This summer I was lucky enough to participate in a week long Young Birders Training Course on the Isle of May hosted by the SOC. I will be writing up my experiences shortly but due to the large number of photos taken, I decided a separate post showcasing them species by species would be appropriate.
If you walk along the banks of the River Tay you may come across somewhat surprising sights: Felled trees, gnawed pointed stumps, flooded pools, small dams of branches that stretch across the river. If you are very lucky you could even glimpse the culprit. The large head, brown fur and a flat broad tail of a beaver may silently swim past.
How exactly these animals arrived here us unknown, but it is speculated that they either escaped from private collections or were deliberately introduced roughly nine years ago. Since then that small number has grown to possibly over 200 individuals that have spread out through Angus and Perthshire, doing what beavers do best; felling trees and creating dams, unaware of the massive controversy they are causing.
Unbeknownst to many, the beaver is actually a native British animal but were hunted to extinction during the eighteenth century for their warm fur and castoreum, the oils from their scent glands, used in making perfumes. They are as much a part of our native fauna as red squirrels and golden eagles but this hasn’t stopped the usual groups of farmers, landowners and gamekeepers labelling them as ’alien’ and ’invasive’.
Those that oppose the beavers presence argue that the animals are a destructive force, one that damages the already fragile ecosystem of our rivers. The Angling Trust are convinced the dams will have a devastating effect on the local salmon runs. The sight of fallen submerged trunks and branches gnawed to a ’pencil-top’ seem to support this view. The animal’s massive incisors, orange due to their iron coating, are perfectly designed to strip bark and gnaw away at wood. But far from being a random hit-and-run on the forest, beavers are the ultimate in sustainable harvesting.
Favoured trees for feeding include willow, ash and aspen, species that coppice well and so the felling encourages new growth. The removal of scrubby vegetation allows more sunlight to reach the woodland floor and so creates new habitats such as the rare culm grassland home to a variety of threatened butterflies and wildflowers. Meanwhile the trees and vegetation are used to build small dams which create pools. These sheltered areas are havens for small insects and, provided with ample-breeding space, lead to explosions in amphibian and fish numbers whose tadpoles and fry thrive in the shallow waters. The edges of these pools become feeding grounds for woodcock and herons who are attracted to the abundant sources of prey. In Wyoming, in the US, streams where beavers live harbour seventy-five times as many waterbirds as those without. At night bats take advantage of the gaps among the riverside trees to hunt the increased numbers of flying insects. The various canals and waterways constructed allow easier movement for otters and water vole who also find meals in the now-meandering rivers.
Despite beavers living alongside salmon for thousands of years, as well as larger fish now extinct in our waterways, such as giant sturgeons, many still argue that beavers would stop the salmon migrating upstream and destroy spawning grounds. In reality, studies in Poland and Sweden found that trout and salmon in beaver ponds are on average larger than in other areas of the river as it provides them with habitats and shelter they cannot find elsewhere. For fish that have been recorded jumping twelve feet into the air, negotiating dams are akin to a stroll in a park (or a swim in a stream).
Even the water quality is improved as sediment which often includes phosphorous and nitrogen that leach into the water table from farms is deposited by the dams and the water effectively filtered; a major environmental gain. The total weight of creatures living in beaver ponds may be between two and five times greater in beaver pools than in undammed sections. More than just simple lumberjacks, beavers are architects, engineers and transport planners all rolled into one that create entirely new aquatic ecosystems by unleashing a series of dynamic trophic cascades; the ripples of which are felt across the entire food-web.
However the main argument against the reintroduction of beavers is the danger of flooding and the associated economic costs. During last year, the overflowing of rivers became a serious danger especially in the Thames Valley and Somerset Levels where flooding reached nearly apocalyptic proportions and cost the government millions. It is clear that the prescence of beavers can cause localised flooding, much to the annoyance of the resident farmer, however in the grand scheme of things these wetland engineers can prove to be beneficial yet again. The dams, pools and canals retain large quantities of water that would otherwise be rushing downstream, potentially through someones front door and slows down the rivers flow, preventing scouring and erosion. In the town of Pickering government agencies are pulling woody debris into the river to attempt to slow its speed, a job which requires a great deal of labour and expense and a job which beavers could be doing for free. If we left small wooded margins around rivers they would act as a sponge, the marshes and bogs soaking up excess rainwater and providing a wildlife-rich cheap flood defence, mitigating the dangerous effects of climate change.
