Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 28 2011

While I am still suffering from a bout of Man Flu that kept me confined to barracks on Sunday, I decided that today I would just go out, what the hell!

After reports of Quail in biblical plague proportions, I assumed that I would have no trouble finding some myself. I tried all the local places that I have had Quail at in the past and drew a complete blank, not a sniff (other than from my dripping nose!)

Eventually I give up the Quail Quest and try for some butterflies in the warm weather we are experiencing just now. First stop, Harwood and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, with plenty on the roadside along the forest edge (a new Northumberland site for me!).

Parking at the Gibbet, I head into Steng Moss in the hope of Large Heath…

Large Heath 

…this one appears to have a bit of a crumpled hindwing

Driving back via Sweethope, more Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and plenty of Common Blue.
Common Blue

This female was attracting lots of males.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17 2011

Having done nothing on day one of my long weekend, day two would be different!

I left the house with the sun shining and warmth, but the forecast was for that not to last, so I was in a race with the weather.

My target today was Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary at Sweethope Lough. It’s the only site where I have seen them in Northumberland, but I have succeeded every time when the weather has been in my favour. The closer I got to my destination, the cloudier it got, till the point where it was actually raining as I drove the last mile. Light rain, but still wet!

When I parked the car it had stopped raining, but the temperature was down and the cloud cover was total; no chance, what am I doing?

I’m here, I might as well have a look…

Small Pearl-bordered FritillarySmall Pearl-bordered Fritillary Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

…and also a Green-veined White…

Green-veined White
…the only two butterflies I saw!

Common Buzzard were just that, common. Every where today, from Cramlington to Sweethope. Plenty of Common Crossbill to, at Sweethope and then nineteen at Banks Pond on the way back (on Wednesday morning, I had nine fly over the house). At Banks, three Four-spot Chaser and an Emperor, but no pictures.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Spain May 2 – 8 2011


The Pyrenees

May 2 - 8

Richard Dunn, Roger Forster, Alan Jack, John Todd
Last year, I swopped my winter block holidays at work, so that I had time off to go to Cuba. I also did a swop for the summer block holidays, so that one of my colleagues could have time off with his kids during the school holidays. This was just a case of signing the form and him handing it in, no dates were mentioned. Then, not long before the Cuba trip, my work mate mentioned that my holidays were from April 30th, just over a month after my last break!

I now have six months till my next holiday!!!

Monday May 2nd

As we arrive at Barcelona Airport it’s just starting to rain, and the rain gets heavier and heavier as we collect the hire car. This forces an instant change of plan; head to the reserve at the Llobregat Delta, which is just down the road, at the back of the airport. The Spanish steppes are no place to be when it’s raining.

A fall was occurring; Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, Common Redstart, Wood Warbler were all noticeable. A short walk and we were looking offshore, at the med and there was a feeding flock of forty plus Mediterranean Shearwater, with Sandwich Tern in with them. While watching this from the beach, a flock of five Squacco Heron flew North, and two Black Tern struggled into the head wind and two Black-winged Stilts dropped in. Back at the car, a singing Golden Oriole is tracked down.

The rain had stopped as we walked back from the beach and a lot of the grounded migrants had moved on. A quick walk around the reserve, gave us Great Reed Warbler, Wood Sandpiper, Purple Gallinule and hundreds of hirundines, amongst others.

We took the toll road to get inland; 1; for speed and 2; for speed. As we drive along several large feeding flocks of Common Swift are seen, hundreds of birds in the air. We are using my old map to navigate, which is not a good thing, as an expected turn off didn’t exist! So we had to go past where we needed to be and head back on the older road, which, as it wasn’t a toll road was very busy with trucks.

A first stop in habitat at 41°33'54.30"N 0° 4'17.07"E gave us four Black-eared Wheatear, six Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Raven and Red-billed Chough. And further up the same road, six Pin-tailed Sandgrouse fly over the road.

