather then climbing high against the late summer sky. A mountain biker peddled hard in the distance before picking up speed and disappearing behind a tip. The drone of a motorbike was an ever present but distant audio backdrop. On the track back a female migrant hawker briefly alighted and a wheatear moved from derelict concrete post to derelict concrete post flashing its white rump as it went.

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