Sunday, 31 May 2015

Dragons & Damsels!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 15th May 15

Weather: Cloudy and overcast early on, brightening over later.

Bird Total: 58
Plus: Bank Vole; Rabbit; Tadpoles.
Plus: Brimstone, Orange Tip, Peacock, Small White butterflies.
Plus: Alderfly; Bluebottle; Buff-tailed Bumble Bee; Cardinal Beetle; Crane Fly; Flesh Fly; Hoverfly; Mayfly; Midge; Pond Skater; Red-and-black Froghopper; Spotted Crane Fly.
Plus: Azure, Blue-tailed, Common Blue damselflies; Four-spotted Chaser, Hairy, Large Red dragonflies.
Plus: Bluebells, Early Marsh Orchid, Forget-Me-Knots; Southern Marsh Orchid.

It was forecast to be another nice day today, after yesterday's torrential rain and so I opted to return to Amwell. I had thought of visiting Rye Meads. It was an inspired decision as it turned out.

But, standing on the platform, waiting for the train, I could feel an icy wind blowing. And I had not thought to bring my fleece. I hoped it would warm up, otherwise it would be a short visit today.

Carol was again incorrect in her forecast for the day. Instead of light cloud and a warm day for most of the country, it was cloudy and overcast until just after lunch time, when finally, the sun poked through and it warmed up.

I was amused to see the same Grey Heron, perched on the same tree stump as before, as we sped by. There were also a few Great Crested Grebes to be seen on the lakes.

Azure damselfly
As I walked up the trail towards the Watchpoint, I kept an eye out again for insects. This area had proved fruitful earlier in the week. But it was so cold that I didn't see anything like as much as before.

I arrived at the Watchpoint to find around half-a-dozen people there, a few familiar faces among them. Looking out over the lake the first bird I could see was a Redshank, which was flying across in front of me. It was joined a second one. A Little Ringed Plover was on the edge of the island, picking its' way through the myriad of Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns. Other birds on show were a Little Egret; a few Grey Herons; a lone Shoveler; Reed and Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings, all flitting around the reed-beds; Swifts and Swallows were scything through the skies above; an Oystercatcher could be seen in the distance, opposite the Gladwin Hide and finally I could hear a Cuckoo calling somewhere.

Downlooker Snipe Fly?
But the bird of the day was also out there and it was a lone Dunlin, feeding in the same area as the LRP. It was in its' summer plumage looking fantastic. Unfortunately, it didn't venture in close enough for a photo, so I had to make do with viewing it through my Bins. A cracking bird!

The skies were still heavy with cloud and the breeze had picked up. So I made my way down to the Gladwin Hide. On the way down I practically bumped into a Whitethroat, which was singing quite close to me. The clump of Bluebells had all but withered away by now.

Only a lone Coot and a couple of Black-headed Gulls were out on the scrape. One of the Gulls was periodically collecting nesting material. There wasn't much out on the lake, apart from more Coot; Tufted Ducks; Canada Geese and a lone Little Egret, sitting on the far side of the lake. More Swifts were screaming past, overhead.

A few minutes later a Great Crested Grebe made a brief appearance in front, while a Jay flew past. I could hear a Green Woodpecker laughing somewhere behind the Hide. A Grey Heron flew in and landed to the left of the Hide, behind some shrubs, prompting the Little Egret to make a move.

The sun seemed to try and make an appearance, so I headed back down the trail. I decided to give the Woods a miss this time, as the cold wind was really starting to take effect. The Whitethroat sang to me as I walked past.

Looking out from the James Hide all I could see, at first, was a lone male Mallard on the pond. A few Reed Buntings were making full use of the full feeders. There was one other guy in the Hide when I arrived, surprisingly sitting on the left-hand side. He didn't stay long and headed off soon after I arrived.

A few minutes later another Little Egret flew past, from right to left; a Cetti's Warbler sounded off to my left and then a Bank Vole made an appearance.