Just outside of Alcolea de Cinca 41°42'31.79"N 0° 7'32.79"E, at some very impressive cliffs, a large group of Alpine Swift put on a nice display.

We arrive at Azanuy after dark, and the accommodation takes a bit of finding. Once settled in, we look for a place to eat, which we are told is just up the street; we can’t find it, so head back. The owner hears us coming and tells us she has phoned the place but it is closed, so she will make us a meal! And it was excellent.

Overnight at El Pilaret, Azanuy 41°58'23.38"N 0°18'38.14"E.

Tuesday May 3rd

A short walk was taken before breakfast, just out of the village, into the surrounding fields. Sardinian Warbler, Corn Bunting and Common Nightingale are very obvious and our only Red-rumped Swallow of the trip are overhead.

A brief stop at a stream 42° 3'46.88"N 0°14'22.88"E and more Nightingale are seen, a Cirl Bunting shows well briefly and a Golden Oriole is heard.

Driving up towards the Benasque National Park, the scenery just keeps getting better and as we approach some really big hills, we stop for a look and almost immediately a Lammergeier is found; we spend some time at this spot watching this magnificent bird 42°27'43.11"N 0°24'11.77"E.

Further up the road, just through a tunnel, there is a parking space 42°28'55.10"N 0°26'51.04"E, in a very narrow section of the Ventamillo Gorge. We stop here as it’s reputed to be a site for Wallcreeper. We haven’t finished crossing the narrow road when the target bird flies from one side of the gorge to the other, and for the next hour, it is rarely out of view.

It was carrying nest material into a crevice on the other side of the stream. The site is below road level, but 20 feet above the stream.

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The first picture gives an idea of scale and the second picture shows where the bird was going.

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Further up the valley, more Lammergeier are seen high overhead, in total we have seven today.

Up a side valley, the Pineda, near Bielsa we stop at a roadside pool, as there are a group of birders looking at the pool. Looking through the birds there are Water Pipit, Iberian Yellow Wagtail and Common Sandpiper. I have a chat with the group, who turn out to be Danish. During the conversation I give them the Wallcreeper site, and in kind, they reply with some information to act on tomorrow.

Further up the valley a Golden Eagle is seen, but very little else. We leave here and stop at the first place that serves food, as the digs tonight are self catering, and the beer comes in a boot!!!


Overnight at Casa Esperanza, Ceresa.

Wednesday May 4th

Following up on yesterday’s information, our destination today was Plan, that was the plan! The Danes had said that this site was guaranteed to get Lammergeier just overhead! They had been here plenty of times, and every time they had had Lammergeier as close as 50 yards.

We drove up this impressive valley and through the required tunnel to the bridge at 42°33'59.05"N 0°17'25.21"E.


We stood for some time, watched and waited. During the wait, some nice Rock Bunting are seen and Griffon Vulture are overhead, but not much else.

We drive on up the valley and stop at a small scrubby lake and spend an hour or so chasing butterflies. We see Orange-tip, Morocco Orange-tip (which apparently is now Provencal), Camberwell Beauty, Brimstone and Scarce Swallowtail. While we (Alan, Richard and Roger) are doing this, John has a walk up the road and tracks down a cracking Subalpine Warbler. While trying to get pictures of this, a pair of Bonelli’s Warbler are carrying nest material back and forth.

Driving back down the road, we stop again at the bridge, and while waiting, we have lunch. Bread in one hand and a bag of crisps in the other, I turn to say something and get my eye onto a very low Lammergeier heading towards us. I drop the crisps and the bread and make a dash for the camera. It’s one of the highlights of the trip and it was only close for approximately five minutes.

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We set off from here and headed for Ordesa. On the way drove through the spectacular Ainsclo Gorge. I wouldn’t like to drive through it in anything bigger than a car! A stop at a view point had nesting Griffon Vulture on the cliffs. A commotion was happening on the cliff; Griffon’s were trying to chase off Ravens. They failed to do so, and a Raven flew from the cliff with a large juvenile Griffon Vulture. The weight of its victim meant that the Raven struggled to stay air borne; it dropped like a stone out of sight into the trees.