Beavers are becoming a more and more common sight in our waterways, with the Tay population making their way into other catchments and the first population springing up in the River Otter in England. The response has on the whole been positive. An opinion poll found that 86% of British people were in favour of their reintroduction. They are what ecologists refer to as a ’Keystone Species’, an animal that if absent the ecosystem they existed in begins to fall apart. Beavers are but one of the many mammals that man has exterminated from the British Isles, from lynx and wolves to elk and bison, and without these species our natural systems have become depleted and broken. Wilderness is long gone here, but it can recover. Despite their small size and placid nature, beavers bring enormous natural, social and economic gains and the Tay population has proven what we already knew from the previous 161 beaver reintroductions across Europe; this animal can survive and thrive alongside people without mishap.
The reintroduction of beavers is one part of the very large jigsaw of ecological recovery but it is one incredibly important for the health of our waterways and one that is close to home. This year after a trial period the Scottish government will decide whether to let the beavers stay and spread or to give in to the whims of a small but powerful group of landowners and cull them. The decision will play a pivotal role for conservation in this country. It may be a small step but allowing these animals to stay and by monitoring their effects could pave the way for reintroductions of future species, possibly grander and more daring plans. The Tay Beavers could become an unlikely catalyst for change and dictate what sort of country we and our descendants live in; one in which we are better protected from climate change, flooding is prevented, biodiversity loss is halted and patches of wilderness remain; a greener country and a wilder world.
Sources: •’Feral’ – George Monbiot, Penguin Books
- ’Stop the control freaks who want to capture England’s wild beavers’ – George Monbiot, The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/jul/04/stop-control-freaks-capture-englands-wild-beavers)
- ‘An Environmental Superstar?’- James Fair, BBC Wildlife May 2014
- ‘Population assessment and activities of beavers in Tayside’ – SNH Commisioned Report (http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/commissioned_reports/540.pdf)
We arrived at the airport in Faro, Portugal in the early afternoon of the 2nd of April and while waiting for the hire car the first bird of the trip was spotted in the form of a White Stork flying overhead.
We were staying in a villa by the Vale de Lobo golf course, near the Ria Formosa National Park. I went for a scout into the local golf course which turned up a swarm of Azure-winged Magpies, Cattle Egret, Swallows and House Martins. Walking into a patch of woodland over the road turned up a pair of Jays, Woodchat Shrike and a lone Cuckoo. A pair of Brown Hares were seen and many Moorish Geckos were under pieces of wood. Crossing back into the golfcourse, a flock of Common Waxbills were feeding under a tree and Woodchat Shrike, Serin, Greenfinch, Hoopoe and a single Mistle Thrush were present. A pair of Red-legged Partridge were on the path and I also encountered a pair of very aggressive domestic geese.
On the 3rd we visited a local fish market in Faro. Offshore were fishing Sandwich Terns as well as Yellow-legged and Audoins Gull and in an area of scrub Grey Heron and Crested Larks were present. That evening I set out at dark to look for amphibians in the ponds around the golf course. Owls were calling, many tadpoles were present in the pools and Iberian Water Frogs on the banks. Underneath a log, a small Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) was found, a snake thats defence is to create a very smelly odour. Walking back, a Red Fox nearly ran into me as it walked the golf course.
The next day while driving, many oversized nests of White Storks were seen on buildings, towers and chimneys.
We stopped by quickly at the entrance to the Ria Formosa near the wildlife rescue centre at Olhão. Jays, Azure-winged Magpies, Sardinian and Subalpine Warblers were all present as well as Moorish Geckos and a single Large Psammodromus lizard. A Black-crowned Night Heron and a White Stork with nesting material flew over.
