Sunday, March 29, 2020

New Mammal Atlas for UK.

The book shown below has only just been published and is a volume that should grace the bookshelf  \of anyone with an interest in wildlife in the UK.





Inspired by the late Derek Yalden, the Atlas presents the collated results of records from the UK for the period 2000-2016. The design layout and presentation of text, maps, illustrations and diagrams is absolutely excellent, as is the up to date information on all our familiar mammal species. Particularly pleasing and interesting are the details made available on the wide range of bat species and cetaceans, many of which are supported by relatively few records.




A book that can be browsed time and time again, releasing new information, inspiration and delight on each visit.  Copies can be obtained from Pelagic Publishing  (www.pelagicpublishing.com ) or by visiting the Mammal Society website ( www.mammal.org.uk ).







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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Birds of Cyprus.

The book shown below was published at the very beginning of 2020 and joins others in the series of field guides produced by Helm.  I was really looking forward to it supplementing the variety of birds to be seen in Cyprus on my visit this Spring , but then current circumstances intervened. I was also looking forward to spending time with Colin ( Richardson ) and to congratulating him face to face on what is an absolutely excellent publication.




   This is not a review in a formal sense, more a celebration of what is a tremendous publication that would no doubt have enhanced the enjoyment and experience of many birders visiting Cyprus for the first time this Spring.  As might be expected from Helm the standards throughout are beyond first class, be it the layout designs, illustrations, presentation of the text and distribution maps and the reproduction quality of the photographs. The authors  and all others involved deserve our thanks for a volume that will give countless hours of enjoyment !

I particularly liked the compendium of birdwatching sites and the exhaustive and precise details for each. Such is a fitting tribute to Colin Richardson's diligent exploration of the island. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone intending to visit Cyprus ( which , currently, is in a more severe form of lockdown than the UK ). Future circumstances will , I am sure, be different and allow the full benefits to emerge from what is a wonderful island. For those who have already reaped the benefits of visiting Cyprus then the book provides a wonderful prompt to reliving  the experiences you have accumulated.

Until last year I'd never had a good view of what is now accepted taxonomically as Cyprus Scops Owl. Then the view of a slightly angry looking bird peering down at us from the upper confines of a large thorny bush were superb and the diagnostic slightly darker and greyer plumage well seen . Such has been perfectly replicated in the stunning illustration on Page 142, even to "the look", an experience now depicted in perpetuity. Thank you.

It may well be that visits to Cyprus might now be curtailed for some time. More reason to get a copy of this book, repeatedly savour the contents and build up your enthusiasm for a visit at a future time.
You'll not be disappointed in any respects.


A challenge to isolation !

Yesterday morning I started what I now intend to be a regular habit in the ensuing weeks, that of covering a given small local area and noting what birds I've seen.  Thankfully, where I live is central to two adjacent kilometre squares , one of which has the River Don running through it and the other comprises an upper part of the rising flank of the eastern Pennines.. As a consequence , and easily within reach , are a variety of habitats that inevitably will provide a good selection of birds. I've identified three routes I can follow on my "permitted exercise walk" each day and am quite looking forward to it all.

Yesterday morning was quite cold and a bit misty when I went out ( I suppose the area averages out at a little over 250/260m. ).  I confess it was after dawn (0530 hours ) and whilst a few cars were on the move I only saw one other person.  Suffice to say I didn't see much,  as the route I'd chosen was closest to the houses and predominantly "urban" in all respects  despite the rural location. I repeated it again this morning, with, much the same return, excepting a singing Mistle Thrush and a very welcome rasping Greenfinch..

The contribution our gardens make nowadays in supporting our birdlife is of paramount importance given many of the rough corners within our landscape have been lost in the quest to bring all available areas into production.  The task of monitoring garden birds has risen in parallel and the results from the surveys organized by the British Trust for Ornithology in this respect have been illuminating ( see www.bto.org/gbw ).  The benefits of pursuing an interest in our urban wildlife have been championed by many, including the Urban Birder ( David Lindo ) whose indefatigable efforts have led many into appreciating a hitherto undiscovered world on their very doorsteps. See https://theurbanbirder.com/

Whilst my  " local list"  has not yet reached twenty , the opportunity to follow my passion within the circumstances imposed upon us all has already  improved my own sense of well being and offset a sense of restlessness and frustration. Worth embracing the habit I'd say !  I suspect that we might all discover something within our close neighbourhood that lay ignored previously, driven past as we set off for favoured birding areas a little further afield !  Whilst I doubt I shall see anything exceptional I intend registering the area within the BTO BirdTrack scheme and adding the bird species seen into the population monitoring programme.  I'll keep everyone posted on what is recorded within each month and such might be the interest and benefit I gain from it all I might make an effort to keep it going in a permanent sense.

In passing may I add this as a Postscript. Last evening many in my village, along with countless thousands within the UK, emerged on to their doorsteps at 2000 hours  and clapped their hands as a gesture of thanks and admiration to the staff of the  National Health Service ( NHS )  { and now the 600,000 + volunteers who have come forward to help }  for the magnificent job they're doing in countering the effects of the Conovid 19 epidemic..