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We arrived at Torla and went looking for rooms. Roger and I are in the Hotel Bujaruelo, Alan and John are just up the road. The view from my room was amazing.


Once settled in we went to the Ordesa NP parked up and went for a walk. Unfortunately it was very quiet, with very few birds about. However we did see Firecrest, heard a Black Woodpecker and had Lammergeier high overhead, so it was not a total right off.

Overnight Torla, at the Hotel Bujaruelo 42°37'42.65"N 0° 6'41.14"W.

Thursday May 5th

Leaving Torla, we head for the high pass of the Col de Portalet 42°48'18.72"N 0°25'6.09"W, where we park the car and take a walk across the border into France.

For thirty minutes in France, our French list isn’t too bad; four Lammergeier (two adults and two juveniles) bone breaking, three Golden Eagles and a Water Pipit. And the Marmots are pretty impressive as well. I didn’t see them on the last trip and I wasn’t expecting them to be as big as they are!

Back across in Spain, a track behind some buildings is walked. This track takes us higher again. More Water Pipits, a male Rock Thrush performing a song flight, a Short-toed Eagle over, Alpine Chough seen well enough to identify and a Chamois, showing well.

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Marmot and Chamois

Most of the snow is gone from the valley, so there are no skiers and all of the slopes are closed. That includes the roads up to the car parks; the gates are locked, we can’t get up there!

We head off driving past Jaca, and on to San Juan de la Pena 42°30'30.73"N 0°40'7.45"W. On the way up, at a roadside stop next to a stream, Camberwell Beauty and Southern White Admiral are seen.

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Camberwell Beauty

Another stop further up the hill and a male Black Woodpecker is seen a couple of times, sadly, never still long enough for a picture to be taken. At the top, next to the Monastery, Firecrest are common, as are Short-toed Treecreeper.

Leaving here, we head for Hecho, which is to be our base for the next two nights. Red Kite are a village bird, often just over the rooftops, Egyptian Vulture are plentiful over the town and lots of Black Redstart in the village.

Overnight Hecho, at Hotel de la Valle 42°44'23.88"N 0°44'54.75"W.

Friday May 6th

Leaving the hotel and heading up the valley away from Hecho, Egyptian Vulture are noted; five in one field and then ten in another. We stop for a photo opportunity and I see a Montagu’s Harrier fly down the valley.

The Boca del Infirneo is a very picturesque place, but it had very little bird wise, although the scenery is very impressive.

We drive back down the road and take the turn up for Garbidito, which somehow we had missed on the way up! As soon as we arrive, the target bird is immediately on view.

There are Citril Finch on the grass field in front of where we park the car, up to six birds, a couple of which are heard singing.

The walk up the valley to the Wallcreeper cliff is strangely quiet and, in the end, it was all for nothing as no Wallcreeper are seen. We do however see another Lammergeier and approximately sixty Alpine Chough. I have a chat with a couple coming back down the track, and they report that they had seen a Wallcreeper earlier.

On the way back towards Hecho, some of the Egyptian Vulture are still present, so I grab some shots.

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Next, we cross over to the Roncal Valley and again head for France. Driving up the mountain a Fox is stood in the middle of the road, so I slow down and stop, and it comes to the car! As we drive away the fox runs along in the road behind us, until we stop at a pull in, where we have some Alpine Chough. While the back of the car is open, the fox steals a bag of food and runs off, carrying the bag by the handle but being hindered by the baguette, so it leaves the bag and takes the bread. We all thought that was hilarious apart from Roger, as it’s his bread.

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We keep trying various places but with little success. A last effort near a ski resort on the French side is rewarded after an uphill slog, with a group of birds whose calls I didn’t recognise; Alpine Accentor 42°58'21.79"N 0°45'21.51"W.