On the afternoon of the 5th I visited the nearby Dunas Douradas, which despite its small size manages to attract a variety of waterbirds. The area of dunes and scrub held Sardinian Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Willow Warbler. Viewing from the observation platform, the ponds themselves held Glossy Ibis, Cormorants, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Shoveler, Gadwall and Coots. In the reeds were Black-headed Weavers, Iberian Chiffchaff and a single very noisy Zitting Cisticola. Overhead Swallows, House Martins and Common Swifts were flying overhead in good numbers. Both Spanish Terrapins and European Pond Terrapins were seen and Iberian Water Frogs were at the waters edge.
The next day, I visited the Dunas Douradas once more in an attempt to spot Little Bittern. Still no sign, however a Yellow Wagtail was seen and a pair of Red-crested Pochards were new for my Portugal list. Afterwards I visited the adjacent Garrao Lagoon, a seasonal wetland that was dry at this time of year. Azure-winged Magpie and Woodchat Shrike were seen in the woodland and good views of Zitting Cisticola and Spotless Starling in the grasses. Driving back, a European Pond Turtle was on the road which we moved to the verge after taking some photos.
On the afternoon of the 7th, I walked along the Quinta do Lago boardwalk where 3 Greater Flamingos were in the lagoon area. The scrub held Crested Lark, Sardinian Warbler and Little Egret and Black-tailed Godwit, Sandwich Tern and many Grey Plovers were by the coastal estuary.
After an overcast few days the weather took a turn for the worse and it was mainly raining on the 8th. During a period when the rain eased off I visited the Dunas Douradas for the third time. Due to the weather, the area was deserted and some of the more secretive species such as Purple Heron and Purple Gallinule were seen. Sand Martins were about and after a while I spotted the species I was after, a Little Bittern that was moving from a Tamarisk bush into the reeds! Went out at night looking for some herpetological fauna but only came across some very large Common Toad individuals of the Mediterranean subspecies spinosus and Moorish Gecko.
The 9th was the day of our half-day tour around the Ria Formosa with local birder Georg Schreier We were apprehensive after a thunderstorm last night and the forecast predicting heavy rains for that day. Luckily as we drove to our meeting point near Faro Airport the rain eased to drizzle and finally stopping just as we reached our first point of interest; an area of pine forest with where Crested Tits had previously nested. Immediately we managed to locate a few individuals before we were distracted by the call of an Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler, a migrant bird. A good find! We continued further along the track before stopping at a viewpoint overlooking Ludo Farm. Nightingales were singing in the surrounding scrub and more Bonelli’s Warblers were in the forest. There seems to have been an influx of the birds and the heavy rain had prevented them from moving on. Willow Warblers and Crested Tits were in the pine trees. We arrived at the viewpoint, overlooking an area of marsh, listening to the calls of Reed Warblers. A large heronry of White Storks had made their nests in the ruins of a farm building. After a short scan we managed to spot a Purple Heron, a male Marsh Harrier, a male Goshawk and flyover Bee-eaters, stunning birds! There was no sign of Booted Eagle which is known to winter here.
We continued on down into the saltpans in the car seeing Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Dunlin, Sanderling and Little Stint from the windows. As we drove along the track the weather worsened once more and there was a period of heavy rain for half an hour. After waiting in the car for the sun to return, we searched an area of San Lorenzo Golf-course for Wryneck, a bird I would very much like to see. Disappointingly there was no sign of it, picking up Great-spotted Woodpecker, Pallid Swift and Yellow Wagtail of the flava subspecies (on migration to Africa) in our search. Hoopoe, Azure-winged Magpie and White Stork were enjoying the post-storm quiet of the course, being out in large numbers.