Another guy came and went. Reed and Sedge Warblers sang out and flew around the reeds. A Wren was flying back and forth, bringing in nesting material. A Garden Warbler sang out and appeared out to the right, behind the feeders. A Grey Heron flew in, decided it wasn't worth the effort and flew straight back out.

Then I could see 3 Buzzards high in the sky, over Easneye Wood, one by one being mobbed by Crows.

The sun then appeared and I could see blue skies, prompting me to head off towards the Dragonfly Trail. I gave the White Hide a miss today.

Just outside, on the trail, I spotted a lovely Large Red damselfly, trying to take advantage of the newly arrived sunshine. Then, a metre away, I spotted another. Then a Red-headed Cardinal Beetle, quickly followed by a Common Blue damselfly and, finally, a Small White butterfly. A cracking 10 minutes or so!

I moved on, aware that quite a few dog-walkers; cyclists and joggers were giving me the eye. The sun started to feel warmer and I hoped it would stay around for a while longer.

There were 3 or 4 dodgy-looking geezers by the twin lagoons, so I opted not to pay a visit and walked straight to the Trail. Just before I got to the boardwalk I spotted my first dragon of the day - a male Hairy. Eventually I spotted at least 3 or 4 of them throughout the day but none of them settled for a photo. In fact, I spent an hour or two here trying to photograph them, but they just seemed to disappear in mid-air all the time and I kept losing sight of them.

I began seeing lots of blue Damsels, Azure; Blue-tailed and Common, in various forms. A few butterflies were also present, Orange Tip and Peacock being predominant, but there was at least one Brimstone. Tadpoles were present in several of the ponds. There were also lots of insects, including both Crane Fly species; Alderflies; Mayflies and a Red and Black Froghopper.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker called out. Then I looked up as a Hobby flew over. Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats were singing. A Kingfisher flashed by and flew out over the Lake. Early Marsh and Southern Marsh Orchids were now blooming. More Large Red damsels appeared.

Then I spotted a Four-spotted Chaser flash by, the first of the season. One of the volunteer Wardens, Darren, was with me and we watched it land and pose nicely for us. It looked newly emerged, its' wings glistening and shining in the sun. Magical!

Then my feet and back reminded me to take a break, while my stomach reminded me that it was time for lunch.

I took one more look around the area before heading back to the James Hide. From here I heard, then spotted, a lovely Cetti's Warbler, poking around the undergrowth to my right. I managed a few modest shots of it. A Water Rail screeched out somewhere. Then a Marsh Tit made a brief appearance on the feeders before flying off to consume its' catch.

There being no further action here and with the sun starting to drop down behind the trees and the Hide, I decided to head back to the Watchpoint. Where a pair of Redshank again ventured in close, just like the other evening. A Little Egret also came in close. The Dunlin was still present, but its' bill was tucked in and it looked like it was having a siesta.

Still feeling a little chilled I decided to call it a day and headed home.

'Time is for dragonflies and angels. The former live too little and the latter live too long.'
James Thurber

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Stitched up by a Ukipper!

Fishers Green, Cheshunt - 13th May, 15

Weather: Bright and sunny all day, with slight cloud. Very hot.

Bird Total: 44
Plus: Fox; Red-eared Slider.
Plus: Azure, Blue-tailed, Common Blue damselflies; Hairy dragonfly.
Plus: Comma, Holly Blue, Large White, Orange Tip, Peacock, Small White butterflies.
Plus: 16-Spot Ladybird; Buff-tailed Bumble Bee; Cardinal Beetle; Common Crane Fly; Flesh Fly; Hoverflies; Long-jawed Orb Spider; Mayfly; Midge; Nursery Web Spider.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, I hadn't visited the Fishers Green area for nearly 2 months. So it was well overdue for a trip.

The weather was forecast to be nice and warm, with some cloud. Carol got it right today. I knew that I would be out for most of the day, so left home a little later than usual.