It was humbling, and not a little emotional, to witness and be a part of something so simple, but so far reaching in a collective sense, happening as it was throughout the country. When I came back indoors I was much reminded of the epic words of Sir Winston Churchill about the Battle of Britain. Substitute "nursing" for "human conflict" and the tribute is as vibrant today as ever was.

Never, in the field of nursing, has so much been owed by so many to so few.

To all in the NHS, thank you, take care and bless you all.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Facing the future !

Well, I'd be the first to agree that it's been an absolute age since I last put out a Blog.  Many things managed to get in the way, but I suppose 2019 will go down as both a good and bad year !!

Recovering from a knee injury , sustained in 2018, which " insisted"  over time in improving, and then deteriorating in equal measure, was somewhat frustrating to say the least. Eventually, in November 2019, things cleared up entirely after over fourteen months.   In between, and on a completely different front, I'd had to replace two laptops  ( yes two ! ).  A complete meltdown on each occasion against which I'm still reaping the penalties.  If anyone reads this and realises I haven't been in touch for some time then please E-mail me as I've probably lost your contact details which probably right now reside in some local cyber cemetery!

There were some better times, of course, when I was at Spurn and the time I spent out in Cyprus ( see the Blog entries ).  Nonetheless, I was rather looking forward to 2020 as the preceding months appeared , overall,  to have moved through less than smoothly !

The New Year started in Scotland from which the return journey allowed a "calling off" at the Firth of Forth where I managed to see both Surf Scoter and the White-winged Scoter. Some local birding followed, including a day south of Doncaster which produced both Common Crane and Rough-legged Buzzard. Not at all bad for South Yorkshire!

A period of stormy weather saw a weekend on the East Coast cancelled and damage sustained to the house roof !   Was the improvement trend faltering I asked myself?  A week in Norfolk soon followed , which was largely a washout,  and then following on my return home the Covid-19 virus  pandemic engulfed us all !  The immediate effect of this was that an intended "Spring sojourn"  of several weeks in Cyprus was cancelled and a later trip to the Cairngorms suffered the same fate.  I'm afraid I took the view that decisive action was needed, however much of a disappointment this proved to be , as the uncertainty surrounding the circumstances was unlikely to end for some time. Being a "golden oldie" the advice to isolate soon followed and now, of course, we're subjected to "conditioned house arrest".  My preferred description ! So it looks as if 2020 is set to be worse than 2019, so how best to approach things?

I rather suspect that the overall implications of what affects us all will extend much further than the three weeks , or even three months, that are currently being offered  as popular "milestones".   I truly believe it's best not to create such false horizons, much better to construct a timeline of your own , and to determine a series of activities that link to your interests and thereby provide some form of substitute  to what you might otherwise be engaged in.   A home based bird list, for your immediate area, coupled with the odd migration watch perhaps,  a deliberate selection of wildlife documentaries on television from which you can compile your own world list of species "seen" , and a catching up on reading all those natural history books you've bought but not yet opened. I'm sure there are endless other possibilities and I'd be glad to hear of your ideas.

For my part I've decided to continue with this Blog, to include details of birds I've seen on my local "exercise " walk, to include book reviews and reportage on environmental and conservation topics that might yet hit the news.  After such an absence of regular entries the "readership" of the Blog will take a little time to build up and so feed back and ideas might be a bit thin on the ground, but keep them coming nonetheless.  In the meantime , best wishes to all, take care .

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Further thoughts on the petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

The above petition is now close to reaching 80,000 signatures, a tremendous achievement.   So the next obvious point to make ( of course ! ), is that , if you haven't signed , do so now !.

I'm on holiday at Spurn at present and so have lots of opportunity to consider, again and again, the overall situation as I wander around or complete a slow paced sea watch!  Cutting to the chase, the immediate , most important aspect to address and gain improvement against , is the continuing persecution of raptors.  Many of those affected are iconic members of our wildlife heritage. If there were to be any kind of similar assault on, say, our artistic heritage, there would be an outcry. As yet that hasn't occurred to the same potential extent, but will if the arrogance and self interests of the shooting fraternity continues even given its Establishment associations.

I've little doubt that any call for an outright ban would take some time to bring into being. However, a debate wherein the persecution issue was properly laid bare and the consequences of no improvement arising made apparent could help tremendously. This is where I believe the RSPB could help by encouraging support from its members.  My RSPB Campaign Newsletter arrived this week ,urging people to assist in calling for sustainable farming policies and in resisting  any extension of the large power station complex south of the important Minsmere Reserve.  Laudable both , but some mention of the continuing plight of raptors wouldn't have gone amiss.  To avoid doing so starts to accept the incidents are part of a developing permanent culture and I simply refuse to accept that position.