There are three birds feeding very unobtrusively. I shout down the hill to Roger who starts up, John who is nearby but out of sight, hears the shout and is soon with me. Meanwhile Roger is making the effort and he gets to the spot, of Alan there is no sign. We watch the birds for a while before I see Alan and wave him up. The birds head higher and over some rocks, we keep track of them, but doing this, Alan loses us. As he heads back to the car, he then finds another two Alpine Accentor. After we come down off the mountain, we head across and have a look at these two birds as well.

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Alpine Accentor

Very windy all day today

Overnight Hecho, at Hotel de la Valle 42°44'23.88"N 0°44'54.75"W.

Saturday May 7th

Early morning and we just stood on the corner of the road across from the hotel photographing the birds as the opportunity arrived, doing this, Red and Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture and Serin are photographed and Booted Eagle and Honey Buzzard are seen.

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Serin and Black Kite

Leaving Hecho we set off down the valley, stopping a couple of times, but are forced back to the car by a rain shower at the second stop.

We arrive at Riglos and the variety species changes from what we had been seeing. Woodchat Shrike and Melodious Warbler are new. The Melodious Warbler is singing from the same stretch of telephone cable as a Nightingale, right out in the open.

At Riglos village we have a pair of Rock Sparrow at the church while we are watching the crazy antics of the climbers on the Mallos de Riglos, the bizarre rock formations of the area.

A stop on the way out of Riglos gives us a lifer butterfly; Black-veined White. Much bigger than I expected, there a few flying, but due to the heat, they are hyper and don’t settle; no pictures.


We head on, towards the Embalse de la Sotonera, towards an ever darkening sky. By the time we get there we have thirty minutes or so of birding, before the heavens open and the rain is torrential; birding is abandoned and we move on.

We spot a wetland area near Ejea de los Caballeros and drive in for a look, not leaving the car as its still raining. Great Reed Warbler are very noticeable, with at least 15 seen. A Bittern is heard calling and a Purple Heron is seen in flight, but that’s about it.

We push on to our hotel for the night, the Hotel Gorma at San Martín de la Virgen de Moncayo 41°50'6.83"N 1°47'33.08"W.

We settle into our rooms, shower and then head down for some food in the nice looking restaurant. We take a table for four, which is next to a table that is set for twenty plus, then a look on the other side of the room, and another big table. About seventy people would be coming in to dine later. Our waiter turns out to be Manuel. The soup was slopped all over the table and cutlery, and when telling us what was on the menu, he spoke at high speed, his Spanish unintelligible. So when we looked at him quizzically, he just talked at us in a louder and louder voice. And when that didn’t work, he wrote it down on the table cloth!

We asked Manuel about the large party, and he tells us that it is the “festival of the father of the chickens in October”; at least, that’s how we translated it...

We retired from the restaurant just as the big party was arriving, and they were still going at 01:30

Very windy early am, very heavy rain mid afternoon. The temperature dropped from 19.5c to 11c during the rain and didn’t recover after the rain.

Sunday May 8th

It was four bleary eyed, tired birders who set off from the hotel this morning, and we didn’t leave them a tip. I managed to crash through every door that I came across, sometimes twice, just to see if the noisy bastards from last night appreciated lots of noise when you are trying to sleep.

We set off towards El Planeron 41°22'24.85"N 0°38'19.56"W, an S.E.O. reserve near to Belchite. El Planeron has become the place to see Dupont’s Lark.

El Planeron

At a random roadside stop we had Spectacled and Dartford Warbler and a flock of forty seven Honey Buzzards heading north.
The last time I was this way, it was dark and we were unable to find the signs for the reserve and the track that leads to the spot. This time its daylight and we have no trouble, in fact as soon as we stop the car and get out Dupont’s Lark are heard singing. We see a bird, in flight, singing and are sure that this is Dupont’s.
John decides that he wants better, and starts scanning with his scope, and after, what seems like an age, he says “I’ve got one!” I’m standing next to him, so grab a quick look through his scope, but all I can see is a Calandra Lark, and I say no, it’s a Calandra. John tells me to look in front of the Calandra, and lo, there it is, a singing Dupont’s Lark.

