Saturday, November 28, 2009

Flying to Paradise

In a few hours I'm flying down to Costa Rica. And I'm excited! With over 890 bird species, CR is a paradise for birdwatchers.

Unfortunately, I'm on a work-related trip and will only have one full day free for birding. And I haven't decided how to spend it yet, because I've been overwhelmed with choices of destinations. In the end, I'll probably either take a bus tour to a national park or hire a taxi to drive me to several good birding sites. Whichever I opt for, I'm sure to see some new birds and maybe even some interesting mammals and reptiles, too. After my struggles trying to photograph the quick-moving Kinglets in our yards, I may have more success with two- and three-toed sloths.

As well as a day in the countryside, I should be able to fit in a few hours of birding in San Jose itself. Although they say it isn't the most attractive of cities, it seems to have some interesting yardbirds.

I'm back home Tuesday evening and so I'll post a trip report in the middle of next week.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cute but tricky

It seems that whenever I go out into our front yard, there's a Ruby-crowned Kinglet there. I thought we only had one but yesterday I realized that we have at least two. They spend a lot of time in our elm tree and at the suet feeder that's attached to it. And I spend a lot of time trying to get a good photo of one of them. It's really difficult, though, because they rarely stay still for more than a couple of seconds and also they're very wary of me.

The only reasonable photo I've man
aged so far is the one below, which I got when one of the Kinglets decided to check out our platform feeder. Unfortunately, this feeder is in deep shade and my compact superzoom doesn't handle low light well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

More Birds at Home

Our yards finally got busy again yesterday: 6 White-winged Doves, 5-6 House Finches, 2 Carolina Wrens, 2 Carolina Chickadees, 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Northern Cardinal, a Northern Mockingbird, a male Downy Woodpecker, a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Plus a flyover by a Turkey Vulture.

Probably because we've been away, all of the birds were very skittish and difficult to photograph. Exceptions were a very red male House Finch and a good-looking male Northern Cardinal.

Late in the afternoon, a Northern Mockingbird came to our backyard fence to beg for peanut butter.

Unfortunately, he/she wandered away just before I smeared some butter on the fence and by the time he/she came back, a squirrel had cleared the fence.

However, the Mockingbird was ready and waiting a little while later when I put out a second load. As the photos show, he/she was a very dainty eater.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ebro Delta: Day 2


As on the previous day, I was up and out of the hotel at dawn. This time my goal was the Lo Garxal reserve. This contains the smallest of the delta’s lagoons and is situated right next to where the main part of the River Ebro reaches the sea. You approach the lagoon via the small resort town of Riumar, where the riverside road is lined with restaurants, souvenir shops and all sizes of pleasure boats.

Like other reserves in the delta, this one featured stunning marshland scenery.

It also had the largest wildlife viewing tower that I’ve ever seen.

The lagoon itself, which was equipped with a nice bird hide, was disappointing: The only birds that were visible without a scope were Coots and even these kept their distance. Then I got lucky and spotted a Little Grebe, a new bird for me.

A Marsh Harrier flew over the hide,as did a few Cormorants, but I was too slow to get any photos.

I spent the next hour working hard to see, ID and photograph some small birds that were flitting around in the reeds, grasses and bushes. In the end, I was lucky enough to spot two more new birds: Stonechat and Reed Bunting.

Most of the other birds seemed to be Chiffchaffs, surely the most common small songbird in Catalonia.


On the way back to the hotel, I stopped a few times to check out birds by the roadside. Starlings were common in trees and in the rice fields.

More interesting were a Little Egret and a Black-headed Gull perched on utility wires,

Little Egret

Black-headed Gull

and then a Yellow-legged Gull in a rice field.

After another very good breakfast in the Hotel Delta, we all packed up and started our drive back to Barcelona, aiming to explore some beaches and have lunch on the way. We really wanted to see La Fangar, because the bay there is said to be excellent for birds.However, we somehow missed the road and ended up going to La Marquesa instead. The beach and the sea there were totally devoid of birds but we all enjoyed watching grandson Danny play in the sand.

La Marquesa

Our next stop was the restaurant next to the nature reserve at Olles. When we got there, a large sign promised “Open All Year,” while a smaller sign told us that the restaurant was closed for the month of November! At least the snack bar was open and so we stopped for cold drinks and chips. I took advantage of the break to prowl around. There were no birds along a nearby boardwalk but I was delighted to see a European Goldfinch hanging out with Chiffchaffs in some bushes.