A recent Blog from the RSPB set out the need for a review of the grouse shooting industry, something I couldn't agree with more. But not all the membership reads such Blogs , a fact I'm reminded of given a series of recent conversations with people  at the BirdFair and elsewhere. The question , in one form or another, seems an inevitable component of any conversation........ " What's the RSPB doing about all this raptor persecution?".     Now I realise that such a demand is simplistic and with no simple answer, but it prompts me to consider whether the RSPB might be a little out of touch with the expectations of its membership ( straight forward demands in some instances).    There's an immensely loyal bunch of people out there with concerns about "its Society " as well as issues like raptor persecution. It seems to me there is an all out need to set out , even repeatedly, the extent of the Society's involvement at any one time and to try and involve the membership wherever possible and curb their frustration.  Incidentally , the one comment that comes through , time and again, is support for the magnificent work of the Investigations Team  ( I couldn't agree more ).  What does seem to go unappreciated are the position statements and summaries of what should be without any accompaniment of action points .

I'd be the first to recognize this is a difficult problem, but let's never accept it as an impossible one, which brings us full circle to the beginning. The need to precipitate action.  ACTION THIS DAY, NOT TOMORROW OR THE WEEKEND.......NOW!!

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Birder's Journey to the Big 300 By Terry Wells.

Whilst I was at the recent BirdFair at Rutland Water I went to listen to Terry Well's presentation about his new book   (pictured below ).   There was a certain honesty, lack of drama and ego about his presentation that persuaded me I should buy a copy.  I'm glad I did  and have no hesitation in recommending it to all. It can be obtained through all the usual channels ( including booksellers listed within Amazon searches ). the full title is as above,  the publisher is Silverwood Books Ltd and the ISBN number is 978-1-78132- 862-0.



For many listers their total is very much a personal matter and not open to being published, promoted,  and details given of successes and failures.  This is where this story is possibly different in that it catalogues a year of effort trying to get to or exceed  the magical 300 total.  But, first of all, let me refer back to the book in general. As might be imagined the first chapters deal with Terry's "development " as a birder, covers the years when other aspects that affect us all  have to be given attention. There are some typical "lad stories" too, the premier one is of Ray Moore and his calculator. I'll not spoil it , but suffice to say I've chuckled every day since I read about it !

But then we come to the real content of the book !   Terry's opportunity , through retirement, to try and see over 300 species in the UK in a single calendar year.   He devotes a chapter to each month and this is where I guess other listers will pore over the strategies, sequence of visits and site details with forensic enthusiasm.  The approach within these chapters , as with the birding approach itself , is consistent and "full on" with honest admissions about the failures, repeat site visits and decisions behind sometimes discontinuing a twitch. Beginners aren't left out either as interwoven in the text are explanations about white-winged gulls, organizations, official approaches to lists that might otherwise confuse people new to birding.  Perhaps a more extended explanation of the RBA Bird Alert Pro facility would have helped at some point.

I'm sure many birders will be enthused by the accounts and dream of, if not plot and plan, an attempt of their own. Setting aside the costs of time and money ( not inconsiderable ! ), the travelling and the sheer unrelenting physical demands, there is the over-riding necessity of turning out almost everyday, whatever the weather, in order to drive the list ever onwards. January and February, even March, might be mastered , but there's a long way to go thereafter and , as Terry's account aptly demonstrates, the effort needed can never diminish.  There'll be doubts and desperate, dark moments , all of which are mentioned , and, inevitably, there'll be occasions totally unconnected with birding that have to be accepted and properly dealt with. Life can't be "put on hold" for birding reasons.

Terry deals with all of this in a way that I felt made the book very human and realistic. There's an obvious love of birds and wildlife, even landscape, apparent within his writing, but also a generosity towards people,  ( but best not to mention it if you're a dog breeder ! ).   And then there's Mary.....partner, bird spotter extraordinaire and general factotum,  even suggesting a trip to the SW in the depths of winter in a quest for certain species.  Clearly that sort of support is crucial too.

I'd recommend this book to all birders, at whatever level, as each and everyone will be able to identify with the challenges it reflects and the stories it reveals.  A great achievement, quietly told in an unassuming style. I've read it , but dipped back into it a couple of times already. Buy it, enjoy it, relive some of your own experiences, perhaps even some of the species and twitches described in the book.  And, if you're new to listing, I'm sure this will be a book that helps with your own approaches and activities.

And, finally, to Terry. Thanks for sharing. A standing testament to a lot of effort, but something we can all enjoy too, time and again I suspect !,

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A call for support from the RSPB !

It's some little time since I put out an entry on this Blog. There are good reasons for this as it happens , but the explanations can wait as the topic below demands urgent action from us all.

Recently the Directors of Wild Justice registered an E-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting.  I'm presuming at this point that readers are conversant with the background details and arguments surrounding such a plea.  As I look at the petition site this afternoon the number of signatures stands at 69,153, a truly remarkable response given the little time which has elapsed since it went public. To gain a debate by elected members of Parliament the number of signatures must reach 100, 000 and preferably  be in excess of that figure. As many will probably know there has already been one debate associated with the petition dealing with the same subject matter and based on a previous petition registered by Mark Avery. The ensuing proceedings can only be described as a travesty, if not resulting in a wholly predictable outcome.

