Thursday, 20 November 2014

Tenerife - Trip Report


Logistics

·        A three-and-bit day trip in mid November (15th – 18th) timed to recover from what I knew would be a very draining period at work. Simple goals of seeing the endemic and the sub-species, and then taking photos of anything that I could get close to. With the exception of Berthelot’s Pipits that were uniformly and incredibly tolerant of people, this proved harder work than I anticipated. Usually birding properly and taking photos properly are mutually exclusive, but with the small number of species on the island, this proved no barrier at all.
·        Tenerife is a very small island, but even so I birded primarily the south and central parts, with one trip right through the middle and on to the Anaga Peninsula in the north-east. I also undertook a dismally bad for birding but very pleasant for lounging around in the sun pelagic to La Gomera one afternoon, during which I saw one seabird. Not one species, one individual.
·        British Airways flight to Tenerife Sur (TFS) from Gatwick departed 0855 on Saturday morning, arriving at 1315; a four hour flight and there is no time change. It cost me around £300 because I flew business class due to the length of flight. I could no doubt have got it a lot cheaper economy as every budget airline under the sun flies there, but you know what, I’m worth it.
·        Car hire via Avis was a dinky little 1.2L VW Polo, that coped admirably with every hill I threw at it (and there are loads), and only used half a tank of petrol in the three days I had it, which included a full round-the-island trip as well as loads of buzzing around the south. I can’t remember what it cost, but was in line with what you would expect.        
·        Accommodation was booked for three nights at the “Green Park/Parque Verde” in the middle of the Golf del Sur. Booked online prior to departure for £71.50 for three nights, it was very basic and a little tired, but it had a pool and I got a whole apartment with a little kitchenette. I therefore did a quick supermarket shop at a nearby Lidl, and as such my living expenses were £23 for my entire trip. It was like being a student again. Fully justifying my choice of green and verdant (and cheap) location were three Hoopoe foraging on the grass next to my car one morning. One downside was that the hotel was directly under the flightpath to the nearby airport.
·        Research consisted of reading a pile of trip reports and so working out which sites to target for the endemics, and then arming myself with a copy of the “Clarke and Collins”. This is pretty out of date in places being nearly 20 years old, but nonetheless was pretty useful for ideas on where to go. My advice would be use it for directions to some specific out of the way places like Chanajiga, but not rely on it any longer for decent site information and instead go with more recent information on the web. Like here - I've provided coordinates for some of the more difficult places in blue.
·    Sunrise at this time of the year is a fairly laid back 7.30am. On my first day I got up at 5am in a fit of enthusiasm and was up in the mountains staring at inky blackness at 6am for a full hour…..



Itinerary

Day 1: Birded around Amarilla Golf in the remaining three hours of light
Day 2: Early start up to the Corona Forestal for the pine forest specialities. Some sight-seeing through El Tiede NP, and then the rest of the afternoon devoted to the laurel forests in the North and North-east.
Day 3: A slightly less early start in the pine forests, then scrub birding in the south. Afternoon “pelagic”……
Day 4: Morning birding around the Golf Courses and wastelands in the South, mid-afternoon departure.

Main Sites I went to

Golf Amarilla – A dry gully immediately to the west of the course and alongside the stables was full of Barbary Partridge, and the area north of the clubhouse had a Stone Curlew. An area of scrubby waste ground just west of this gully, and south of a banana plantation had loads of Berthelot’s Pipits, and a pair of Southern Grey Shrikes. If you take the minor road that winds north from the club house, after about 1.5km you come to a small reservoir next to where the industrial estate starts. This has a variety of plastic, but also Spoonbills, Little Egrets, and a chance of a wader.

Golf del Sur – I never went on the course, but the scrubby area immediately north of the course, to the east of Avenida J M Galvan Bello and with three obvious water tanks, had millions of Barbary Partridge, at least two Shrikes, and lots of Spectacled Warblers and Berthelot’s Pipits. You can also peek into the ponds at this end of the Golf Course for various Egrets and the rare Moorhen.