The only thing to see, of note, on the way down was a Grey Heron, wings outstretched, atop a tree stump, having a sun bath. On the walk down the canal to the Teal Hide I could see that the Flora down here had exploded as well. It would be difficult to spot any birds amongst this stuff.

I sat down at the western end of Friday Lake and looked out. Not much about. A pair of Mute Swans to my right; a few Coot milling around and a couple of Mallards, who swam up to me, hoping for a hand-out. Cetti's Warbler and Wren were calling out. When I dropped my Bins I found the Swans had swam up to me as well. Unfortunately, for them, they were sorely disappointed.

I walked on a little ways and soon found the first damselflies, mostly Common Blues and mostly looking like they were recent arrivals. In fact, this little area was quite abundant with them. A little further on, just outside the Hide, I found loads of Common Crane Flies, all flying away as I approached. Hoverflies and Nursery Web Spiders were also acting very nervous around me. It's not me they need to watch out for!

I sat down in the Teal Hide and looked out. There was one other guy in there already, with a little toddler. Nothing much about outside, on the first sweep, except for 3 Grey Herons. About five minutes later, a Fox ambled past, from left to right, with what looked like a Gosling in its' jaws. I managed to fire off a few shots, before it heard me and ran off.

I was left on my own for a few minutes, when another guy came in briefly, peered out before telling me that he would 'leave me in peace'. Why do people always say that to me? The first butterflies of the day appeared, Small White; Peacock; Holly Blue and Orange Tip.

Plus there was plenty of pollen flying around, which had already started me off. Time to pop a pill. The Hide itself was strewn with litter, looking like it needed a clean-up. Why can't people take their rubbish with them? There's no such thing as the 'Rubbish Fairy'!

Then another guy came in, a fellow birder. We chatted for a few minutes and then he proceeded to let me know, in no uncertain terms, what was the matter with the Country these days. I suspected a UKIP supporter. After about 10 minutes I decided to head off, but he followed me out the door and then on the trail through the lakes.

About half-way around, I stopped and sat down to try and photograph a pair of Great Crested Grebes that I suspected had a nest nearby, as they hadn't swum off when we approached. Your man cheerfully waved me farewell and carried on. He hadn't unduly bothered me, but he was quite loud and was scaring off everything.

We had seen a few things along the trail, but I'm not sure if I can remember them all. In the sky we saw Common Tern and Hobby. We heard a Cuckoo. There were plenty of damselflies about. There were quite a few families about, birdy-wise. Mallards; Geese etc.

I managed to get a few shots of the Grebes and then I spotted a male Hairy dragonfly fly by. It was a good idea to pause here! A few minutes later two of them flew by. More Holly Blues and Peacocks were around.

I carried on up the trail, hearing Cetti's and Chiffchaffs. I then spotted the first Red-headed Cardinal Beetle. Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling out somewhere close. The pollen was really starting to fall now, looking like a snow-storm in some places. At least the midge swarms had thinned out, but I didn't know what was worse!

Nothing much else to shout about until I entered the trail upto the Bittern Hide. Not long into it, I found a pair of Great Crested Grebes on a nest, on the relief channel. It was too good a photogenic scene to ignore and, with the sun behind me and sheltering in the shadow of a tree, I settled down to try and do justice to them. I hung around the area for 20 minutes or so, eventually being rewarded with a show of eggs.

While I was photographing the Grebes, Common Terns flew over, calling out to each other. A Green Woodpecker sounded off somewhere, as did a Peacock, obviously a captive one. Mayflies were rising up and flying past every few minutes.

Satisfied with the shots, I headed off to the Bittern Hide. There was one other guy in there already, with a woman arriving soon after me. There were the usual crowd out on the lake, including loads of very noisy Black-headed Gulls. On the pond in front we witnessed a pair of Great Crested Grebes fishing in the channels. Then I spotted a Red-eared Slider towards the back of one of the channels, sunning itself. There were plenty of Warblers flying around the reeds, mainly Reedies, but with a few Sedgies as well. The feeders were strangely quiet. I guess there were plenty of insects on offer at this time of year. Hopefully Midges, I thought.