Endless details on persecution incidents and their association with grouse moors have been published and there is no justification in repeating those here. What appears to be central to the whole issue is the lack of any intention on the shooting industry's part to cease such persecution despite it being in flagrant disregard of the law.  Now, there are those who say it only a proportion of "bad apples" within the industry who are responsible and giving everyone a bad name. Whilst the main plank of the conservation case has been associated with the targeted activities against Hen Harriers the geographical spread of different species affected and birds shot, trapped or poisoned etc suggests we are dealing with somewhat more than a portion of a "crop", but that the prejudiced feelings against raptors is endemic within the industry.  But even if that isn't the case the fact that, other than a few published blandishments on the subject by representative organizations, the actions by the industry against its own miscreants is difficult to determine if, indeed, any pressure has been brought to bear at all ? 

In my view "enough is very much enough".  I was personally convinced that licensing would address the problem and set out my own E-petition some time ago against which the Government response was little more than a joke.  Whilst the RSPB chose not to support that petition , nor that initiated by Mark Avery to ban driven grouse shooting, it has latterly suggested that licensing should be adopted, although its efforts to gain support for this measure appear a little less than robust. Since then I have changed my position in the face of no indication for change at all being forthcoming from the shooting industry and persecution incidents, if anything, increasing.

Set against this background, and any historical positioning, it occurs to me that we now have a unique opportunity to try and really get this issue in the public domain.




But first of all, a technical point.  Should a General Election be announced the six month period wherein signatures can be submitted on a petition will close and the whole  matter fall by the wayside.   As seems likely, a General Election will be announced at some point this autumn therefore the opportunity to build up the signature total of the petition might be truncated. This surely moves towards an obvious conclusion that every effort , and by whatever legitimate means, must be employed to not only achieve a high level of signatures and demonstrate the public's abhorrence at the levels of persecution occurring . but to obtain as full a debate as possible on the matter in advance of an election and to move the issue into the very territory of subjects under scrutiny at the time of that election.

Whilst I personally doubt that driven grouse shooting will be brought to a peremptory end in 2019, the further exposure of the current persecution levels is not something the Tories would want to be asked of each of their prospective candidates when appearing on the doorstep. Neither would they want the spectre of regulation being discussed widely, particularly given the recent interest taken by both other political parties and a wide selection of the media around 12th August last !  So now is the time to demonstrate the depth and breadth of feeling on the matter within the British public.  The extent to which the shooting industry feels it can set itself outside of the law must be challenged and on as wide a basis as possible. Not only must there be a reverse in fortunes of the Hen Harrier, pictured above, but, as appeared recently, the disgusting sight of a young Golden Eagle flying around with a trap attached to its foot must surely signal an end being brought to such barbaric behaviour by those responsible.

So, enter the RSPB !   It has often been said that the membership level of the RSPB  ( oft quoted in excess of a million )  is the envy of  some of the political parties. I'm not conversant with the current levels of membership of each of the parties,but I do feel that  an opportunity exists for the RSPB to assist in bringing about what could be the greatest exposure of the persecution of raptor problem hitherto. An unequivocal, IMMEDIATE request for its membership to support the above petition , thereby politicising its  membership to take part ( at their own volition ) in a bit of old style campaigning,  could elevate the issues and allow discussion on the merits of banning , licencing, vicarious liability and so on.  The good ladies of Didsbury, Manchester who rose up against the use of bird plumes in the millinery trade would be proud......and look what that led to.

Such action would need to be immediate and not prove to be the subject of endless examination, meetings on the top corridor or a discussion at the forthcoming AGM and so forth.  The RSPB appears to have been somewhat cautious in recent times when it comes to overt action and campaigning and what used to be its "one stop shop" position when it came to matters relating to birds has tarnished somewhat.  I appreciate that such a request comes at the very beginning of the tenure of its new Chief Executive and apologise accordingly, but time is of the essence and it would signal too that the Society itself has had enough given the resources and effort it has placed against the problem over the years.

Just consider what the response might be , and at this time of disjointed political unity too.  Exceeding 100, 000 would certainly seem a reality,   but surely 150, 000, even 200,000 is not beyond reach.   I doubt there is few, if any,  RSPB members who aren't appalled by the continuing presence of persecution of our raptors going on in the background and who wouldn't want the issue to be prevented in whatever way possible. Now is an opportunity to get the issue way up on the agenda.
In this sense the RSPB might be seen as pivotal in terms of improving the success of the current initiative. However, I have to say that, in the absence of overt support, one can only ponder on what, precisely, the RSPB does currently see itself as influencing and what role and positioning it  commands. Without being facetious , I have to say " remember the laws which were drummed into us all at school,    actions and opposing reactions ". The shooting industry is not going to suffer willingly any Damascene conversion and only action by the conservation organizations can bring about change.   In my opinion, now is that time !!!


And a final question! Have you signed the petition ?  If not, use the link and sign without delay.


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Travelling again!

After the usual few days of  sorting out the aftermath of being away for a period , which has precluded any serious local birding, I'm off on my travels again (to Bulgaria ).  Sadly I shan't be able to post any entries whilst I'm away . I'm back shortly and will regale you with what I suspect will be some exciting insights about a country that I 'm assured is excellent for birds ( and scenery, and food and the odd vintage too ! ).

