Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Review of the year - part three

# Three - A long weekend in Morocco

Nick Watmough had organised an excellent few days in Morocco targetting Atlas Flycatcher, Levalliant's Green Woodpecker, Seebohm's Wheatear, Tristram's Warbler, Red-knobbed Coot and Dupont's Lark.
We flew into Fez on a Thursday afternoon and between then and Sunday morning we covered 1100  kilometers. While we didn't see Levalliant's Green Woodpecker or Dupont's Lark, we saw all the others plus Egyptian Nightjar, Spotted Sandgrouse, Lanner and Pharoah Eagle Owl.
I had never desert birded before, the light first thing and in the evening was wonderful for photos, here were the highlights for me:

Rufous Bush Chat - near Errachidia, Morocco, May 2013

White-crowned Black Wheatear, Rissani, Morocco - 25th May 2013

Seebohm's Wheatear
Egyptian Nightjar, near Rissani, Morocco - 24th May 2013

Moussiers's Redstart, Tizi-n-Tairhemt pass, Morocco - 24th May 2013
# Two - spring in Norfolk

Autumn had been the time of year for birding in Ireland. Spring can be good and occasional rares do turn up, but its mostly predictable. Like anyone else, I look forward to the first Swallow and hearing the first Chiffer or Willow Warbler. Anything scarcer than that is a bonus. So I hadn't high expectations coming into my first spring in Norfolk which probably made it all the more exciting. To be able to see species such as Nightjar, Cuckoo, Stone Curlew, Yellow Wagtail, Turtle Dove, Nightingale, Wood Warbler, Common Redstart, Garden Warbler and Hobby within a short commute of either home or work was fantastic. I don't want to give the impression that these species are abundant in Norfolk and going by the BTO Atlas and Birds of Norfolk, its clear that some of them like Common Redstart, Nightingale and Turtle Dove have seen very significant declines in recent years. Some of the others are doing quite well though such as Nightjar, Stone Curlew and Garden Warbler. I only had to take a short stroll up to the UEA campus one evening in May to see Garden Warbler, three Cuckoos and hear a singing G'ropper. At Strumpshaw Fen I had several more Cuckoos as well as Hobby and at Whitlingham CP, only ten or fifteen minutes from home, I had Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and of course Nightingale. Ireland is on the edge of the range for some of these species, those that do breed seem to do so in lower numbers and are more localised (e.g. Garden Warblers around the county Fermanagh lakes, Yellow Wagtails in Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow and Wood Warbler and Redstart at Glendalough, Co. Wicklow - usually only a single pair or in some years not at all).

Garden Warbler, Whitlingham CP, Norfolk

Singing Reed Warbler, Whitlingham CP, Norfolk
# One - Red-flanked Bluetail at Horsey Gap

Well if you do follow my blog, this will be no surprise. No matter what else I saw in 2013, this one was always going to be very hard to beat. Finding a Red-flanked Bluetail in my first spring living in Norfolk will live in my memory for years to come. A good way to announce my arrival on the scene you could say.
I went out that morning hoping for a Common Redstart or Ring Ouzel. I would have been quite happy with either, the last thing I expected was a Red-flanked Bluetail. When I first set eyes on the bird feeding within a small stand of sallows, I thought female Common Redstart. But as I stood staring at its orangey flanks through my bins, I could feel my jaw drop. When it turned and presented its cobalt blue tail to me, my hands started to tremble and my heart thumped. For twenty minutes or so it was just me and the bird, I sat still on the bank as it fed in the short trees, sometimes within ten feet of me. Its not the rarity it once was in Norfolk since the first bird turned up in Yarmouth cemetery in October 1994. But its still a birders bird I believe and who wouldn't want to find one. After such a dispiriting autumn the previous year in Cork, where I thrashed the headlands from late August to early November with nothing better to show than a scruffy Reed Warbler, this I felt was payback.
To round the whole thing off, my wife Polina organised for Irish bird artist Robert Vaughan to do a painting of two of the best photographs I took that day. Its now framed and hanging proudly in the living room at home.

Red-flanked Bluetail, Horsey Gap, Norfolk - 14th April 2013
 And of course the fantastic artwork by Robert Vaughan.

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