Wednesday 28 April 2021

Bulgaria Spring 2021- Day Three (Epic Day!)

Well today was simply epic. The wind swung round to the north east over night and the day dawned with overcast and some rain. I decided to start off at Cape Kaliakra but wasn't expecting much because it was even colder for migrants than previous days. However I soon discovered I was very wrong and by lunch time had logged over 1720 birds of 82 species (most of them migrants). Ebird list HERE.

I then visited the project plot and had lunch there - the first meal I've had there and also did a bit of work before heading over to Shabla area. I did Shabla Tuzla and Shabla lake (a new site for me). Ebird lists HERE and HERE.  Slam dunk highlight were 2 Great Snipe - a lifer for me (don't get many of them in the WP nowadays!) . It was great to find my own ones as I was hoping to find this species on migration rather than twitch it on breeding grounds. 

There are simply too many other highlights today: the passerine fall on the Cape was spectacular including five Ortolans flying in (and 3 others on deck),  Woodchat and Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-breasted Flycatchers, Marsh Warbler, Thrush Nightingale, loads of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroat etc etc - none of which were here yesterday! also 100s of Little Gulls and Black Terns moving, the first flock of White-winged Blacks, Glossy Ibis flocks moving through, good numbers of Little Egrets migrating, the first Montagu's Harrier of the trip, Hen Harriers and more- it was basically one of the best days birding ever I've had out here. What an incredible difference a single day makes out here- its like literally full on spring occurred over night. So many photos today, here's a short list. 

Also Golden Jackal, 4 Roe Deer and a huge Glass Lizard (also had Hermann's Tortoise at the archaeological reserve a couple of days ago). The herps get me started for the next few days as I'm meeting up with the Balkan Ecology Project Crew to recee out some herp sites for future tours.
A Cuckoo on the cliffs
One of eight Ortolans today 
Chiffchaff feeding on King Spear flowers 
Lesser Grey Shrike 
Lesser Whitethroat feeding on King's Spear- many of the small warblers were feeding from the flowers 
One of seven Hoopoes 
My first decent view of a female Pied Wheatear 
Little Gulls on the move- many were cutting over the tip off the Cape right over the car park 
Arctic Skuas at Shabla Lighthouse 
Black Terns over Shabla Tuzla- they were literally migrating over everywhere today
Little Stint 
Bird of the day- Great Snipe! Two of them at Lake Shabla. 

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Bulgaria Spring 2021- Day two

Met up with Dimiter and Marina at dawn at Cape Kaliakra in rather cold April conditions. Apparently it's a late spring with many summer migrants delayed (confirming what I sensed yesterday).  We did some work in the middle part of the day at the plot and spent the afternoon/evening at Shabla Tsula Lake. Ebird lists for today HERE and HERE.

Highlights included large numbers of Yelkouan Shearwaters at sea, a flock of migrating Purple Heron, a flock of Greater Flamingo at Shabla Tusla and the coastal Steppe was absolutely stunning in full flower (will do a separate post on that later in trip) .

Greater Flamingos
Purple Heron on the move. The flock circled Shabla Tsula eventually landing in the reed bed
A flock of distant Black Terns with Little Gulls from Cape Kaliakra. A few more Black Terns, Black-throated Diver, Little and Mediterranean Gulls were trickling through today- heading north. 
Yelkouan Shearwaters
A nice comparison between a first-summer male Pied Wheatear and similarly aged male Northern Wheatear (above and below respectively), showing the brownish remiges, moult contrasts and irregularly marked upperparts which contrast with the jet black winged and clean looking adult males 

An adult Pied Wheatear for comparison 
A second-summer Baltic Gull
Flamingos again- one immature bird (fifth from left) showing a whiter plumage, grey based bill and duller coloured legs 

Monday 26 April 2021


 I finally arrived on the Black Sea coast today at our project location following what Dimiter described as Apollo space mission logistics.  It was touch and go all the way (so many new covid and brexit regulations) but luckily we ticked all the boxes and for as long as Bulgaria doesn't go red, all should be okay. After leaving home at 530pm yesterday, I arrived here at about 1pm and headed straight out, first to check the surveys markers we recently carried out on our plot and then did a bit of birding along the coast at the archaeological site. Ebirds lists HERE and HERE

Male Pied Wheatear- pairs are dotted all along the coast here 
Calandra Lark- a few pairs along the coast nearby 
Must still be a bit early as there weren't too many migrants about- a couple of Redstarts (above) and a single Pied Flycatcher (below), Whinchat and a few other bits but overall it seems very quiet - I should have just gone to Portland! 

Spanish Sparrow - first day photo before I get bored of them 
Yaylata Archaeological Reserve - where history meets natural history. A stunning area with cave churches, prehistoric settlements, Roman fort all set within Bulgarian karst. 
I am pretty ill-equipped to deal with the botany out here (I concentrated on bringing over moth trapping and sound recording equipment) but the botany was stunning in the reserve. My possibly dodgy plant identification app (PlantNet) said this was Dwarf Iris (above), with King's-spear everywhere and also I zapped Beggary and Christ Thorn. 
King's Spear Asphodeline lutea (above and below) 

Saturday 24 April 2021

Wood Sandpiper- Beddington Farmlands

Got over the farm at dawn this morning following a big push of Little Gulls, terns and waders across land yesterday and a favourable forecast for today.  Not quite the shorebird fest we were all hoping for (Zac, Roger, Glenn, Ian and Nick were on their posts too) but a Wood Sandpiper that flew off the North Lake and headed to 100 acre was a clear highlight with supporting cast of 3 Whimbrel (one on deck that joined 2 flying over a while later), a couple of Common Sandpipers, Green Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover with the bushes and scrub alive with warblers- Whitethroats, Blackcaps,  Reed and Sedge Warbler.