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

30 April and the final day !

My route was more or less the same as yesterday with the Agios Georgios area now devoid of people.  Lady's Mile had provided some excellent views of Greater Flamingo, a Turtle Dove , a couple of parties of Ringed Plover, some Temminck's Stints , but little else.  Agios Georgios provided a single Lesser Grey Shrike, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher and a couple of Willow Warbler.

With nothing else appearing I spent some time at the Rabbit Farm pools and had the most stupendous views of Black Francolin  I've ever managed, which made up for the absence of anything else . Seen well , it's a very attractive bird recorded on virtually every occasion on call only, and , tantalizingly, never showing itself.

Despite a fair degree of effort I got virtually nothing else and returned to the hotel early afternoon to sort out arrangements for the car's return and other routine matters. Certainly the month has been a period of a fair number of high spots , the odd disappointment and a number of absolute surprises.  Some of the anticipated migration just never seemed to happen, e.g. the usual Lesser Kestrel arrival hasn't yet happened in anything like the expected numbers, similarly Rollers have appeared in dribs and drabs, and where were those resplendent Curlew Sandpipers I was so much looking forward to seeing.  You can't have it all as the saying goes  ( neither should you ).

After a number of extremely interesting discussions with various people I would hope to put together a few Blogs looking at subjects such as shooting, poisoning, and the almost bewildering arrangements surrounding the UK's territorial presence on the island, one which is also still riven by partition and political tensions. On the other hand , Cyprus is an island of intriguing contrasts set against the situation back home. For instance, they've just been harvesting the grain fields and the large Catherine wheel straw bales are spread around the fields awaiting collection. We've a whole summer wherein our own crops grow and ripen before being harvested in early autumn.  I got to thinking , and still don't know, what now happens with those fields in Cyprus given the very high summer temperatures. The last winter was very wet and some dams are at the fullest they've been in twelve years. What differences might that evoke for the agricultural systems and the habitats, in turn , which they provide for birds ?  Irrigation might be "on " this summer, but what normally happens?

 I shall leave feeling  the need to return and experience possibly a different aspect of what is an extremely interesting place for bird migration ( Cyprus has a relatively low breeding list of species ), particularly as autumn migration can be markedly different in character to that in Spring.  A great place, happy people, great food  and one I'm pledged already to return to .

Monday, 29th April...........an affinity with Swifts !

Out early to Lady's Mile where I found precious little until coming across  a Red-footed Falcon at the very end of the track !   On to Agios Georgios where I thought it would be worthwhile to get there relatively early and see what might have arrived overnight.  I ought to have reckoned there would be a church service given it was Easter Monday here and whilst things were relatively cool........120 cars worth in fact and two cold drinks stalls.   I didn't see anything !

On to the Akritiri reserve where I met with Viktor , who was operating his ringing site. Views from the Tower Hide included Squacco Heron and Ferruginous Duck and one each of Woodchat, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrike.  Things were improving  !  Viktor came up for a chat in between ringing rounds and we discussed recent sightings , including the large numbers of Swifts and hirundines over the reedbed the day previously ( 28th ). At that point a LITTLE SWIFT whizzed around the hide along with a few Swallow, odd Sand Martins and Common Swift and , at one point , was within touching distance. Tremendous ! It was about for less than a couple of minutes , but produced excellent views !

Later, I went down to Rabbit Farm pools where the water is rapidly disappearing since the temperatures zoomed. It was 27C down there and bird song, even of Cetti's Warblers , was beginning to wane. Wader numbers are going down by the day and nothing new had arrived. Two of the three Black tailed Godwits were still there whilst a Great Reed Warbler sang intermittently nearby.  I went down to Kourian Bay as I still favour the place as a visible migration spot. Over three quarters of an hour two flocks of 30 +  Glossy Ibis went east , but nothing else. Mid afternoon, and cutting back over the Akritiri wasteland area , a few Whinchat were in evidence, a female Black eared Wheatear ( pale throated form )and a couple of Hoopoe, but , otherwise, all was still and ferociously hot !  A check on various areas on the way back to the hotel produced nothing.  And that was it, a slow day but with a very good Cyprus record nonetheless.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sunday 28th April......a very distinct fall of passerines.

An inspection of the Lady's Mile area didn't , at first , give much of an impression of things having arrived in any numbers. Moving across the salt lake, towards Bishop's Pool and beyond, it was obvious that some common migrants at least had arrived with various Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, and Spotted Flycatcher being in evidence and a single Black eared Wheatear in the village even.

Agios Georgios was alive with birds with Masked and Red backed Shrike, Common Redstart, Nightingale ( in partial song ), Wood Warbler s, a couple of Willow Warblers, Whinchat, Spotted and Collared Flycatcher and a very distinctive song about which the jury is currently in session ( but which I'm convinced of the answer ). I only had a very brief glimpse of the bird but remain  happy ! (Keith and his wife regaled us with accounts of recent visits to the area when they had clearly hit lucky having seen Barred Warblers and Black headed Buntings on occasions when we were off elsewhere ).