Las Lajas Picnic area - 11km north of Vilaflor on the TF21 - 28.189417, -16.666071. Blue Chaffinches galore, Tenerife Crest, teneriffae Blue Tit, Canary Islands sub-species of GS Woodpecker, and Atlantic Canary. No need to go more than about fifty yards from the car in any direction, but the area on the opposite side of the road seemed to have more Blue Tits and Canaries.

Chanajiga – Laurel Forest area immediately south of Los Realejos. Difficult to find, but the simplest way seemed to be from the TF21 then TF326 descending from El Tiede, via Benijos but before you get to Palo Blanco. It's signposted Las Llanadas - if you put "Carretera las Llanadas, Los Realejos, Spain" into Google Maps it places you on exactly the final road you need to be on, and you drive west from that point, turning off the tarmac road right, and past a picnic area - 28.343957, -16.584146. Dump the car there and proceed on foot along the wide track past a playground on your left, before heading into the laurel forest. Bolle’s Pigeon during a break in the clouds, trillions of Canary Island Chiffchaff.

Mirador Lagrimonas layby - many previous trip reports mentioned this spot on the westbound TF5, immediately after two close together small tunnels west of Los Realejos, and marked by large bollards (28.392775, -16.608832), as the definitive place to see Laurel Pigeon. I had two within two minutes of arriving, it really is that simple. Park up (not much room) and simply look up the hill side for movement with the naked eye before gloriously resolving Laurel Pigeon in your scope.

Anaga Pensinula/El Bailadero – Clarke and Collins out of date for the key site near El Pijaral as the signposts are now missing, but it is roughly 1.5km past the bar on the minor road off the TF12, and in any event all the valleys in the area seem eminently suitable for the Pigeons. Naturally I didn’t see a single one. The spot is approximately 28.552055, -16.192199 The scenery is breath-taking however, especially from Pico Ingles.

Fraile/Las Galletas – another area of waste ground, replete with mounds of fly-tipping. Park at the walled five-a-side Football pitch on Calle Fuerteventura, off Avenida del Atlantico -  28.010880, -16.672226, and then walk towards the sea. Loads of all the regular birds you would expect in this habitat, including five Shrikes together, probably a family party. Also spectacular views of a Barbary Falcon eating a Pigeon on the wing. There are also some saline pools that hold a small number of waders immediately opposite Las Galletas beach and marina. Note that the Punta de Rasca area as described in C & C by turning right before the Repsol petrol station is no longer accessible due to ever more covered banana plantations, and seems completely fenced off now, including the concrete-walled reservoir that is noted as productive. I was able to view it from a mound of rubble, my reward being two Coots. Wow.

Los Christianos – San Sebastian La Gomera Ferry. Lovely, but a complete waste of 50 euros/41 gbp (return foot passenger), with a single Cory’s Shearwater seen on the outbound journey, and nothing at all on the way back. Do not bother at this time of year. Note that the ferry car park is extortionate, so try and park in town instead. Note also that you need your passport to book a ticket.



Day by day account

Saturday 15th
The flight landed at around 1.15pm, and by the time I was sat in my rental car it was nearly 3pm – TFS is full of geriatric travellers who don’t have the faintest clue how to do anything, as such it was carnage. With perhaps three hours until dusk, I elected to stay local to both the airport and my hotel. I went to the hotel first to dump my stuff, finding Canary Island Chiffchaff in the process (these were abundant) and also did a very rapid shop for provisions – water essential. And junk food, obviously, what else fuels birding?

With little time I went for a walk around the top end of Amarilla Golf, including walking a barranco (a dry gully) just to the NW of the clubhouse that tracked the western edge of the course. Merely by walking down the track I flushed at least 20 Barbary Partridge, and it wasn't long before I'd found my first Berthelot's Pipit, along with a Grey Wagtail, near the Stables. Whilst here two Hoopoe flew across the track, and a nearby Kestrel showed well. It being mid afternoon, the fairways were pretty busy, so instead I crossed the barranco and went up onto some scrubby waste ground near a covered banana plantation (which are abundant in southern Tenerife). This was excellent for birding, and I got my first photos of some very confiding Berthelot's Pipits, as well as finding a pair of Southern Grey Shrikes and a Spectacled Warbler. With the light fading I retraced my steps back to the car which I had left in the clubhouse carpark, and returned to the hotel for a spot of light cooking. I was asleep by half eight. Rock and roll.