We walked on to a spot overlooking the river as it neared the coast. Flamingos, Stilts, Cormorants and Kentish Plovers were all spotted on the mud and I managed to just make out a distant Spoonbill. We waited for a bit and were rewarded by three new species that flew by; a male Marsh Harrier, a Caspian Tern and a Purple Heron. Continued walking to an area of scrub/dune that is good for migrants. Female Redstart spotted as well as Willow Warblers and flying Audoins Gull. A few Red-rumped Swallows flew overhead, flashing their brilliant fiery-orange hues. A harsh call of ‘tie-tie-tie-tie‘ alerted Georg and soon he had tracked down the culprit; a Wryneck! A cryptic but stunning bird that flitted about a pine tree for a good five minutes before disappearing.
We soon arrived at the Bird Hide that overlooks a freshwater pool in the centre of the golfcourse. Commoner waterbirds were seen aplenty such as Tufted Duck, Great-crested Grebe, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Purple Swamphen and Moorhen and Black-headed Weavers being plentiful among the reeds. The highlight of the hide however proved to be a very elusive Little Crake that was sulking around an island of reeds! Venturing out we managed to spot a Little Bittern before it retreated into the reeds.
Subalpine Warblers and Woodchat Shrike frequented the patches of woodland. Our journey ended with a walk to the coastal lagoons and channels where Whimbrel, Kentish Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and Mediterranean Gull was seen as well as thousands of Fiddler Crabs. After heading back to the car we thanked Georg for the excellent trip and headed home.
On the 10th the family and I walked back to the San Lorenzo golf course but from the opposite direction and finishing at the Bird Hide. No new species were seen but I managed to get some more photos and observe a Black-headed Weaver building a nest.
The final excursion was a herpetological-themed trip that evening; A nocturnal excursion to Olhão to spot Mediterranean Chameleons, a species I was very excited to see! We met up with wildlife-enthusiast Thijs who works at the wildlife centre at 8:15 PM just as darkness was beginning to fall. There was a treat waiting for us as we arrived in the form of a Horseshoe Whip-Snake! The animal had been found in a nearby garden and was taken to the wildlife-centre for release in the surrounding woodland.
We walked on into the forest as the last dusk-light waned, flipping rocks and debris in search of other snakes. Thijs did some rooting around in the remains of an old Roman well which is often good for finding small animals, some becoming trapped in the hollow. Iberian Water Frog, Moorish Gecko, a juvenile Spanish Terrapin (which was relocated) and a very large Megarian Banded Centipede (I have been told its bite is quite painful!) was found.
Soon it was pitch black and out came the mozzies in droves and droves! We walked on, scanning the Tamarisk bushes for chameleons. Unbeknownst to me night is the best time to spot chameleon species, as when they sleep they are much paler than the surrounding vegetation. Thijs and the others walked on and I double-checked some of the bushes and to my amazement spotted an Mediterranean Chameleon sleeping at the back of a Tamarisk bush! Success!!!
At 10 PM we arrived back at the car park but before we left we were given a final treat in the form of a large sleeping Chameleon that Thijs spotted in a bush! Fantastic experience, Mediterranean Chameleon being the star species of the trip!
All in all, a great excursion both in terms of avifauna and herpetofauna. I would like to thank Thijs and Georg once again for their great help. Georg runs tours and a blog which can be found here.
309) White Stork
310) Azure-winged Magpies
312) Common Waxbills
313) Crested Lark
314) Black-headed Weaver
315) Zitting Cisticola
316) Spotless Starling
317) Little Bittern
318) Crested Tit
319) Eastern Bonnelli’s Warbler
323) Caspian Tern
324) Red-rumped Swallow
326) Little Crake
327) Mediterranean Gull
28.12.14 – 06.01.15
I found myself in Lanzarote for New Year in the Playa Blanca area. The stretches of scrub and lava plain that lie beyond the villas and hotels produced Trumpeter Finches, Cattle Egret, Berthelots Pipit, Kestrel (ssp dacotiae of the Eastern Canaries) and Southern Grey Shrike. No sign of Cream-coloured Courser or Houbara Bustard despite searching the localities they were spotted last year. The most surprising bird was Laughing Dove which was seen in a secluded part of the hotels gardens, which I was unaware was present on the island (the guide book only mentioned them as breeding on Fuerteventura). There is confusion over whether this species is an escapee or a natural coloniser from Africa. Atlantic Lizards were numerous.