On to the Akrotiri wetland areas which, apart from three Black tailed Godwits  which fed voraciously throughout the 45 minutes we were on site, held very little else.

Sadly the time had arrived when we needed to return to the hotel as my colleague leaves shortly and things of one sort or another needed to be tied up.  I've still more time in hand so will have to see what goodies might yet arise ! It turned out to be extremely tranquil in the confines of my room at the hotel, given it was Easter Sunday, which, in turn, allowed me to get these Blog entries up to date and plot and plan ahead !

Comment........I'm firmly convinced the bird in song was Olive-tree Warbler , which I've heard in various places previously. Some questions arose concerning the possibility of it being Great Reed Warbler, but I believe the cadences and structure of that species' song is more contrasting and that of Olive tree Warbler, whilst just as harsh , is contained within more of a band and exhibits less of the extremes .  Describing bird song  is a minefield and each of us relates both to the description and reality in different ways. But there we are.........

Saturday 27th April.......things tern around somewhat.

An early start to Lady's Mile and adjacent areas.  Four Tawny pipit along one of the tracks seemed newcomers and a Whimbrel flew over calling.  A "cloud" of around 120 Glossy Ibis over Akrotiri salt lake and an accompanying swarm of 40/50 Slender billed Gulls appeared to have been disturbed  by something.  We settled by one of the farthest pools , now clearly reducing in size by the day , and soon had 42 Gull billed Terns descend and start feeding. After a short while, and great views , they all set off almost in line ENE and were lost to view. A little later I found a flock of 46 of them down on a small island at the northern end. I couldn't rid myself of the close coincidence in numbers but felt that the birds were actually separate despite the ( then ) total of 88 being rather high !! Within this same time frame 6 Little Terns arrived and dispersed.  Remarkably this movement didn't appear to include generally any common waders as only a single Kentish Plover was found.

Moving across to Agios Georgios Blackcaps and Spotted Flycatchers were seen at various places and a further 90 Glossy ibis were seen moving north.  A usual inspection round of the wetlands produced increased numbers of Collared Pratincole with some appearing to be on the move. Finally , a return inspection of the Lady's Mile area produced a Lesser Grey Shrike , a Red backed Shrike and a rather dark female Montagu's Harrier which struck off ENE across the bay ascending very gradually until lost to view.

Friday 26th April......RBS surges, that's shrikes not shares ( got it ? ).

Collecting the car I realised I was surrounded by whirling House Martins in the underground garage , all near the exit, but not venturing outside. The first youngsters from an early nesting ?

On to the Troodos on what was Good Friday in Cyprus for the Greek Orthodox Church. Few people were around and we soon were at the final area you can reach. It was calm, became bright and pleasantly warm and a walk along a summit trail was a real joy. Cuckoo's called down in the valley, Cyprus Pied Wheatear chased among the sparse mature trees, a Hoopoe put on a fine display and Coal and Great Tits enveloped the whole atmosphere in song and calls.  A Turtle Dove called and Blackbirds quietly foraged on the woodland floor . Swifts whirled among the trees and I finally pinned down a Pallid Swift.  Both Common and Pallid breed in the villages nearby apparently. Despite walking several trails ,and really enjoying the atmosphere and surroundings , no Short-toed Treecreeper came my way so down the winding road we went, meeting ever increasing numbers of cars ascending higher to the much favoured restaurants located at higher elevations.

Rabbit Farm pools was the next stop which provided a couple of Marsh Sandpiper and Little Stint, a single LRP and a couple of Common Sandpiper. Over 20 Ruff in tremendous plumage were extremely excitable and spooked at every opportunity, clearly on the brink of setting off on the next leg of their migration. It was now 24 C so warming up a little.  A small party of Bee-eaters flew over in a cloudless blue sky so we never saw any of them and 19 Collared Pratincole were around.

A deliberate trawl of the "heath/scrub areas of the Akrotiri peninsula and that surrounding Lady's Mile produced 10 male Red-backed Shrike, all showing off their colours and hunting expertise.  Locate the shrike rather became the end game of the day, but was productive and satisfying.

Thursday 25th April......in some senses, best forgotten !

Early morning saw us on our way eastwards towards Larnaca where we first of all looked at the various wetlands , although these weren't our intended goal.  Things started reasonably well with a selection of waders including some fine Temminck's Stints and 11 White-winged Terns and a Whiskered Tern at Larnaca Sewage Works. So far so good.

Our primary objective was to see Calandra Lark and , whilst we did inspect some suitable places , I don't think we ever found the main area for which we'd been given directions. We did become familiar with two particular villages I wish to forget in our quest to find some lighthouse type structure, which one would imagine might be near the coast, but apparently wasn't and, in any case, was surrounded by holiday developments. After my having driven for around four hours I declared "enough was enough" and struck off back westwards. An inspection of some stretches of telephone wires ( yes, it had reached those sort of desperate levels ) that were virtually guaranteed to hold Lesser Kestrel at this time of year didn't raise the atmosphere one jot !

