Tuesday, 1 May 2018

28th and 29th April and Lesvos Snapshots

Sedgie along the bridleway (c) Bark

I missed the first fine weekend of the spring and came back down to the moor this weekend to find that winter had returned, it felt like birding in late October. Grey wet and windy in marked contrast to my week in Lesvos (see attached posting)
With the exception of Turtle Doves all of our regular summer visitors have arrived and, in the damp, cold, blustery conditions, were only singing very intermittently and reluctantly. Two Cuckoos were present on Saturday morning and we were lucky enough to see one of the very well as it fed and called along the bridleway.

Cuckoo above (c) JR ...below (c) Bark
It moved from post to post and appeared to be going to the ground to feed but all we could see that it might be catching were black slugs in the grass, I had understood that their diet was exclusively caterpillars.
A Grasshopper Warbler reeled half-heartedly from the Car park field and from the bushes beside the path to the first screen. Two Garden Warblers were singing and a Lesser Whitethroat was calling from the bushes at the start of the bridleway. The only birds singing wholeheartedly were Sedge Warblers that seemed completely undeterred by the adverse conditions.
singing Sedge Warbler (c) JR

A walk down to Noke on Saturday revealed a fine male Wheatear hunting from the fence. We were pleased to spot a pair of Greenfinches gathering nest material and disappearing into the hedge by the farm. They have become much scarcer on the moor over the last few years and we hope that they will be doing their best to rebuild the population.

Wheatear and Greenfinch at Noke farm (c) Bark

There was a substantial flock of at least twenty-five Black Tailed Godwits on Big Otmoor on both days this weekend. They are looking especially fine in their bright various brown and brick red breeding colours. Partially because it was so cold and the wind was whipping in our faces, we failed to take the time to go through them carefully. Later on Sunday one more diligent and hardier birder did, and revealed the presence of two summer plumaged Bar-tailed Godwits amongst them.
The weather looks set to improve over the next week and hopefully this will be much more conducive to a full spring dawn chorus and the safe return of the Turtle Doves again.
female Bullfinch (c) JR

Oxford Swift Survey
The Oxford Swift Group are gathering data on our local swifts. They are very keen to gather information about their feeding and foraging. They would like people to join in and send them their observations of where, when and how many swifts are seen. This is not a difficult process once you have joined the Oxford Swifts Group. It is another example of where “Citizen Science “can make a real difference to our knowledge and at the same time help this threatened iconic species. Please contact oxfordswiftcity@rspb.org.uk for more information.

Red-footed Falcon Kalloni

My travelling companions. Two birders and two birds (Black -eared Wheatears
Lesvos Snapshots
A list of the birds and places would might well prove to be tedious and so to give a flavour of our trip to Lesvos from 17th to the 24th April I offer these moments in words and pictures.
"a little bundle of cross!"
The sounds of the island are unique and evocative, and they linger long in the memory. Nightingales are heard everywhere, sometimes even duetting in weird harmony with Marsh Frogs.

Nightingale and Orphean Warbler
I remember sheep bells clonking and clanking; gently and softly as they graze in the fields and olive groves and at other times jangling more urgently as they are driven down from the pastures to be milked. In one place it was possible to simultaneously hear the loud hoarse rasping chant of a Great Reed Warbler side by side with the complex rounded musical song of an Orphean warbler.

Poppies and lavender sp.
Wild flowers everywhere. Olive groves carpeted with white daisies. Roadsides and field margins spangled with poppies. Not our regular cadmium red poppies but a much deeper darker blood red. On the edges of the woodland, broom is in flower, shooting sprays of yellow into the air like frozen sparks from a roman candle.
Watching more than two hundred Glossy Ibises in fresh breeding plumage, feeding in shallow flooded pools at Kalloni salt pans. In the sunlight they are iridescent in shades of deep purple brown and black. They feed in a loose scrum probing for worms in the soft muddy grassland.

Glossy Ibises
They are watched by four or five Squacco herons and at the far side of the pool three drake Garganey keep close company with a female. Their spring plumage is immaculate. They are completely smart, clean and tidy – designer ducks, if there were such a thing! Overhead a Whiskered Tern flies round stooping to pick insects of the surface of the water.

Whiskered Tern and Squacco Heron
Standing at the roadside at Kavaki watching male Ruppell’s Warblers singing their scratchy songs from the top of cliffside bushes. They are surely one of the most stunning of the Sylvia warblers – the Collins Field Guide simply describes them as “unmistakeable”. A male Subalpine Warbler sits out briefly in the open and then I’m not so certain that the Ruppell’s is the most attractive member of the family! Behind the warblers on a prominent boulder a Blue Rock Thrush stakes his claim to the cliff.

Ruppells Warbler Subalpine Warbler and Blue Rock Thrush
A newly cut hayfield liberally sprinkled with Yellow Wagtails newly arrived and on passage to central and northern Europe. They march purposefully over the drying grass picking up insects. The females are subtly different from each other but the males are very different and reflect the eight or so different European races and geographical variations. There are black headed individuals at one extreme and then a range of subtle variations in blues and soft greys with differences in supercilia and neck patterns.  

Yellow Wagtail subspecies
We scan through them eagerly but in this party we are unable to find my desired Citrine Wagtail, a species I had never previously seen. Later down at the ford at Fantomeni, much to my delight we found one picking its way over the rocks in the stream. It was a sparkling male, resplendent in the sharp lemon-yellow plumage from which it gets its name.
Male Citrine wagtail
There were many other moments and very special birds that come to mind. Corn Buntings and Crested Larks being the default birds in the island and an amazing range and numbers of waders feeding unconcerned beside us at the salt pans.

Top picture Marsh Sandpipers below Black-winged Stilts
Pratincoles, Orioles, Rollers, Shrikes Flycatchers and both Pallid and Montague’s Harriers all showed brilliantly for us in different places. We found all the “specials” such as Kruper’s Nuthatch, Rock Nuthatch and Cinerous bunting. Lesvos in April is a great birding destination and to see it at its best you do not have to join an expensive tour.

Cinerous Bunting
The island has had a bad press because it is near to the Turkish mainland and has been used as a gateway to Europe by large numbers of refugees and migrants. The migrants just as the birds do, regard it as a stepping stone, a passage stop on the way to somewhere else, they don’t want to stay there, and the islanders are reluctant to host them. It is a complex, sensitive matter and an issue that should concern us all.  However, it is not a reason to avoid Lesvos, we saw no evidence of the problem but heard about the anxieties of the islanders who are dependent on the tourist trade. I would never wish to dismiss or diminish the scale of the problem, but it is not a reason to stay away from this birding hotspot.

All Pics from Lesvos (c) Bark

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