There was plenty of birdsong on the trails today, always nice to hear. Lots of Warblers, including Blackcap and Garden. But just along the trail towards the Weir and the Grebe Hide, I started to hear several Nightingales. I spotted at least one, but they were all quite hidden in the trees.

A Capsid Bug
A little further on, looking over the relief channel, towards the Farm, I noticed that the little lagoon had almost dried up. Which was why there were no birds on it. But, as I looked, an Egyptian Goose flew past.

Nothing else to see until I arrived at the Grebe Hide. There wasn't very much to see on the lagoon here, either. A few Lesser-black Backed Gulls; a few Coot and Geese; at least 20+ Great Crested Grebes, 2 pairs of which were sitting on nests. But the star bird here was a lovely Brent Goose, sat on a log to my right, about 30 metres away. It hung around for a few minutes, posing, before swimming off. Sometimes you just get lucky.

I headed back, after lunch, looking for any interesting insects. Disappointingly few around here. A few more butterflies, no damsels and only Hoverflies. A sad contrast after recent years. The birdsong continued to entertain me. The Nightingales had stopped, to be replaced with Garden Warblers.

When I arrived at the Weir I found an Egyptian Goose, sat quite close in. It didn't seem to mind my presence, so it must have been a male. Just before I exited this part of the trail I spotted a posing Holly Blue and then spotted a 16-spot Ladybird.

I soon found myself back in the Bittern Hide but there wasn't too much to shout about. I gave it 30 minutes before walking back to look at the nesting Grebes again. They were now in shadow as the sun was going down, so I called it a day and headed home.

'Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds
sang there except those that sang best.' Henry Van Dyke

Friday, 22 May 2015

Election News Special!

Amwell Nature Reserve - 11th May 15

Weather: Sunny early on, clouding over later. Quite warm.

Bird Total: 55
Plus: Bank Vole; Grass Snake; Rabbit; Tadpoles.
Plus: Comma, Holly Blue, Orange Tip, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White butterflies.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Alderfly; Bee-fly; Bluebottle; Buff-tailed Bumble Bee; Cardinal Beetle; Crane Fly; Cross Spider; Dark Bush Cricket; Flesh Fly; Hoverfly; Mayfly; Midge; Nursery Web Spider; Pond Skater; Slug; Spotted Crane Fly.
Plus: Azure, Common Blue damselflies; Hairy, Large Red dragonflies.
Plus: Bluebells, Early Marsh Orchid, Forget-Me-Knots.

It had been over 3 weeks since I visited the Lee Valley, due to the Spanish trip and poor weather, so I finally managed to make it out today. And Thank God, as I had been trapped indoors, having to watch the bloody general election circus. It was either that or do the housework.

The first thing I noticed, on walking along the trail to the Reserve, was the explosion of flora around the area. But then I noticed that, in turn, it had brought out a profusion of insect life. All along the trail I could see another explosion, of invertebra.

But the first thing I saw was a lone, juvenile Egyptian Goose, swimming along the canal. It even swam up to me, expecting a hand-out I guess. But I only had white bread. And that was for me!

The first insect I spotted was a lovely Red-headed Cardinal Beetle, crawling through the green nettles. I managed a quick shot before it spread its' wings and flew off, leaving me behind. Probably a female, I thought.

Then I spotted my first Mayfly of the season, taking off and flying over the canal. It had better watch out, there were hungry birds about. A Common Tern was flying up and down the canal, every now and then hovering, then diving down.

More insects appeared, a Sawfly species, which I was unable to ID; a Spotted Crane Fly and then a 7-spot Ladybird. Then lots of Common Crane Flies flew past me; a small black caterpillar appeared, looking probably like it was a Peacock butterfly species; more Cardinal Beetles; loads of Nursery Web Spiders and I could also hear Cetti's Warbler and Reed Warbler singing out. And I hadn't even arrived at the Watchpoint yet!