We went up to Germasogeia Dam and at least had a pleasant afternoon and saw some birds. A Mallard with a brood of 16 young in tow was impressive and good views were had of Purple Heron and Squacco Heron. A walk up along the inflow stream and the various "ponds" along its route provided some Great Reed Warbler song and extended views of a male Little Crake feeding out in the open.  Various birds sang, it was warm and pleasant , but no raptors appeared ,which rather summed up the delivery rating of the whole day in many senses. 

Wednesday 24th April........somewhat slow by comparison.

After a day's absence it seemed appropriate to concentrate on the Akrotiri  peninsula. The Tower hide produced what was to be the only Marsh Harrier for a while and a Golden Oriole nearby. Farther on The Rabbit Farm pools had a few Wood Sandpiper, a Collared Pratincole, Temminck's Stint and a glorious Red-throated Pipit.

Things were certainly not as hectic as we'd hoped ! We journeyed on to Kensington Cliffs along the coastal track and spent some time assembling a very short list of observations.  Again, we saw no vultures but had views of Eleonora's Falcon and Shag desmarestii .Returning along the coast we found a Lesser Whitethroat , Hoopoe and Spotted Flycatcher, so odd things were getting through.

A call into Agios Georgios produced a Pied Flycatcher and a couple of Blackcaps , but nothing else, so we cut across to Lady's Mile where we had a couple of Little Tern that were clearly new and a few Caspian and Armenian Gulls and a single immature BHG.   Thin pickings it would seem for a full day's effort.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Tuesday 23rd April..........a day to treasure !

Met Colin at Asprokremnos Dam and , almost immediately, had terrific views of a Cyprus Warbler adjacent to where we were parked . A lucky start!   Nearby we had a single Green Sandpiper, a falcon flew over ( probably a Peregrine ) , and local Red rumped Swallows put on a show as well as a Collared Flycatcher revealing itself in the plantation.

Off to the Timni Beach area to view the flooded area which has been so productive this Spring. The Forestry Department appear to be operating a bewildering policy of habitat destruction here around the picnic site by felling the mature trees. All was brought to a close when the area was then flooded by the excessive winter rains. Sadly it's beginning to dry out !  A small group of Wood Warbler, with one even in song, gave tremendous views, better than I sometimes get back on the breeding grounds in the UK.   Following this , Common Redstart, Lesser Whitethroat, lots of flava  wagtails, a Spotted Crake, a Black tailed Godwit,  Ruff, Marsh Sandpiper , 3 Baltic Gull flew west and a variety of supporting species was present and time simply flew by !  A chat with Anders Grey wherein we discovered a mutual friend  ( Phil Saunders ) who himself had been out in Cyprus not that long ago studying Rollers.....what a small , but wonderful , world that of birdwatching  actually is  !! 

Onwards and upwards to Anarita Park where a local Little Owl showed well . Sadly little else appeared , so we moved on and toured a bewildering panoply of what might best be described as "the real Cyprus countryside " !   A river valley provided a glimpse of a Kingfisher, singing Golden Oriole. and various singing Olivaceous Warblers. We checked a peregrine site just as an adult brought in prey and enjoyed the cacophony which resulted !  A privileged look at a Cyprus Scops Owl left me speechless ( not something I'm known to be afflicted with ! ).  As with quite a few experiences of the last few days I was also quietly furious at my camera having seized up , but I guess I'm not the first.

On to a hillside area of open scrubby vegetation where we soon found singing Cretzschmar's Buntings  ( at least three I suspect ). A memorable  and distinct call too.

It all had to end of course as , by this time it was actually late afternoon. A day with fast moving memories appearing in sequence. Thanks Colin.   But another highlight of the day was the absolutely delicious Armenian Easter Cake kindly provided by Mrs Sylvia Richardson which sustained the birding troops through these exciting times. A confection which contained almond and cinnamon and something I guess not many have the privilege of tasting more than once ( there were several slabs for everyone ! ).  Thanks Sylvia, much appreciated !

I need to offer a correction to some information I provided previously about Crossbills in Cyprus and about which I'd been misled .  There are coloured male birds which have been seen, orange-gy I'm told, as opposed to the brick red types most of us see back home. Apologies for the confusion.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Monday 22nd April. disappointing in the extreme !

The day dawned calm, sunny and warm.  Ho, ho , ho, was this going to be a good one , particularly after yesterday's notable Common Swift passage ?

A timely departure straight to Lady's Mile.  Just as we drew to a halt we disturbed a gull from the shoreline that we then failed to relocate.  Combined opinion suggested an immature Mediterranean Gull.  An immediate disaster that didn't bode well I thought.  A few Little Stint and Kentish Plover and 2 Spoonbill relieved the frustration. On to the Akritiri peninsula proper, but this brought no respite either with very little around or new.

Kourian Bay and the Rabbit Farm areas yielded nothing much either , so we called in at Agios Georgios  where the wind strength even made opening the car door difficult. A beast of a day!  We explored various areas, but succeeded with nothing. And so , here I am typing this back at the hotel mid afternoon, acknowledging that this is the first day since my arrival where I haven't seen something new. Pitiful!   What do I do until dinnertime I ask ?