Sunday 16th
I set the alarm for 5am, and was showered and out by half past. First stop was Las Lajas for the Blue Chaffinch, and it's about 45 minutes away up some incredibly steep and winding roads. I had completely misjudged sunrise however, and so was sat in darkness in the car for well over an hour before starting to investigate the site. I did get a Long-eared Owl on the way up though by way of reward. Birds everywhere is the bottom line, with the Chaffinches really easy to find. They much prefer shade, so getting a decent photo was next to impossible. They tended to really like being under picnic tables, which was obviously problematic for me. In addition to the Chaffinches there were quite a few Blue Tits, and I could hear though not see Great Spotted Woodpecker. Canary and Ravens here too. Chasing the Chaffinches around ate up probably two hours, and so it was only at 9.30am that I left, heading further up the mountain to check a few of the other sites mentioned in Clarke and Collins. Worth noting that at this time on a Sunday I was still completely alone at a site which apparently is very busy at weekends.


At the first fork in the road I stopped to admire the view of the volcano, at which point a Southern Grey Shrike flew across my view. Remarkably I managed to pish this in, but not expecting it to work I was massively under-prepared, and had left my monopod in the car. In deep shade I resorted to handheld, and such is my rock-steady grip that it all worked out nicely. Pleased with this success I carried on the right-hand fork, the TF21, towards Las Canadas. Amazing scenery, few birds that I could see, but to be honest I was focused on getting over to the laurel forests by this point, so drove past most of the sites mentioned.



I arrived at Chanajiga for around 11am in clear weather, but that did not last long. My impression of the weather is that it starts off quite clear, but that cloud builds up as the day progresses. That said, at the higher altitudes like the Chaffinch site, you're at 2100m and thus above the clouds. As most people stay on the coast, when they look up towards the centre of the island they could be forgiven for deciding to give it a miss, but it appears that the cloud seems to exist in a narrow band between say 800m and perhaps 1800m. This means you're all good for Chaffinches and the pine forest species, but is unfortunately prime Pigeon zone..... So what had been looking ideal for Pigeon-spotting soon became a cloud. I could hear Pigeons wing-clattering, but could see nothing. Luckily for me a flying bird coincided with a brief break in the murk after around an hour, but this was very flukey and whilst I did see all the endemics in a day, I wouldn't want to guarantee it. Buzzards called overhead.

With Chanajiga a write-off by this point, I descended to the coast to seek out the Mirador Lagrimonas, the no-fail site for Laurel Pigeon. This was very easy to find, and sure enough within barely a couple minutes of parking up I was onto one, and then two birds. Great scope views, but unless you have a scope it would be hugely unsatisfactory. The beauty of this site is that you're almost at sea level, and the slope where the Pigeons are is no more than a couple of hundred metres up so there are no issues with cloud formation. Bolle's can be seen at this site too, but I didn't manage that. If doing this again I would probably go to Lagrimonas early morning and try and clear up, giving Chanajiga a miss. Loads of lounging lizards here on the rocks the other side of the layby.


With the main birds done by now, I decided to explore the Anaga Peninsula, the north-east tip of the island. The Clarke and Collins mentioned several sites there that were reputed to be good for perched Bolle's Pigeon, and wishing to see one better I decided to give it a go. To cut a long story short, I barely saw a bird (though I did hear Yellow-browed Warbler!), and the whole place was heaving with people. Pigeons smigeons. Amazing views though, worth it for that alone really. Easy drive back down the east coast motorway and another gourmet supper with Easyjet and Ryanair shaking my room every few minutes. 