From the Watchpoint itself I could see a couple of Hobbys in the sky, one of which was slightly higher and further back than a Buzzard, which itself was being mobbed by a Raven. There were Swifts up there flying around, screaming, as they do. Out on the lake, apart from the usual, close in around the reedbeds, there were Reed Warbler; Sedge Warbler and Reed Buntings, all flying around, singing their heads off.

The lake held a few Lapwing; a couple of Little Egrets flying around; Great Crested Grebes were swimming close in; at least a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls; a fair few Common Terns and a lone Shoveler.

On the butterfly side, I spotted Small White; Peacock; Holly Blue and Orange Tip all flying around the area. Sadly, not many other insects were close in.

I took a walk down to the Gladwin Hide to see how the new scrape was shaping up. On the way I could hear and see several Whitethroats and a couple of Sedge Warblers. Just before I reached the Hide I spotted a clump of sorry looking Bluebells, around the same place as I saw them last year. I may have left it too late to see any other Bluebells this year. The same could be said for the St. Mark's Flies.

I opened up the shutters in the Hide and sat down. Sadly, again only Canada Geese and Coot were close in. A lone Lapwing did fly in and try to settle but a couple of Black-headed Gulls chased it off. Then a cock Pheasant strode regally past the Hide, from right to left. Several Greylag Geese were swimming around, one of which flew in and landed close to the hide. About half-a-dozen others then started swimming over to it and chased it off, amid a flurry of honking and wing-flapping.

After about 10 minutes I could see several Grey Herons, albeit in the distance, while a Great Crested Grebe swam past, diving every now and then. A Green Woodpecker sounded off somewhere in the distance, across the lake. Then an Oystercatcher peeped its' way past, high in the sky, from left to right, returning to its' nesting area.

I headed off soon after and decided to head through the Woodland. Carol had said that the weather today would be cloud in the morning, brightening up in the afternoon. Which is why I had decided to follow my usual route and end up in the newly opened Dragonfly Trail when it warmed up. Sadly wrong again, Carol. It was quite sunny during the morning and then clouded over during the afternoon.

There wasn't much to see in the Woodland, as it was very overgrown since I was last here. The only things I spotted were a lone Comma butterfly and then, the first of the season, a damselfly! It was a male Common Blue, its' colour slightly faded due to the low temperature. The only other thing of note I spotted were a few Bee-flies.

After a cursory look over the Bittern Pool, I was sat sitting in the James Hide, on my own. Not long after I arrived a pair of Marsh Tits could be heard and then seen. They both flew in to the feeders, with one of them a little shyer than the other, flying off to consume the captured seeds. Strangely, no other bird was seen on the feeders for over 15 minutes. Then both Marshies flew off, never to be seen again.

Two Little Egrets flew past, left to right, seemingly in a hurry. A few Reed Buntings were flying around the reeds, as they do. I had also noticed that tons of pollen was flying around, make me sneeze. I need another packet of anti-histamine, methinks!

Then a Bank Vole made an appearance, scurrying around at break-neck speed, as usual. I could hear, then see a Garden Warbler at the back, behind the feeders. Unfortunately it was too quick for a shot. There were the usual Coot on the pond, together with a pair of Mallards and a pair of Gadwall. They were soon joined by a pair of Tufted Ducks. All of them swimming around, feeding. Or preening.

With nothing much else about I headed for the White Hide, where I had lunch. Outside, on the lake, there was nothing new to report, other than a lone Common Sandpiper, on the island in front of the Hide. I had taken a quick look on the way to the White Hide and back, for the Water Vole but had no luck.

Just as I was heading up to the Dragonfly Trail I bumped into Jenny, in her car. She told me what was and had been happening here in recent days. She was on her way to the Trail and would meet me there soon. But first I wanted to check the twin lagoons for any damsels. No luck and the Bullfinches had gone too.