During the trip I made a few quick visits to the Janubio Salt Pans, parking at the Southern End of the lagoon. Lots of Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Avocet, Black-winged Stilts, Kentish Plover, Little-ringed Plover, Trumpeter Finch and Kstrel round the edges, while out in the lagoon were good numbers of Black-necked Grebe. Other notable birds were 4 Ruddy Shelduck, 2 Grey Heron and a single Whimbrel. After some rock-flipping I managed to locate an Eastern Canary Gecko.
307) Trumpeter Finch
308) Laughing Dove
As always I am very behind with updating this blog so I will give a quick skim through of the latter half of 2014 birding.
A Duke of Edinburgh Expedition around the Loch Tay region on 18th-20th August produced Lesser Redpolls, Red Kite, Mountain Hares and Red Grouse.
We visited Port Appin again this year in October but we did not visit Mull this time around. Hooded Crow was added to the year list and plenty of Treecreepers and Goldcrests were about.
On the 1st of November I visited Lunan Bay in hopes of seeing the Black Scoter that had been seen recently. No sign but Common and Velvet Scoters were plentiful as well as, most excitingly, a male and female Surf Scoter. Long-tailed Duck and RT Diver also present.
Little birding was done all in all in this period due to increasing workload from school and other events.
129) Lesser Redpoll
131) Little Egret
132) Golden Plover
133) Hooded Crow
134) Surf Scoter (306)
On the second week I was joined by my friend David Don and on the evening of the 9th we ventured into the area of scrubland in search of the LE Owl. Turtle Dove seen on way in as well as a few Sardinian Warblers. Swifts and swallows present overhead. Another Turtle Dove and two flyover Stone Curlew but no sign of the owl, barring a large feather.
On the 11th an Egyptian Grasshopper was found in the villa gardens. We met up with Mike Montier in the evening and the three of us ventured into Mondrago Natural Park at 8:10 PM in search of European Nightjar, quite a rare species on the island. It was quite late in the season for the birds so Mike was dubious about how successful we would be in finding our target species. We had two strategies; The low risk strategy involved waiting by the track for night to fall to listen for them calling; The higher risk option was to venture into the area where Mike thought the Nightjars were breeding. We went for the second option.
Walking down the path there were many swallows passing through and Mike and I spotted a pair of Firecrests. We were then disappointed after what we thought could have been a Wryneck was a Spotted Fly, which were everywhere. Darkness was starting to fall, bats emerged and the eerie calls of Stone Curlew filled the night sky. Before long we managed to pick out the faint frog-like ‘churrrr‘-ing of a nightjar! We jogged in pursuit of the noise and as we turned the corner we were treated to three European Nightjars! We watched as they dived and swooped for insects with their unique, silent, moth-like flight. They showed for another 5 minutes or so before flying further into the scrub. Mission success!
The next day we left the house at 6:40 AM with David Don and Dad to head to S’Albufera where I was aiming to add Little Bittern, Squacco and Night Heron to my list. It was an overcast day which I was grateful for as walking in the summer heat can be incredibly tiring. We arrived at the Depuradora end at about 8:30 and drove up to the viewing platform over the water treatment works. 2 Common Sandpipers, 3 Coots and some Shoveler were in the first pool as well as a few Marbled Duck. Short-toed and Thekla Lark seen on the track back.
Cettis, Coot, Blackcap and Little Egrets seen on the walk up. The Sa Roca pools were almost completely dry and I counted at least 10 Stone Curlews (A tour guide informed me there was 18 the day before!). Watching the pools from the hide produced 2 Purple Swamphen, a female Marsh Harrier, a Whinchat, a small flock of Black-winged Stilt, a fly-over Grey Heron, 3 Kentish Plover and a Little-ringed Plover.