Monday 17th
I felt I could do better on the Chaffinches, and with the main birds done I was feeling a lot more relaxed. Learning the lesson of yesterday, I left a lot later and timed my arrival perfectly. More or less the same birds as yesterday, but decent views of the Tenerife Goldcrest, and amazing views of the Woodpecker. The Chaffinches refused to play ball again though, very frustrating.



I probably spent another three hours here, and then was caught in two minds as to what to do next. Either go up to the north-west tip, Punto del Teno, or return down south in order to catch the 2pm La Gomera Ferry from Los Cristianos. In the end I plumped for the latter, and got down to the Fraile area for around midday. With an hour or so to kill I tried the Punta de la Rasca area, but found that there were now so many more banana plantations that it was difficult to get to the right place as mentioned in the C & C book. I did however find a Barbary Falcon engaged in eating a Pigeon on the wing, which was sensational. Also here were more Berthelot's Pipits, Spectacled Warblers, and another Southern Grey Shrike. Pretty much any habitat of this nature held these three species - essentially open ground with low level scrub. Disappointing was the amount of fly-tipping in evidence, most places immediately adjacent to either agricultural or tourist development simply become areas where people dump unused building materials, or older interior fixings following refurbishment. Consequently close to hotels are huge piles of rubble, old tiles, decrepit poolside furniture etc, and next to covered banana plantations you find huge piles of rocks from levelling thr ground, and heaps of discarded fabric rolls that they've used and then simply discarded. So unnecessary, and ruins the landscape. There were plenty of birds, though whether there would have been even more had the habitat been treated with respect I can't say.



Anyhow, with an hour or so to go I headed for the ferry terminal at Los Cristianos, and jammed a parking spot very nearby, but not in the terminal car park which would have set me back 20 euros. The return crossing as a foot passenger set me back an eye-watering 50 euros, but given I was going to be seeing gazillions of Cory's Shearwaters at close range I figured it was still worth it. Two things birders should note - 1) you want the Armas Naviera "traditional" ferry, not the Fred Olsen Express catamaran. You can stand on deck on the former, but not on the latter. 2) You need your passport to buy a ticket.

At this point I really wanted to be writing about the most awesome pelagic I've ever been on, with Cory's at touching distance, Little Shearwaters and Bulwer's everywhere. Unfortunately it was utterly dire, with a single Cory's seen on the outward journey and not a single bird of any description seen on the way back. I had not done my research, and talking later to a local birder, November ain't the time. It was pleasant enough in the sunshine on deck, but not 50 euros pleasant. I consoled myself with a beer in San Sebastian, and didn't really bother looking too hard on the way back. Fabulous sunset as we docked back at Tenerife.


Tuesday 18th
Final day, and I was sticking down south as the flight departed mid-afternoon. From dawn I started very close to where I was staying, birding the scrub immediately north of Golf del Sur, where there are three obvious water tanks. I'd put up 30 Barbary Partridge before I'd even got to them, and passed a really nice couple of hours seeing all the usual species in wonderful light. I probably saw 50 Partridges here as I ranged widely across the area. I then moved on to an area close to Las Galletas, where I concentrated on getting a few more Berthelot's Pipit images. Yet more Barbary Partridge here, as well as five Shrikes together, possibly a family group. I then checked out some saline pools near the harbour for a few waders to add to the trip list, before heading back to my hotel to have shower, pack up and check out. I ended up checking out late due to some Hoopoes feeding in the hotel grounds close to the car - wonderful. 


My final hour was spent back at Amarilla Golf, where I found yet more Partridges and a Stone Curlew. Then it was off to the airport to catch my return flight. All in all a really productive three days, seeing all my target species and getting a few photos along the way. Photographing the Pigeons was sadly impossible, but I managed a few keepers of some of the other specialties. 