So five minutes later I met up with Jenny again and she showed me the area where the Willow Emerald damsels had laid their eggs. We had a quick look out over the ponds and, as we chatted, a Grass Snake could be seen swimming around.

I carried on walking around the area after she left and spotted a Hairy Dragonfly out over one of the other ponds. The earliest of the dragons, it was a female, who I noticed continually avoided me. Ho-hum. Also seen was a lovely male Large Red damselfly. A Coot family had set up a nest close to the walkway and were proudly displaying their two youngsters. Ahh, only their mother could love them.

I stayed in the area for a couple of hours, seeing a few more Common Blues, some early Azures were about too. Then a lone Small Tortoiseshell butterfly appeared, but didn't settle long enough for a photo. I could see lots of Tadpoles swimming around the ponds. Earlier on, walking around by the adjacent river, I could see a sea of Forget-Me-Knots, looking absolutely glorious, almost as good as a field of Bluebells. The Orchid garden had started to produce the first flowers, Early Marsh and Southern Marsh.

I was just about to leave when my birdy pal, Ron, turned up, a big grin on his face. We had a quick chat before he headed off around the Trail. I headed back to the James Hide for a well deserved sit down. On the way I could hear a lovely Song Thrush.

I found the James Hide empty again and made myself comfortable. Outside were the same waterfowl. To my left a Cetti's Warbler sang out every now and then, while a little Wren darted back and forth. The Feeders had now started to attract Tits and Finches, with the odd Dunnock appearing. A couple of male Reed Buntings also flew in.

Then Ron appeared, still with a smile on his face. There wasn't much happening out on the pond. We irritated the Mallards by making quacking sounds. One of them flew off. The sun was getting quite low by now, but it was giving off some of the best light of the day.

Then a Grey Heron flew in and landed, going immediately into stalk and hunt mode. A couple of women then arrived and sat down and we were all entertained by the Heron catching and swallowing down what looked like a large Tench. Every now and then we heard the familiar screech of a Water Rail, but it failed to show itself. A Blackcap sang out behind the Feeders, showing itself briefly.

With nothing else about and with the time getting on, we made our way back to the Watchpoint. I stood here for about 30 minutes, watching a Little Ringed Plover and 4 Redshank go about their business. A couple of them came in fairly close to us. Then one of the other guys pointed out a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, I can't remember which Winter it was.

It was great to be out and about around the Lee Valley again, in the sunshine. I again forgot to put on my sunscreen and was greeted by another red face in the mirror when I got back.

Thank God the General Election is over!

'In democracy, it's your vote that counts. In feudalism, it's your Count that votes!'

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Spain - Coto Donana/Extremadura: 21st-29th April, 2015 - Part Two


The Intrepid Explorers!
After checking out of our hotel and sadly saying goodbye to Amy, we set off on the long trip north, towards Madrid and Extremadura. I had stupidly mislaid my room key and only found it when I unpacked my bag in Extremadura. How the hell had it jumped in there?

Earlier, before we left, we were treated to a sight of several of the locals on horseback, in all their finery. Was there to be a rodeo? Or was this Naturetrek trying to keep the costs down by having us travel by equine express?

The journey north wasn't too bad as it turned out, as it rained for most of the day. If it was going to rain on a birding holiday, better to do it when we were travelling. We stopped several times, mainly for a coffee break and to stretch our legs.

Lunch was at a very scenic spot overlooking an impressive hydro dam. Dave told us it was the 'Embalse de Alange'. I'd never heard of it but I gave him my best suitably impressed look. Before, during and after lunch we kept an eye out and spotted Alpine Swift; Red-rumped Swallow; Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting, all specialists of the area. Happily the Rain God had taken pity on us, letting the sun shine down during our break.

We continued our journey north, accompanied by further rain showers. The Rain God wasn't that generous. We finally found ourselves around Trujillo, stopping and exploring the surrounding steppe. Here we spotted our first Great Bustards, with accompanying Calandra and Crested Larks. The sunshine tried to make an appearance but was beaten back by more dark rain clouds. It was a case of drive, stop, get out, spot the bird, avoid the rain and get back in to the mini-buses.