While stood here, there are plenty of birds; Marsh Harrier, Honey Buzzard, Bee-eater, Crested, Calandra, Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Lark.

Honey Buzzard

Driving away, we are heading back. It’s quite a drive, but we have plenty of time. Driving along we have two Great Spotted Cuckoo fly over the road, so we stop to look at them. And then further up the same road we repeat the stop procedure for two Lesser Kestrels.
We stop at the Saladas de Chiprana, some lagoons just off the road. Nothing spectacular here, but we do have two each of Purple Heron and Turtle Dove. And plenty of Lesser Emperor are seen.


So we set off for the last bit of driving, and we miss our junction, so we have to go to the next junction to turn around and come back for the correct road. And when we arrive at the airport we end up at the wrong terminal, and then I set off thinking I knew where the car place was only to get us back onto the motorway system heading the wrong way! Fortunately a policewoman could direct us the right way and back at the airport we get to the correct terminal and there was the car hire office, nightmare at the airport over. Well, no, at the check in, there is no mention at all of our flight! Apparently, Terminal 2 has A, B and C, and we had to check in at C, but C is in a different building... We were well confused, but eventually the penny drops and we get checked in, although by now the sweat is running out of me in rivulets.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)
Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus)
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides)
Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) Heard
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)
Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)
Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina)
Pochard (Aythya ferina)
Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus)
Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus)
Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus)
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
Booted Eagle (Aquila pennatus)
Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni)
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)
Quail (Coturnix coturnix) Heard
Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) Heard
Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) Heard
Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio)
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Coot (Fulica atra)
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Eurasian Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus)
Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)
Little Plover (Charadrius dubius)
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)
Sanderling (Calidris alba)
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)
Audouin's Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii)
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus)
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)
Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata)
Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis)
Rock Dove (Columba livia)
Feral Pigeon (Columba livia ''feral'')
Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)
Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)
Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius)
Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)
Scops Owl (Otus scops) heard
Little Owl (Athene noctua)
Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba)
Common Swift (Apus apus)
Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius)
Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)
Dupont's Lark (Chersophilus duponti)
Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra)
Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla)
Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens)
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae)
Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Wood Lark (Lullula arborea)
Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
House Martin (Delichon urbicum)
Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica)
Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)
Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris)
Dunnock (Prunella modularis)
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)
Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus)
Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis)
Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica)
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)
Common Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla)
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
Fan-tailed Warbler (Cisticola juncidis)
Cetti's Warbler (Cettia cetti) Heard
Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus)
Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta)
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Western Bonelli's Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli)
Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix)
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)
Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata)
Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans)
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala)
Coal Tit (Periparus ater)
Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus)
Great Tit (Parus major)
Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria)
Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla)
Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus)
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)
Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)
Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Magpie (Pica pica)
Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)
Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia)
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Common Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
Siskin (Carduelis spinus)
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
Linnet (Acanthis cannabina)
Serin (Serinus serinus)
Citril Finch (Serinus citrinella)
Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus)
Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)
Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)

Monday, June 06, 2011

June 6 2011

My stars, the Sun and the Moon are all aligned today; I’m off work and in the house, when I get a text from Stewart at 08:51.

“WHITE-THROATED ROBIN Hartlepool Headland trapped this morning”

From a standing start, I was showered, dressed, in the car, through the traffic and the Tyne Tunnel and watching the bird by 10:16.

White-throated Robin White-throated Robin

The bird moved from one bowling green to another, and seemed faithful to one corner and after seeing it on the road beside the bowling green, I took a chance and sat down on the pavement, and waited. I could hear all the other photographers blasting away at it, but nothing for me, I couldn’t even see it. I was just starting to get nervous, when it appeared on the road again.

With my luck running, I’m just off to put the lottery on…