Trip List - 41

Barbary Partridge - any suitable thicker scrub, tended to like gullies
Cory's Shearwater - at sea 15 minutes out of San Sebastian
Cattle Egret - 3 at Golf del Sur
Little Egret - 9 at Amarilla Golf
Grey Heron - rare, only one seen flying over Golf del Sur
Spoonbill - 3 at Amarilla Golf
Common Buzzard - above Chanajiga
Sparrowhawk - one seen off TF5
Kestrel 
Barbary Falcon - one at Fraile
Moorhen - Golf del Sur
Coot - El Fraile reservoir
Stone Curlew - Amarilla Golf
Ringed Plover - 9 at Las Galletas
Turnstone - Las Galletas
Common Sandpiper - Amarilla Golf
Yellow-legged Gull
Rock Dove
Laurel Pigeon - Mirador Lagrimonas
Bolle's Pigeon - Chanajiga
Collared Dove
Long-eared Owl - hills near San Miguel de Abona
Hoopoe around Golf del Sur
Great Spotted Woodpecker - Las Lajas
Berthelot's Pipit - any suitable open ground
Grey Wagtail
Robin
Blackbird
Blackcap
Spectacled Warbler - any suitable scrub
Canary Island Chiffchaff - omnipresent in all habitats
Yellow-browed Warbler - Laurel forests on Anaga
Goldcrest teneriffae - Pine forests
African Blue Tit teneriffae - Pine forests
Southern Grey Shrike koenigi - any open area
Raven - high altitude
House Sparrow
Blue Chaffinch - Las Lajas
Linnet
Goldfinch
Canary - Pine forests and on volcanic plateau



Tenerife - preamble

I've just come back from four days on Tenerife. Well, more like three and a half, but it's not a large island and I fitted a lot in. The aim was a bit of warmth after a hard few weeks, as you know I get withdrawal symptoms if I don't go abroad at least once a month. And of course the lure of what I thought were four new Western Palearctic birds, but turned out I had no idea what I was talking about and it was six. The most obvious one was Berthelot's Pipit, which were incredibly numerous in pretty much any piece of scrubby habitat. A full trip report is underway, replete with photos. Bet you can't wait...


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Symphony in G-MEDK

I am sat on another plane, and I wish to describe my mood. It is mixed. On the one hand, I am off to Tenerife to see a whole pile of interesting birds. Tenerife, although within the group of islands known as the Canaries, is subtly distinct from Canary Wharf in that there is no desk waiting for me. Rather there are things like Berthelot's Pipit and Bolle's Pigeon, and neither are familiar with Regulatory Capital. All the forementioned is good, and thus puts me in a somewhat positive frame of mind. On the other hand, I am stuck in a metal tube, and I am not enjoying it very much. I am no stranger to planes of course, but this particular one is a disgrace. The Canaries are a long way away, over four hours as the modern jet aircraft flies. With that in mind, I splurged the extra on a seat up the front, hoping for a bit of extra space in which to spread out (I am good at spreading...). This however is G-MEDK, and I have been spectacularly unlucky.

At this point I should perhaps point out that I am not, and never have been, a plane-spotter. Frankly it has all the same hallmarks as chasing a list of birds, and could almost be expected in some ways -there is many a twitcher who has reached that pinnacle of hobbies via the medium of writing down aircraft registrations in a small notebook whilst dribbling mildly. But of course I'm not a twitcher, and so therefore neither am I a plane-spotter. However due to my propensity for air travel I do find it worthwhile to take at least a passing interest in the planes I fly in, mainly for reasons of comfort. For instance I know that the best seat in a BA Cityflyer-operated domestically-configured Embraer RJ190 is either 12A or 12D. And that the best economy seat by far on the A380 is 25D, as the crew quarters escape hatch is in the floor directly in front of it. I therefore also know that G-MEDK, an ex-BMI Airbus A320 acquired during the 2012 merger, is the absolute runt of the British Airways fleet, and when I saw it at the gate my heart sank. I've been on it before (don't ask me how I know....), and I know just how crap it is. Even in so-called business class, the seat pitch means your knees touch your ears, and the windows don't line up. Seat 1F doesn't even have a window! The seats are thin, minimally padded, uncomfortable even on a short hop. How they can call it Club Europe I have no idea, and I'll be mentioning it to Willie next time I see him. So I'm desperately uncomfortable in a first-world kind of way, quietly fuming, and no amount of prospective Blue Chaffinches is making me feel better. On the plus side, they've run out of the pitiful excuse for Champagne that is Monopole, so I'm drinking water instead.