Walked past the raised mound which gave us good views of Goldfinch and more Cetti’s Warbler. The canal offered up a few Red-knobbed Coots including some with young, a pair of Red-crested Pochard, Purple Swamphen, Coots, Moorhen and distant views of a Purple Heron. A flock of Night Herons flew overhead as we recrossed the bridge.
Walked to the Es Cibollar Pools next which were bone dry with little around barring in the adjacent trees which held Cattle Egrets and a single Great Egret. The clouds were parting and it was getting hotter and the reserve itself was getting increasingly busy so we headed back to the car.
The 14th was our second last day and we went for a final visit to Mondrago in the morning for a quick swim and a look for tortoises. Kestrel and Moorhen were seen by the stagnant water. Couldn’t find any tortoises in the expected area around s’Amarador although David Don spotted a recently dead individual. Did see Turkish and Moorish Gecko as well as Cicada and possible Barn Owl pellets.
I ended the trip with 15 lifers and a Balearic list of 72 species! I would like to thank Mike Montier for sharing his knowledge and taking us into Mondrago. After we left Mike published a piece in his weekly nature section of the Majorcan paper detailing our venture in search of Nightjars, which was fantastic to read!
303) European Nightjar
304) Thekla Lark
305) Night Heron
We arrived at the villa in Cala D’or on the 1st of August, instantly spotting a number of Spotted Flycatchers and a flyover Hoopoe. Later that evening I walked to an area of scrubland that had proven productive on a previous visit after seeing a Long-eared Owl there, however only a single startled Stone Curlew was spotted as the light was fading quickly.
On the 2nd, while walking around the villa more Spotted Flycatchers and Hoopoes were seen as well as Sardinian Warblers, Goldfinch, Alpine Swift and Cirl Bunting. Moorish Geckos were abundant in the evening.
In the afternoon of the 3rd I walked to the area of scrubland again. Goldfinch, Sardinian Warbler and Whinchat were near the start and a single Woodchat Shrike was in a dead tree. I arrived at the area where the Long-eared Owl as spotted last May and once again I ended up staring an individual in the face, probably the same one. It flew off before I could ready my camera! Walking back, a Turtle Dove was spotted.
Returned to the area two nights later, initially seeing lots of Whinchat and Sardinian Warbler. Flyover Stone Curlew and Turtle Dove also present. No sign of LE Owl so continued walking where a Hoopoe landed right in front of me and bathed in the dust for a good five minutes or so, flying off when I raised my camera. Spotted Flycatcher with young and Blue Tits were in the trees and another Stone Curlew was glimpsed.
On the 6th my father and I departed the villa at 7:30 in the morning and arrived at the nearby area of coastline, Cape De Ses Salines which overlooks the Isle of Cabrera, at 8. Many Red-legged Partridges were by the road and in the coastal garrigue-scrub where they were joined by Woodchat Shrike, Whinchat, Sardinian and Balearic Warblers. Pallid Swifts were overhead as well as Swallows and Alpine Swifts and Hoopoes and Nightingales were in the more wooded areas. Shags flew past out to sea.
We left and drove to the Salobrar de Campos which we found after some confusion. At the first stop on the track to Es Trenc Beach Black-winged Stilt, Greenshank, Dunlin, a few Kentish Plovers, 2 Little Stints were in the salt pans and a flock of Serin were by the road. The next stop we were treated to great views of Avocet, Shelduck and best of all a flock of 12 or so Greater Flamingos! On the way back a light phase Booted Eagle was by the road.
Later that day, I went on another excursion with local birder Mike Montier. Corys Shearwater were seen from the Porto Colom Lighthouse.
Next stop was Mondrago where we stopped by at a location where Nightjars breed (only seen on the very southern tip of the island) and Scops Owl and Nightjars are regular. Still being light however we saw a few Sardinian Warblers and a Booted Eagle. All in all a great day with 7 lifers added to my list!
