Monday, 20 April 2015

Earlier Start and a little Surprise.

On Saturday April 11th I headed back to Al Hayer for a look to see what has been happening since I was last there.  Thankfully the flooding had abated somewhat so I was able to get in to the fields a bit more, but that said the crop was pretty high and for a large part of the lower field it ran right up to the flood waters so I struggled wading through the thick foliage.  Bloody exhausting work if truth be known lol.  Anyway it was a nice day and as always I enjoyed it.

laughing dove (Stigmatopelia senegalensis)
It was an early start again arriving around 6:15 and an early morning sighting was this very handsome Laughing Dove.  Now these are by no means rare around here with literally hundreds of them all over the place but I just thought this guy was particularly nice looking with his fluffed up breast.

common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Doing its usual skip across the lake was the only Moorhen I caught sight of for the day, it was moving pretty fast when I took the photo.  There were at least a dozen about in the lake but they could really only be heard as they had spotted me long before I did them.

White-cheeked Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucogenys)
The White Cheeked Bulbul were out in force again as ever, though they are all a little preoccupied at the moment as many have young to feed.

streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar)
and as always the Streaked Weavers were all over the bushes and reeds.  this is Mr.

streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar)
And this pretty thing is Mrs.

graceful prinia (Prinia gracilis)
The Graceful Prinia were also out in good numbers with one to be seen about every 10 to 15 meters.  They are also very active at the moment and I think they also have young to raise.  Oddly enough a little further on I came across a nest in the field (well nearly stood on it in the thick grassy foliage).  This had two tiny redish brown eggs soaked from the sprayer passing over.  I have no idea what they were but in conversation with my friend Rob Tovey we came to the conclusion that they might be Graceful Prinia, but it is something I need to follow up when I get back to my research books.

desert finch (Rhodospiza obsoleta)
Ok this is what I believe is referred to as a record shot but as its all I could get on the day its all I can show.  The little flash of pink yells out Desert Finch which are clearly still around the area.  In this instance there was a pair of these, though a lot more shy than last time I saw this species a couple of weeks ago.
house sparrow (Passer domesticus)
The Sparrows were out if good numbers, either in smallish groups of the House Sparrow or
Spanish sparrow or willow sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)

in fairly large flocks of the Spanish Sparrow.  This guy got his feathers a little ruffled by something,

Spanish sparrow or willow sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
while his neighbour was very much more sleek and refined in his presentation.  These were very concentrated in the trees and formed into small foraging flocks out in the fields.

 whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)
This guy watched me very closely as I waded through the long grass.  I was never able to get a clear side on shot but I think from the facial pattern and breast that it is a Windchat.

black scrub-robin (Cercotrichas podobe)
This Black Scrub Robin and his partner can be found almost on demand beside an old felled bush close by a farm hands shed on the farmhouse side of the river. The area is currently alive with large numbers of Barn Swallow, Laughing Dove, Sparrows and the odd Myna.

This was a very quick shot of one of the reed warblers but as yet I have to work out which one.

Many birds have no trouble getting food at the moment around this area as the nearby cattle pen attracts large swarms of flys which are everywhere.
barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
of course also attracts my bird of the month, the breeding Barn Swallow.  This week there were a good number of the local birds about and a few were still tending nests but there was also a mini influx of visitors perched on wires all around the area.  I thought this a little strange as I expected they would be well north by now, but what do I know eh!

Barn Swallow Update.

The surprise of the day comes here.  I knew the bird below and its partner had bred late and were probably young birds from the previous year, so finding their nest with 3 eggs and one very recently hatched chick was a delight. (by the way the pic is one of the two birds but perched on a nearby nest).  Anyway, I knew they were breeding a little behind time compared with the others.  However. another nest, which had eggs in it almost since February, and which I though had been abandoned, suddenly popped back to life and had now a healthy batch of chicks, delayed incubation in action for some reason?

barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
The real surprise came when I looked at the photos of two of the other nests which had already had a brood.  In two of these there were new eggs, meaning that they had probably had a second brood.  This is really exciting as we had been here at this time of year in 2014 and saw nothing but empty nests. Exciting times indeed.  I will be doing a full analysis of my findings from the site in a document which I will make available to anyone who wants it a little later in the year.


Sunday, 12 April 2015

Malta Hunting Vote

NEWS 12/4/15:
Malta has narrowly rejected proposals to ban controversial spring hunting, during which migrating birds are shot before they can breed.
Those in favour of hunting won just over half the votes cast in the keenly-contested vote.
Campaigners for the ban have conceded defeat.
There were jubilant scenes in the counting hall as the pro-hunt activists celebrated victory with an estimated 51% of the vote.

There was a real possibility to stop this unnecessary carnage carried out in the name of tradition.  In China there was a tradition of binding girls feet until they became horribly disfigured, it was carried out in the name of tradition but eventually it was seen as just cruel and banned.  Not all traditions are worth preserving and the Malta hunts are high among these.  So it seems the people have spoken and it goes on. 

Well not all of the people have actually spoken in my humble opinion.  Its now my turn, I have no vote there but I do have a choice about where I spend my vacations and Malta will join Cyprus on the black list.  I am only 1 but if others do the same we become legion.