I digress, on the whole life is not too bad, and I am privileged to be able to do this. It's so easy to get on a plane and go somewhere warm with better birds than Wanstead. I massively enjoy my short trips, from the planning and the expectation through to actually breathing it in. There are four world lifers waiting for me, numerous endemic sub-species, and ideally gazillions of photographic opportunities. I've got three days in which to have a ball in spectacular scenery, warm sunshine, and hopefully forget about the world of E14. It's all good.

Taking my mind off the amazing and expensive discomfort of seat 2A are Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I'm listening to a double album called 'Live in New York City' and it's quite simply sensational. I had thought I was in a Beethoven kind of mood, but then discovered that my iPod had failed to synch and I was fresh out of symphonies. You might think that Bruce and Beethoven are about as far away from each other as possible, but that's not the case at all. Both are Gods, and listening to either is akin to a religious experience in my book. Live is even better, hence the choice of album. Ideally I'd have Bruce and the guys lined up near the galley, plugged in and pouring out, but there's not enough room to swing a cat on this thing, and more's the pity. The good news is that BA are dumping it in March, and while the risk of the getting one of the five G-MIDs remains from Heathrow, I for one will feel much more comfortable knowing this heap is no longer going to be an option from Gatwick. Sad, moi? I have no idea what you mean.

Anyhow, the plan is simple, soak up some sunshine and recharge the batteries in an attempt to compensate for the rigors of the last two weeks which I always knew would be draining. The downsides of my day job are the regular peaks in stressful activity that align with specific dates in the accounting calendar. Yes, such fun. Whilst this is frustrating in that I can't often take holiday exactly when I actually want to, it means that it's also possible to book trips away exactly when I know I will need then most. It makes it survivable, and if the quarter end or whatever it is is followed by a couple of days that are as far away from that mindset as can be, I can live with that. Even on G-MEDK. Tramps like me, baby we were born to run.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Boring the shit out of everyone

A recent opinion poll suggested that decent photos of Desert Wheatear are the most likely things to bore the crap of out of 95% of birders. It went on to say that the least original bird-related material in November would likely be point-blank photos of Desert Wheatears, and that any blogger worth his salt would be wise to simply decline any opportunity to see the species altogether. Real birders don't go to see Desert Wheatears, only fucking paparazzi do that apparently. 

That being the case, and popularity amongst the digital generation being absolutely at the top of my list of priorities, it would obviously be very foolish of me to go and add to the vast morass of Desert Wheatear shots that now exist online following the east coast being littered with ridiculously showy birds. Fortunately I actually hate Wheatears, they're probably my least favourite group of birds on the planet, and there is absolutely no way I'd bother wasting any time on one of them whatsoever, especially on a weekend when I could have stayed at home picking my nose. No, this blog is going to remain steadfastly original, and I stand in complete solidarity with all those boring, pompous twat-heads who have proclaimed online that they're sick and tired of photos of Desert Wheatears. There will be none of that here, not while I'm in charge. My brothers, I salute you.

With two fingers.











Saturday, 8 November 2014

First Essex tick of 2014

According to my records I've not been birding in Essex since October 2013. I mean, sure, Wanstead is in Essex, but I mean a birding day out where I might see something interesting enough to actually write it down. This explains why I've not had an Essex tick since October 13th 2013, when I recall being on Mersea with Adrian K and finally catching up with Yellow-browed Warbler, a full two years after Pallas's (which is just wrong). 