291) Alpine Swift
292) Cirl Bunting
293) Woodchat Shrike
294) Turtle Dove
295) Balearic Warbler
297) Pallid Swift
298) Little Stint
300) Greater Flamingo
201) Booted Eagle
On the 16th of July I visited Port Allen. It was a sunny day and a Kestrel was seen on the way there. Great-crested and Little Grebes seen in the port along with wigeon. Fledgeling Wrens seen along path and a vole was seen by a collapsed bank. Reed Buntings present over the reedbeds. On the 19th I was cleaning out the RBS Hide while volunteering at Montrose Basin when I was lucky enough to get a short view of a Water Rail scurrying from one area of reeds to another. It started to pour with rain later on. We then visited Scurdie Ness, by that time the rain had eased off to drizzle. 3 Yellowhammers and Rock Pipit were seen on the way up. A bird which I first thought to be a Curlew turned out to be a Whimbrel, a year tick! Seawatching on the rocks produced many Arctic and Sandwich Terns, distant auks and a lot of Gannets heading North.
On the 21st I was seawatching again, this time across the Tay in St Andrews. Fulmars were on cliffs and plenty of Eiders about as well as a few Common Scoters. Gannets diving close to shore and Sandwich Terns passing by.
On the 23rd I visited Loch Leven in search of the Glossy Ibis that had been present in the last few months. The Gillman Hide only provided a sub-adult Grey Heron while outside the Waterson Hide a Reed Warbler was singing amongst a clump of Roseby Willowherb!
Walked along to the Carden Hide were the ibis had been seen. Line of Curlews present as well as some Lapwings, a Grey Heron, a nesting Coot and BH Gulls with chicks. After waiting for a while there was a flurry of activity as an immature Peregrine swooped down and caught a pigeon as another two individuals were flying round about. I watched the successful Peregrine land on the far bank to eat its prey while I had a chat to a ranger that had come in to see whats about. The Ibis still hadn’t shown up and the ranger advised me I might have a chance if I searched from the Loch Leven path. So I walked along until I got to an area with a view over a shallow stretch of water. And among a gaggle of geese, the Glossy Ibis showed itself! Although the views were distant and a bit blurry, it was unmistakably an ibis. Returning to the Carden Hide, the adult Peregrine had landed and was feeding and a pair of Greylags were present with chicks.
124) Water Rail (289)
126) Sandwich Tern
127) Reed Warbler (290)
128) Glossy Ibis
On the 5th I went for a walk around the hotel car-park and surrounding forested areas where I had seen a Barred Owl on a previous visit. Didn’t see much except Brown Thrashers and South-eastern Five-lined Skinks. I had forgotten to but bug spray on so I was consequently bitten to death.
The next day the boat ride to and fro Hollywood Studios produced Anhinga, Snowy Egret, DC Cormorants, White Ibis and a pair of Limpkin with chicks in tow. In the early evening after heavy rains I crossed the road into a pine wood area. Frogs were already out and croaking. It was getting dark and the only birds seen were a single GB Heron, Northern Mockingbird, 2 Northern Cardinal and a possible owl was heard. Southern Toads seen on way back.
After dark I returned outside armed with a torch to look for frogs in a forested drainage area near reception. Water levels had severely risen and I spotted a Florida Water Snake by the waters edge! This individual was slightly larger than the one in Winter Park but was still not fully grown. I approached carefully and managed to pick it up. My mission to catch a snake had been a success! The animal was quite docile at first but soon started to become grumpy and started to strike my hand. I let the snake go into the undergrowth after that. Went looking for amphibians after and caught a Squirrel Treefrog and observed several large Leopard Frogs.
Not much birding was done the next day however a new bird was spotted at Animal Kingdom in the form of a Great-crested Flycatcher. Osprey and Coopers Hawks were later seen while playing volleyball.
On the 8th I went for another look by the forested area by the car park. To my surprise it was a buzz with life today with Grey Squirrels, Blue Jays, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpecker all seen while walking in. Skulking Brown Thrashers were glimpsed, and one individual turned out to be a Carolina Wren, distinguishable by the white ‘eyebrows’. Other birds seen were Northern Parulas which flitted from tree to tree. A pond adjacent to the hotel produced a pair of Green Herons and a juv Cooper’s Hawk resting on a branch.