Happy Easter  Monday for all back in the UK

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sundat 21st April.....mixed and slow.

An early start up into the foothills above Pareklesia to try and locate Cretzschmar's Bunting. It was sunny and bright , but with a very cold wind from the mountains . Despite covering what we thought were various locations the venture wasn't successful and we never even had a suspect in our sights. The truth was that there were virtually no birds on show and no accompanying song.

Back down to the lowlands and on to Lady's Mile where a few Caspian Gulls and a Slender billed Gull were present. A few Kentish Plover and an overflying flock of 40 Little Stints were on the farthest pool plus Common Swifts were beginning to come through. Eventually we drove across the sandflats and came out on the Bishops Pool road, making our way to near the Environmental Education Centre. from here we had a good view of most of the saltlake and counted at least 280 Greater Flamingos.  Common Swift movement was in full swing with seemingly unending lines of birds making their way through.

We spent some time on the coast where a couple of Little Tern flew west and a female Black eared Wheatear showed well.  All the flava wagtails of yesterday had gone from the cut fields  so we went on to the Rabbit Farm pools. We met the "Howards" there and although birds were few the jokes were good !!!   A single Greenshank and odd Collared Pratincoles were around and still the Common Swifts came through. Further time was spent around the Akrotiri area and, as we prepared to leave later in the afternoon, a couple of Gull billed Tern flew westwards through the military area.

Not a lot for a day's efforts with small birds being at a particular premium.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Saturday, 20th April......migrants still trickling in !

An early trip to Lady's Mile produced little other than numbers of Common Swift over the adjacent heath. All the Akrotiri marsh sites produced nothing that was new, but it was pleasant walking around in the warm sunshine. Rabbit Farn pools produced 3 Little Stint, 7+ Collared Pratincole  ( a noticeable increase ), a few Wood Sandpiper and Ruff and low numbers of Black winged Stilt. I suspect the Spur winged Plovers, based on the aggressive actions of the assumed male , are nesting on site , particularly as I then saw the other bird appear to "descend " on a nest. Despite a "watch" we had nothing new so we went along the coastal track.

The farmer had cut a couple of fields of grain crop, the straw from which was left lying out . Here we found around 200 flava  wagtails, mainly Grey headed types,  but with fewer Blue headed and only the odd feldegg  present. It was great simply parked next to the field watching them frantically feeding within metres of us. Odd Red rumped Swallow and Sand martin fed above the fields along with more numerous Swallow and Common Swift. A Great Spotted Cuckoo spent time in a nearby bush and gave great confiding views and then , later , we found a couple of Tawny Pipit nearby .

Despite searching a few other locations we had nothing new. With the wind rising yet again, a common feature of recent afternoons, our visit to Agios Georgios showed the Woodchat Shrike still present in its favourite spot , but with a Hoopoe providing good views whilst feeding n the open field surface.

Friday, 19th April..........success amongst the snow.

We set off straight after breakfast and , despite my misgivings, got through the rush hour traffic in Limassol without mishap on our way into the Troodos Mountains. It wa sa pleasant journey at the onset , but turned cooler as we gained elevation. We stopped at a fish farm area where I managed Grey wagtail , of which there's only a few known sites. Wren and Blackbird were in song so there was almost a UK atmosphere to things.

We pressed on and , quite soon , reached Troodos village, a mixture of the inevitable tourist facilities and a selection of chalet type structures. We went on higher and began to see lenses of snow left over from the winter, besides feeling the penetrating cold.  Jays and Coal Tit were easily seen , both of which have been suggested candidates as endemic species at one time or another ( notably by David Armitage Bannerman,   no relative I would add !! ). A single Cyprus Pied Wheatear sat atop a fence and provided excellent views. Driving up the road even higher I cracked the jackpot by noticing a single bird sitting at the very top of a gnarled, bare tree trunk..... a Crossbill, a species which has certainly been the subject of a lot of conjecture on Cyprus in recent times. I'm told a "red male" has never been seen , and this bird, despite giving out the typical  pose of a singing male on its favourite perch, was definitely a green type. I also thought the bill to be slightly deeper and more robust in build than in Common Crossbill  ( perhaps best not to set that particular hare coursing I thought later ! ).  Try as we might we couldn't find a Short toed Treecreeper, definitely a rather robust type here that wouldn't seem out of place among similar brethren in South America and , again, a suggested candidate for endemic status.  And then it started snowing and sleeting somewhat seriously so we decided to return later and head back down the hill.

We did , went to Akrotiri , where we had similar waders to yesterday  and where it started to rain rather heavily ( cyclonic stuff with all the accompanying thunder and lightning ). We gradually made our way back to the hotel given it was early afternoon , calling in at convenient birding spots. At Lady's Mile a few Caspian and Armenian gulls  provided some interest. A quick circuit of a couple of the pools provided a highlight to the day when we found 4 Spoonbills feeding very close to us. I've never been closer so it was a situation where we looked at them and they looked at us !!  After returning to feeding they soon took off after providing excellent close up views that will doubtless be treasured .  So we trailed back to the hotel late afternoon where the weather decided to improve......