Today started badly with a hangover of medium proportions, survivable, but not sufficiently overlookable to be able to bounce out of bed and go and do what I wanted to do, which was smash the crap out of Desert Wheatears. So instead I opted for the juvenile Surf Scoter out at Wrabness. I'd never been there and promptly got lost, which required some cross-country remediation, but eventually I popped on the river wall of the Stour to be presented with a massive and Scoterless vista. Pleasant enough, but absolutely no sign of the bird, so I strung a few bits and pieces until it turned up - loads of Mergs, a few Goldeneye and oodles of Great Crested Grebes

I probably had time to go to Kent for the Wheatear too, but party preparations back home beckoned, so I sensibly returned in order to do that and not get into trouble. Hopefully the Wheatear stays, but the weather in the morning isn't looking too hot. Looks like I had better have a lie in.....


Sunday, 2 November 2014

OK so I dipped....

Yeah, OK, I dipped. A bit of a pisser, as I pride myself on not dipping. Plus of course dipping is really really annoying, especially when it involves overnight to Cornwall. I think this classifies as my furthest ever dip as well. I've missed a couple of times in the South-east, but never as far away as Cornwall. Still, could be worse. Could be Shetland. Imagine that! Two days to get there and its done the bunk, ooof. That would probably put me off twitching for life. As it was, Cornwall wasn't actually that bad, and making a weekend of it rather than coming straight back once we realised the Cuckoo was gone was clearly the right option. On balance I'd still rather travel on news I think, but as these things go it wasn't too bad, and birds like the very stupid American Golden Plover helped soften the blow.


Thankfully this week most of the megas that have turned up are ones I didn't need. I spit, for instance, at Eastern Crowned Warblers. And a good thing too, as I've been out of the country for a change, this time in France en vacances avec most of la famille. On the Côte d'Azur to be precise, enjoying cloudless skies and warm sunshine. I understand it has been pretty agreeable here too, but I've had acres of lovely cheese and many vats of wine. Côtes de Provence rosé is magnificent in the right setting, and sat outside in a warm breeze somewhere between Fréjus and Sainte-Maxime is most definitely the right setting. Of birds and birding there was very little. Sardinian Warblers tchack-tchacked from all around, and there were billions of Magpies and Collared Doves, but on the whole I paid very little attention to matters avian. Too busy with the corkscrew mainly, but also too chilled out to worry about it. I took bins, used them a couple of times but really it wasn't the time or place. 





The riviera was fabulously French. People impeccably turned out, people impeccably snobby. Where else would a hotel reception be closed between 12 and 2, leaving arriving guests stranded? Rules abounded, no children this, no doing that. Ah non monsieur in response to an as yet carried-out indiscretion, they read your mind these people. Favourite moments included being herded away from the entrance to the indoor pool before I even got there, and having the cricket bat confiscated at Nice airport security. A toy I said, as my daughter wept. Ah non monsieur, the bat was wielded menacingly. I returned to check it in, this dangerous soft balls only foreign object that had travelled quite happily from Gatwick on the same plane a few days earlier..... Once back through I briefly considered buying a magnum of Rosé de Provence and returning to security, there to whirl all 3kg of it it by the neck in the manner of an elegant cut shot towards the smug official that had been unmoved by tears, but it was 32 euros and likely delicious so I didn't bother. Ah France, a country that is truly blessed with many fine things, but has the misfortune to be inhabited by the French, many of whom can be insufferable. You deal with it though, and by being polite and passing the time of day you begin to understand how it all works. Not for the French the incredible speed of modern life. Being from London it is almost incomprehensible, but if you can manage to slow it all down you're 99% of the way there, and you realise quite how irritatingly pleasant it all is. The quality of life - for instance hotel receptionists get two hour lunch breaks - makes it all worthwhile. They know how to live, and it's a wonderful place for a short recharge in the Mediterranean tempo.







Monday, 27 October 2014

Cornwall for a mega Starling

I’ve seen two Pechora Pipits. Four Buff-bellied Pipits. Four Red-flanked Bluetails. But somehow I’ve only seen two Rose-coloured Starlings. I think I saw a beige one first, and then was lucky enough to see an adult next, at which point I just stopped going to see them. Some may view this as entirely sensible, but this discrepancy has been irking me, gnawing away at me. With a weekend free, and a nailed-on bird hanging around the supermarkets in Penzance, the twitch was on! For such a good-looking bird I even forwent my usual “never on no news” rule, and left at 8pm on Friday so as be in position at Morrison's the next morning. It’s also been seen at other supermarkets though, and so with both Tesco and Sainsburys just next door, I figured that if the prospect of a massive down-market Superstore dip was on the cards it would be easy to go and try the next set of lamp posts across the road. Twitching is all about having a decent backup plan – if your major target doesn’t perform straight away, make sure you know where else to go and look for it.