But then we spotted our first Little Bustard, about 50 metres away, head-tilting, looking as if it was in full display mode. I was also delighted to see several Stone Curlew nearby.

Eventually we turned up at our hotel, a fabulous looking place, out in the open countryside. A beautiful former stately home, which was reserved just for our group. Our Hosts, Juan Pedro and Belen, met us and showed us to our lovely rooms.

Our Hotel in Extremadura
Outside, around the hotel grounds, we spotted Firecrest; Hoopoe and lots of singing Nightingales. We were then served a wonderful dinner, including sampling the local wine and afterwards we were entertained with musical accompaniment by their children. Then Dave came back in with a Marbled Newt in his hand! Classic!

Usual time for brekkers. That was after I had managed to work out the shower. Unfortunately, most of the water ended up on the bathroom floor until I realised that the 'C' on the tap mean 'Hot' and not 'Cold'. Before we set off I took a quick look around the grounds where I found the newt, under a rock and then a couple of Holly Blue; a male Orange Tip and a pair of Speckled Wood butterflies appeared in the morning sun.

Brown Argus
But, a little later, the sun was soon eclipsed by a few light rain showers. More dark clouds were starting to accumulate. It was also noticeably colder than further south. I had to dig out the wet weather gear.

Our first stop was the village of Santa Marta de Magasca, where we found a wet-looking Lesser Kestrel colony perched up on the local Bullring roof. They looked a little fed up as it was still raining. I knew how they felt. I was beginning to wish we were back in the dry warmth of Coto Donana.

It's a tough job, this bird-watching lark. But someone has do it!
We then found ourselves on the open grasslands where we spotted around another 20-odd Great Bustards. But it was a bit of a wash out as it continued to pour with rain for most of the morning. There were so many Corn Buntings and Crested Larks around that we gave up looking at them. Now rare in our country, I guess that was because they were all over here.

After yet another coffee stop we drove to the Tamuja Valley, where finally the sun came out. Here we had good views of Spanish Sparrow, along with Wagtails, Grey and White. Moving on we could see several pairs of European Roller on the power lines, with nest-boxes that had been kindly put in place for them. 

After a fairly quick lunch in the hotel gardens the group split up, with some being dropped off to explore Trujillo, where the scourge of the Incas, Francisco Pizarro was born, while the rest of us moved on to the Belen Plain, where we saw Quail; more Rollers; Little Owl; more Little Bustard and a Beech Marten, which was sheltering in a barn. Further down the track we came across raptor city again, including several Cinereous Vultures. Huge birds, dwarfing even the Black Kites. It rained again towards the end but then brightened up, just as we arrived home.

Back at the hotel in the evening we experienced another wonderful dinner with more musical accompaniment. Afterwards, I continued to bore all the others with some of my photographs.

The next day was a top day! I thought it might be a little boring as we were to concentrate on raptors. But in the event, we saw a lot more than just raptors. It began even before we left the hotel. Whilst loading up the buses, Dave spotted a Great-spotted Cuckoo, out over the adjacent fields along with some more Iberian Magpies; Hoopoes and Shrikes that were about.

Corn Bunting anyone?
We then drove out to the Monfrague National Park. On the way we spotted lots of Corn Buntings (again!); Red-rumped Swallow and Crag Martin; Serin and Stonechat. I continued to delight in the amount of wild flower fields around here. I can't remember when I last saw a wild flower field in the UK.

Today was partly cloudy, partly sunny with a few rain showers. But, thankfully, it only rained towards the end of the day. We soon found ourselves at a place called Pennafalcon, where we could see what could only be described as 'Raptor Mountain'. Where we found plenty of Griffon Vultures; Egyptian Vultures; Black Vultures and a few Black Storks, all gliding the thermals around the cliffs. It was almost mesmeric watching them all.