As we were all getting hungry, we decided to head straight for the town of Ampolla. In flooded fields along the way, we saw more egrets, Gray Herons and Lapwings but I wasn’t allowed to stop to check more closely. However, when we saw a group of very large black and white birds in a distant field, I insisted on taking a quick look and a photo. White Storks!

We spent our last afternoon having lunch at a seaside restaurant in Ampollas.

The water a few hundred yards out was covered byrafts of floating birds. They were all too far away to ID but lots of Mediterranean Gulls flew overhead - another new bird for me. After that it was a high-speed drive to Barcelona and then to bed, so as to be ready for our morning flight back to the USA.


While waiting for our first flight, we had a good look at a Peregrine Falcon that flew past the terminal building. Hours later, at Newark Airport, we saw our final bird of the trip, a Red-tailed Hawk.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Ebro Delta: Day 1 continued

As we approached La Tancada, one of the lagoons known for Greater Flamingos, I was feeling rather nervous. Most of our party were not birders and I knew they would not be very pleased if all we saw were a couple of pink specks far off in the distance. I needn't have worried. The Flamingos weren't right by the road but they were close enough to see with the naked eye, and they were spectacular through binoculars. Plus there were lots of them - I don't know how many but certainly thousands.

After quite a while watching and admiring the Flamingos, it was time to think about lunch. Our hotel had recommended a restaurant called Casa de Fusta ("House of Wood") on the edge of the huge L'Encanyissada lagoon and so we headed for that.

The restaurant didn't look very impressive but the food was excellent and, like every meal we ate out in Spain, very reasonably priced.

I walked over to a nearby observation
tower to check out the lagoon. The landscape was beautiful but I couldn't see a single bird.

I made up for the lack of wild birds by photographing some captive ducks and peacocks that were kept in a large enclosure by the restaurant.

After a great lunch, we drove back the way we had come. And, of course, we again stopped to admire the Flamingos, now in late afternoon light.

The ferry ride to Deltebre was as smooth as our earlier ride, and this time it was enhanced by a beautiful pre-sunset sky.

We arrived at the hotel a little before 5:00 and I remembered that the Canal Vell lagoon would be open to non-hunters for the last half-hour of real daylight. So I persuaded Deanne to drive over there with me.

Unfortunately, the last section of the trail to the observation tower at Canal Vell was blocked and so we never got to see the lagoon or any of its birds. However, we were treated to a magnificent sunset.

All in all, it had been a good day. We hadn't seen many species of birds but the sheer number of herons, egrets and flamingos compensated for this.

I planned to be up and out early again the next day to explore another major birding area on my own. After that, we were all hoping to visit the seaside before heading home to Barcelona.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ebro Delta: Day 1 continued

As our plan for the day was to explore the main lagoons south of the River Ebro, our first step was to take a ferry across the river. We arrived at the ferry terminal - a patch of waste ground at the end of a small backstreet - and could see the ferry moored on the opposite bank. When we asked a passerby if there was a schedule of crossings, he told us that the boat would come as soon as the ferryman noticed us waiting. Sure enough, a few minutes later the boat started heading our way. A simple but effective system!

Waiting for the ferry

Ready for boarding

Our first destination was Riet Vell, a rice cooperative which is also a prime birding site. However, we couldn't resist stopping when we noticed a group of egrets on the strip of earth between two flooded rice fields.

As soon as we got out of the car, we realized that the further field was absolutely full of birds - Black-headed Gulls, Gray Herons and Great White, Cattle and Little Egrets.

My daughter was thrilled because Gray Herons are her favorite bird and the field had an unbelievable number of them. I counted to 80 before I gave up and started just enjoying the spectacle.

On our walk back to the car, our pleasure was reduced a little by seeing a dead dog floating along in the roadside ditch.

At Riet Vell we were surprised to find it difficult to squeeze into the informal parking lot. Not only is the farm normally a popular place for weekend family outings, but on this day it was also hosting a mini birding festival.

On the way to the birding hide, we stopped to watch a demonstration of old-style rice farming. It looked like hard work for both the farmer and his horse.

When we reached the bird hide, I was disappointed to see that the only visible birds were egrets and coots, and even these were quite a distance away. However, a nearby field had several Purple Gallinules, birds that we're used to seeing in southeast Texas every summer. There were several Wagtails, too, and these were less shy. Unlike all the many Wagtails we had seen earlier, these were Pied Wagtails, a new species for me and a very striking bird.

Then it was back into the car and off to La Tancada, a large lagoon where we were hoping to see the Ebro Delta's most famous bird, the Flamingo. I wasn't feeling very optimistic: So far, we had seen very few species on the trip and most of those had been too far away to watch without a scope and tripod. (And, of course, I hadn't brought a scope with me!)