Little did I know how badly wrong it could go though. My chauffeur for the weekend was a Mr. D Bradnum, and blow me if he didn’t go and drive right through Penzance in the middle of the night! Yep, that’s right, missed it completely in the dark! Ended up at the arse end of nowhere at a place called Porthgwarra, with nothing but thousands of miles of ocean in front of us and not a supermarket in sight! 

Do you get these at Morrison's? Do you?! No.

It just felt wrong from the start. Instead of being confronted with a series of lamp posts and telegraph poles along a pavement, there was a dried up pool and some sallows. Of neon signs, petrol stations and roundabouts there was no sign. Surely we were looking in the wrong place, but there was no way that a hundred other people could have made the same mistake - the place was carpeted in Starling twitchers! How could so many people screw up such simple directions?! I tried telling people that we were looking for Kwikfit, but nobody would listen. This is where it roosted they said. Rubbish! Where was the A30, I asked? But no, they remained in a long line scoping a bit of scrubby cover about sixty feet long that clearly had no Starlings of any variety in it. Talk about misguided! I think I even overheard somebody talking about a Cuckoo at one point! I mean If they can’t even twitch the right species, what hope is there?! Eventually I managed to drag Bradders away and with a bit of skillful map-reading directed him back over the Lands End peninsula and into Penzance, where would you believe it I spotted the damn bird from the car as we were motoring along the dual carriageway. Exactly as expected, sitting about with a group of normal Starlings on a massive lamp post. To his credit, Bradders apologized for initially taking me to the wrong place, and although we had wasted three hours staring at empty bushes, the continued presence of the glorious juvenile Rose-coloured Starling – which hadn’t fallen off its perch in the night as some had predicted– made all of that irrelevant. The long trip down to the south-west was a success, and another one to chalk up to the “never miss” list. These overnighters are always carry a certain amount of risk, but once again the plan had come off. Phew.



With the main target under the belt, we decided to go and clean up on some of the other goodies down there, such as the Lesser Yellowlegs on the Hayle, and a smart Ring-necked Duck on Drift. We briefly considered going to one of the more obscure valleys for a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that had reportedly been seen the previous day, but everybody knows that they always die during the night so we decided to give it a miss despite the monstrous rarity factor. I mean imagine how upset we would have been if we had travelled down purely to see that? Luckily for us we’re not that stupid, and so had a very pleasant day wandering around various parts of Cornwall definitely not thinking about mega Yank Cuckoos at all and what might have been.


The following day we had a poke around a couple of Valleys but drew a big blank bar a Yellow-browed Warbler. Leaving the coast behind, we drove up to North Cornwall to see an American Golden Plover. This is a species which typically stays a long time, as unlike wussy bastard ungrateful Cuckoos they’re pretty hardy souls. True to form the bird was still around, sitting around on the main runway in plain view and looking pretty perky. As opposed to lying upside down under a bush. I gave Bradders clear instructions to move the car only in reverse, and snuck out of the hidden side to crawl around the front bumper. The bird didn’t bat an eyelid. Or die. So I ended up getting some nice photos, including a bonus Wheatear.


Mission accomplished on yet another of the Starling’s supporting cast, we departed for Somerset and spent the last hours of daylight watching a juv Pallid Harrier, only the third I’ve seen, and thus concluding a rather profitable weekend which included two American Waders and a Nearctic Duck, a Warbler from Siberia, a Bird of Prey from Central Asia, and a mega Starling. Oh, and apparently that Cuckoo or whatever it was wasn’t seen again, and a whole load of people had a massive massive dip. Losers!