Yesterday I was confined to my office getting everything done in preparation for a two week work trip to the Black Sea that starts on Monday. However I kept the windows open and kept an eye out and managed to miss an Osprey but did get Greenshank (calling) and the first Hobby and Swifts for the year. Kojak joined me for a bit of window watching followed by kebabs.

So Spring is in full swing - there are Arctic Terns, waders and Little Gulls pouring across land while even more of them plus skuas including Poms are streaming along the south coast today. It seems a shame to be leaving but with any luck the spectacle that awaits on the Eastern Flyway should be well worth the journey.

Whimbrel in the blue
Not the greatest photo of a Wood Sandpiper 
The early decked Whimbrel that joined the two above as they flew over 

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Mullein Moth - a first for Beddington Farmlands

Had a nice surprise in the moth trap this morning at Beddington Farmlands (well not actually in it but on a shelf nearby)- a Mullein moth, a first for the farmlands. Also a Powdered Quaker with it and an Early Grey.

Also had a Brindled Beauty at the Old Vicarage yesterday. (We also took Jacob to Cotswold Wildlife Park- had Firecrest singing there). 

Amazing to get a new moth for the farmlands considering it has been a very cold and slow moth April- only had about five species or so. 

Mullein moth 

Powdered Quaker 
Brindled Beauty at the Old Vicarage 

Monday 19 April 2021

Otmoor Big Day

Isaac West and I did a 15 hour dawn to dusk on Otmoor today in a big day attempt which resulted in us reaching 100 species on the nose and in the last minutes before dusk. The weather was clear skies and sun and calm (a very light variable wind) so we weren't actually expecting to do very well but highlights included Great Egret (Otmoor tick), male Bar-tailed Godwit, 6 Whimbrel, 1 Spotted Redshank, 2 Ruff, 2 Dunlin, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, the Glossy Ibis,  2 Hobby (Otmoor NFYs), Grasshopper Warbler, over 40 Yellow Wagtails,  White-fronted Goose, 2 Cranes, Cuckoos, Bitterns and Curlews. Full Ebird list HERE.

Great White Egret
Whimbrels on flood field. also two on Big Otmoor and a calling bird
Male Bar-tailed Godwit
Swallow collecting nesting material. 
Dawn over Otmoor 
Dusk over Otmoor 
A misty start 
This was the original plan to cover these three routes but we deviated a bit and went on a footpath west of the usual route between Noke and Oddington track and Isaac did a full circuit while I met Holly and Jacob for a picnic. We started in Noke Wood for woodland specialities such as Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and then targeted various areas for localised species and ended up at the screens for dusk to see birds coming into roost.

Saturday 17 April 2021

Slow April

Its been quite a cold April with a rather persistent northerly and despite plenty of sun during the day it's been cold particularly at night. Seems like spring has been unfolding rather slowly as a result with morning frosts, very few moths and birds trickling in without any classic fall conditions. Despite this there was an interesting large fall mid-week of Willow Warblers and Wheatears during a frosty clear morning at Portland (and nowhere else on south coast by looks of it) so seems like a concentrated flock of migrants hit the cold air mass resulting in an unpredictable and atypical fall there. Also despite the cold weather there's been some quality migrants pushing through slowly with lots of stop offs by the looks of it- there was Greenshank and Whimbrel at the farmlands this morning in clear conditions. 

I've not been able to get out as much as liked as busy moving out of the obs and having to quote on Wednesday and Thursday at moment too. Had a look round Little Woodcote with Sid on Friday morning (no migrants except for a single Blackcap), had a Whitethroat on Biker's yesterday on a walk with Gillian across Mitcham Common (very few migrants there too) and been keeping an eye out the obs window- not much apart from a few Swallows. 

The mini-farm at the Old Vic is going pretty slow too but broad beans and peas are in and garlic and spring onions are doing well. Got Parsley growing in the window and no sign of the potatoes coming up yet that we put in a few weeks ago. 

So all rather slow- a good time to look a things you wouldn't usually have time to look at and appreciate common stuff.  

We reared these Painted Lady butterflies with Jacob (bought a kit from InsectLore). Not sure if they survived as the day after we let them go it snowed heavily. 

The mini-farm Monday morning and the mini-farm Monday afternoon (more or less). The coach house conversion is coming on well. 

Garden of the week at work was this colourful wildlife garden in Morden
Little Woodcote- a pleasant walk with Sid but nothing too exciting Ebird list HERE
Jackdaws at the Old Vicarage
A couple of bees at the Old Vic- will identify once I can get in the mobile obs and get my books - the van is currently packed full with Thee Bryans music studio which we are moving to Harrison's new loft studio in Gloucester.

According to my new PlantNet app this is annual sowthistle- a new one for the Old Vic pan species list I believe. 
St George's Mushrooms for breakfast at Lee and Rachel's on Saturday morning - Lee's wildlife garden is looking great and St George's mushrooms with garden chives on toast was even better 

Saw out first juvenile passerine in the garden but unfortunately Izzy saw it too
First harvest of the year- the spring onions that we put in during December. Mini-farm 2021 (below)- need to tidy this up and get everything planted up but this weekend we put in carrots, radish, kale and beetroots. Bryan put the sugar snap peas and broad beans in already and we put the potatoes in earlier in March so things are getting there. Tomatoes, more peas and runner beans are in the green house.