Monday, 6 April 2015

More rain and more species - Al Hayer 28/3/15

The intervening week had been warm and dry and I thought we were done with the rain until the end of the year but no, on Wednesday night it rained fairly heavily again so I guess it was going to be more muddy ground down at Al Hayer.  I travelled down a bit earlier today as the sunrise is getting earlier now and I wanted to be on site just after sun up.  It was dry and cool but again lots of flooding as I set about my walk.  Just for a change I though I would start my report with something a little different, just in case you thought we only have birds in the area;

Now if my knowledge of birds is a little limited my knowledge of reptiles is even more limited but I though you might like to see what else is about.   

There are also a considerable number of butterflies about which I will one day catalogue in the mean time I this is a nice example.  However back to the birds;

masked shrike (Lanius nubicus)
This week I had the pleasure of a new species in the Masked Shrike which I had not seen around here before.  Its a new species for me too which is always pleasing for a patch birder.  I am not sure if this was a pair or just one seen in two different locations as I saw the first at one end of my walk and the second at the far end about 4 hours later.

masked shrike (Lanius nubicus)
This species has been one of those, almost seen, for me for quite a while now.  While birding with Rob Tovey in Jubail last spring we thought we saw one but I did not count it as the view I had was so fleeting that it really could have been anything.  This time it was much more open.  Happy days!!

white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
In the early morning sun the light was poor for photographs so I had a couple of shots which were poor but at least you can see the White Throated Kingfisher on the dead tree.  I did not see these again during the walk.

common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Another poor shot was the Moorhen which are about in reasonably good numbers but are very shy at the moment, maybe because folk shoot at them a lot.  I also saw a pair of Mallard on the little lake but that photo was little more than a blur I'm afraid.

Namaqua dove (Oena capensis)
The Namaqua Dove was happily sitting on a nearby power line, again I did not see many of these today (2 or 3) although their cousins the Laughing Dove were everywhere as usual.

graceful prinia (Prinia gracilis)
Another common sight (and sound) around the place were the Graceful Prinia's which were scurrying about in the bushes and reeds all over the place.

streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar)
As were the Streaked Weavers which are nesting in good numbers in the area.

White-cheeked Bulbul ( Pycnonotus leucogenys ).
The White Cheeked Bulbuls were also out in force and have also been breeding, I think the one behind is a juvenile.

Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides)
The Turkestan Shrike was also taking a high perch watching everything that was going on about the place.

Daurian shrike (Lanius isabellinus)
Not very far away was a close relative the Daurian Shrike, also busily surveying the scene.

Spanish sparrow or willow sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
And the Spanish Sparrow were out in force.  This little group found something of interest in a small area by the road but as with last week there were large numbers of these guys in the nearby trees where they are nesting at the minute.

pied wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)
While on my walk I bumped into my old friend Lou Regenmorter and we had a little chat before going off in different directions.  However we met up about an hour later as he was watching something in the lower field.  Pointing it out we both had the pleasure of seeing a Pied Wheatear, this one is pretty easy to distinguish with the white throat, subspecies vittata, a first for me.  More happy days :)

black-winged stilt, (Himantopus himantopus)
In the flooded area were a small flock of 9 or 10 Black Winged Stilts, they were in the same area as the Cattle Egret were last week, although there was little sign of those about this week.

little egret (Egretta garzetta)
Wandering among them was a couple of Little Egret, this one sporting a rather nice crest.

grey heron (Ardea cinerea),
I had not been seeing many herons about this past while, especially stationary ones so when I got the chance I took a photo.  This was at a very long range so not exactly clear but hopefully you can make out a Grey Heron from this.

black scrub-robin (Cercotrichas podobe)
A Black Scrub Robin was at the top of a tree surveying the scene and this guy sat there for quite a while watching Lou and myself.

crested lark (Galerida cristata)
Along the roadside where they had moved mounds of earth to try to control the flood waters were a few Crested Lark.  Along my walk today there were only a few of these but then the fields were flooded so I expect they moved to drier ground for now.

common myna (Acridotheres tristis)
Another fairly common bird around the area is the Myna.  Today there were three or four in the Palm trees, I have seen more on other visits but then birds are harder to see in the trees.

Siberian stonechat (Saxicola maurus)
A small number of Stonechats were about but as with the Crested Lark, I  don't think they particularly like the sodden fields so I think they had moved from my area today.

Checking this one

chiffchaff, (Phylloscopus collybita)

Barn Swallow Update

I finished my walk with what has now become a bit of a pilgrimage to the site of the Barn Swallow nests and as has been the case over the past few weeks I was not disappointed.  Two of the nests had new chicks, each with 4 young that I could see and another 2 of the nests had eggs, one with 7 eggs that I could count.  The birds were a good deal more nervous this week, these being the later nesters and I think were probably relatively young birds, maybe breeding for the first time.  I took a look at the nests of the earlier breeders and these were all empty so I guess they will not attempt another brood this year.  That said I am determined to see the season through as best I can to see how it all works out.  I have gotten hold of a copy of Angela Turners Poyser Monograph on the Barn Swallow and she highlights a tendency for Barn Swallow to nest close to farm livestock and especially cows.  This would make sense as the livestock tends to attract flies.  In this instance the link is confirmed as the building whee these birds are nesting is attached to a cattle pen where they keep 5 or 6 cattle.  It has also set me wondering if some of the other cattle farms around the area also support small colonies of Barn Swallow.