Monday, 5 August 2013

Black Terns and Barred Warblers

Yesterday morning I ventured out to the local woods but after one hour gave up. It was pretty dead, mainly Robins, Chaffinches and Great Tits. Even the Wood Warblers seem to have cleared off. The best I had was a single raggedy looking Crested Tit and a family of Goldcrests.
In the evening I headed up towards the Lielupe River area, it was still pretty hot at 5pm but at least there was a little more action up that way. First off I had a couple of Common Redstarts at the edge of a garden just before the whole area opens out into meadow. I hung around for a better view and had a single Pied Flycatcher and a Spotted Fly in the same tree. After that I walked along a narrow path that looked good for Wryneck but all I could dig out was a White Wagtail (Latvia's national bird though).

Juvenile White Wagtail, Lielupe, Jurmala, Latvia - 4th August 2013
After that I did a few circuits of the paths around the reserve. The shrikes are still present of course, although they had moved to another area presumably put off by all the weekend visitors. In fact I thought it might be better to steer away from people myself so I headed out along the meadow trail where I had seen the Whinchats a few days ago. I passed by a series of orchards and allotments and was interested to see a lot of birds fly catching, it seemed that there were a lot of flying ants and everything from Gulls, Starlings, Shrikes, Crows and Terns were having a go. Quite fun to watch the shrikes dashing after flying insects. At one stage a Garden Warbler jumped out and joined in the melee.
As I walked I came across a small pool that was full of several very fat looking frogs. I've no idea what species they are but they're the second biggest frogs I've ever seen (the biggest being bull frogs in Namibia a few years ago).

Amphibian species of some kind - a big one at that!

Further along the meadow trail the Whinchats were still present as were several Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings. I reached the end of the trail just by the edge of the river and noticed that a group of about ten small Terns had joined the Gulls hawking insects. I'm not too good on telling marsh terns apart outside of the breeding season but I'm certain these were a mix of adult and juvenile Black Terns. All three occur in Latvia although Whiskered is the least common. They were a bugger to photograph though so this record shot is the best of my efforts.

Black Tern - Lielupe River, Jurmala, Latvia - 4th August 2013
That's the first time that I've seen marsh terns in this area, it really does keep turning up the surprises this place.
It was nearly seven o'clock by now and time for dinner, I began my walk back but stopped briefly to take a photo of this Hooded Crow as it perched on a sorry looking goalpost. I have to say after over six months in the UK, it was nice to see a Hooded Crow again, obviously they're all over Ireland and you get used to them, but I think they're a handsome bird. In fact, I might even miss them a bit!

Hooded Crow - Lielupe River, Jurmala, Latvia - 4th August 2013
This morning, Polina and her Mum headed into Riga for some shopping so I took off reasonably early with a packed lunch back to the same area. The weather was at first a little cooler and the sun not so harsh. The shrikes had moved back to their preferred area (Monday - therefore far fewer visitors). The male as ever continues to keep a watchful eye over his off-spring and got very upset when a local cat ventured into his patch.

Male Red-backed Shrike scolds a local cat.
A Garden Warbler was chack-chacking again in the same area, I took a close look through the bins and could see two birds and then realised that I had made a novices mistake by identifying them a few days ago as Garden Warblers, they were in fact Barred Warblers. Not bad, very impressive, solid looking birds. Both juveniles, but you could make out the light barring on the under-tail coverts, the pale wing bars and size wise they were that bit bigger than Garden Warblers. Another challenge to shoot though, so record shots again.

Juvenile Barred Warbler - Lielupe River, Jurmala, Latvia - 5th August 2013
They kept coming back to this dried out Giant Hogweed plant, I'm not sure what they were getting from it, seeds or insects but it was a popular spot for several species of warbler (I had Reed/Marsh, Great Reed and Common Whitethroat in there too).
While I watched them a small Acro decided I was too close and popped up for a better look, scolding me as it did so. At first I thought Reed Warbler because it was quite buffy, but on closer inspection of the shots I took, its head-shape and bill size don't seem right for Reed. The bill looks too stubby, the head rounder and the overall facial expression slightly softer and 'kinder' if you know what I mean. I couldn't really see enough detail on the tertials or the length of the primary projection to really tell. I will say though, that in June and July, Marsh Warblers are by far the commonest Acro in this area so I rather fancy this is a juvenile Marsh. It also gave a softer 'tick' call (like a Lesser 'throat) than I've heard from Reed. Answers on a postcard!

Juvenile Marsh Warbler - I think??
By that stage it was time for 'bistro' (Russian word for 'quick'). I found a shady spot and tucked into my lunch. As I ate I watched a couple of Willow Warblers (including one singing somewhere out of sight), two Chiffchaffs, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, several Great Tits and this Pied Flycatcher (looks a little too worn to be a juvenile I think).

Pied Flycatcher - Lielupe River, Jurmala, Latvia - 5th August 2013
From then on the day started to heat up, the light was that little bit harsher also. I continued to walk the area hoping for better shots of both the Barred Warblers and of course the Shrikes. Absolutely no joy with the Barred but one of the juvenile Shrikes obliged.

Juvenile Red-backed Shrike - Lielupe River, Jurmala, Latvia - 5th August 2013
While I was attempting some distant shots of a Great White Egret, this juvenile Great Reed Warbler showed briefly. I had the 1.4 extender on and no time to mount everything onto a tripod so what could have been a lovely shot is just a little blurred. Maybe without the extender it would have been different, handholding at 700mm seldom works!

Great Reed Warbler - Lielupe River, Jurmala, Latvia - 5th August 2013
All the same though, I'm very fond of Great Reed Warblers, big, solid and confident. I love Acros but it's hard to get good clear views of them, Great Reeds are different though. Maybe because of their size they tend to be more brazen and out in the open! This one I reckon is a juvenile because of the fresh, warm looking plumage.
With that I called it a day. Like I say, this place keeps turning up surprises, like Black Tern and Barred Warbler. Who knows what else is lurking!

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