I wanted to concentrate on birds that were closer up and so I took a walk along the tow-path, seeing Blue-Rock Thrush; Rock Bunting and Black Redstart. Then I was delighted to spot some Red-rumped Swallows and Crag Martins taking lots of mud from a roadside puddle. They were only a few yards away and didn't seem to mind me getting a little closer to photograph them.

We drove a little further on, where we briefly stopped to see a pair of Black-eared Wheatears. The hoped-for Black Wheatear didn't make an appearance unfortunately. Lunch was at a place called Rio Tietar. Did I mention that wine and beer was also laid on for us? Only to help wash down the delicious food, of course.

Our afternoon destination were the cliffs on Portilla del Tietar. We immediately spotted a stunning Spanish Imperial Eagle, which was calling out high above us. It looked like a flying barn door. We continued to walk down the road and were delighted to spot a Subalpine Warbler, collecting insects for its' young. It continued to fly back and forth, allowing some brilliant, close-up views.

We ended up at Montfrague Castle, which gave us some wonderful views of the valley laid out around us. Unfortunately, this was where it started to pour down with rain and I had inadvertently left my rain jacket in the bus. I had also added more butterflies and insects to the list today and I knew I would be pouring over the books when I arrived home.

Back at the Hotel we again enjoyed another wonderful meal, cooked by Belen herself. The wine flowed. I could get used to this.

The next day was much better, weather-wise. Today we decided to try and spot the birds that had eluded us on previous days, so we headed to the steppes around Trujillo. Here we found more Crested Larks and Corn Buntings.

'There's a Corn Bunting in the scope for anyone that hasn't seen one!' cried Dave.

But we also spotted some Thekla Larks, sat atop the bushes, posing for us. Then someone shouted out that a flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse were flying past. Then we spotted the other target species, Black-bellied Sandgrouse flying in, albeit a bit distant. There were more Great and Little Bustard around the area, amongst lots of grazing cattle, including a single, lone, displaying Great Bustard.

It had started to turn into a very hot day, but with a merciful light breeze. Time to dump the wet weather gear. We stopped for yet another coffee break before heading north to the highest point of the area, where we watched quite a few Montague's Harriers sky-dancing.

Cue Dave again: 'What a lovely pair of Monty's!'

While everyone watched the raptors I again concentrated on insects, seeing Iberian Marbled White and Swallowtail, as well as a Red-striped Oil Beetle. There was another Marbled Newt here, but it was a dead one, so it didn't really count.

After another delicious ploughman's lunch (I loved the bread over here) we drove to the Sierra Guadeloupe, where we disembarked and took a slow walk down the road. I soon found myself on my own and concentrated on the ground, seeing plenty of Iberian Wall Lizards, all scuttling away when I approached. I was also delighted to spot a Queen of Spain Fritillary.

When I met up with the others I found that I had missed seeing a few Golden Eagles; Hawfinch; Cirl Bunting and Wryneck. Doh! But a little later on we had a good view of a Hawfinch and I could hear the call of a Cirl Bunting. I had already seen Golden Eagle and Wryneck before, so it wasn't too much of a problem. Just before we left this particular area we came across some Wild Peony and then one of the specialities of the area, a pair of Spanish Festoon butterflies. Beautiful!

It was the last night of our trip and we celebrated with another fantastic meal and, of course, some more wine.

Our flight home wasn't until late afternoon and so, after breakfast, we took a short walk down the road from the hotel, seeing pretty much the same thing as before. We packed up our gear and loaded it aboard the buses for the journey back to Madrid Airport. I even managed to remember to leave my hotel door key behind!

We made good time to Madrid, making a few more inevitable coffee stops along the way. Then it was a case of settling in to the usual travel routine. I made my farewells to everyone and managed to get home, relatively trouble-free around 11pm.

What a fantastic trip!

'To travel is to live.' Hans Christian Andersen

'There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror.' Orson Welles

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.