I was lucky enough to visit the Disney Wilderness Preserve on the 9th. Black Vultures were seen on way there and upon entering the park we were greeted by two Swallow-tailed Kites that gave us spectacular views as they glided over the car. In the grasses Eastern Meadowlark were abundant and at least 1 Brown-headed Cowbird was present.
A Downy Woodpecker was by the visitor centre. Embarked on a short walk down a trail. By the pond near the centre we observed a medium sized American Alligator by the waters edge on the opposite side mostly submerged. As we continued on we disturbed hundreds if not thousands of grasshoppers of all shapes, sizes and colours. Pig Frogs could be heard calling at numerous points.
A few Eastern Towhee were seen in the bushes as well as a family of Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Also had fleeting views of a Northern Cardinal and some Blue-Grey Gnatcatchers. A large Turkey Vulture managed to give me a shock as it took off from the long grass right beside me!
I had a chat with the woman at the park reception that showed me where Pygmy Rattlesnakes can be seen and informed me a Diamondback was seen on the picnic tables last week. She opened the outside of a rubbish bin up to see if the resident Rat Snake was present but only managed to find an Indo-Pacific Gecko and several Green Treefrogs. Upon leaving, a group of Glossy Ibis were seen at the parks exit.
Back at the hotel the forested area provided little barring Blue Jays and the warblers however calling Brown Thrashers near reception pointed out a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in a tree. Unfortunately a dead Ring-neck Snake was seen on a road.
The 10th was my last full day in Florida so I headed out in the afternoon to see what I could find. I seemed to find that the warmer it is the more birds were in the forested area so I set out in the full sun, which after five minutes of walking I was beginning to regret. I got to the usual area but unfortunately there were workers about so instead I crossed the road into the pine-wood area. Blue Jay and Brown Thrasher seen on way. Crossed the road after hearing the alarm calls of Northern Mockingbirds to overlook a swampy area of forest. The calls led me to a Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting on a branch, which flew off after I got some photos.
Walked over to a pond in front of a forest which held GB Heron, Little Blue Heron and a Great Egret. As I scanned for more, I caught movement in the corner of my eye and I looked down to see a large Southern Black Racer making its way into the bushes. I moved towards it and it slithered off into an area of rocks before I could get a shot. Slightly annoyed that it had managed to get away so fast I began to walk off but to my delight as I looked up I managed to spot the tiger-banded colouration of a large adult Florida Banded Snake poking out from under a rock. I gently lifted up a rock to see if I could get a better view of the animal and was greeted with the large head of the animal and another smaller individual of the same species that quickly slithered away further into the rubble. I took some shots and replaced the rock where it was.
Unfortunately I was told this area was out of bounds as it was reserved for the wildlife (something I cannot complain about!). A pond further along had a male and female Wood Duck, the last lifer of the trip! There were pellets possibly belonging to an owl on the ground and in the river were large Florida Softshells and Cooters.
On the way back Northern Cardinals and a SE Five-lined Skink was spotted.
All in all, a fantastic trip!
281) Great-crested Flycatcher
282) Carolina Wren
283) Northern Parula
284) Eastern Meadowlark
285) Eastern Towhee
286) Brown-headed Cowbird
287) Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
288) Wood Duck
I named my blog ‘Scottish Wildlife Watcher’ as my interest in the natural world is not limited to birds but wildlife as a whole. I have only started birding in the last two years and that has been the blogs primary focus so far however I have always had a special passion for one particular group of animals; Reptiles and Amphibians (also known as ‘herps’). The herpetological range in the UK is rather limited and herping where I am is usually made up of looking for a single species of toad, frog and snake and a few species of newts. However my next destination, Florida, has a massive range of reptiles and amphibians and my main aim for the trip, along with boosting my life list, was to find and catch a snake, something I have never achieved before.
We arrived in Florida quarter past 3 American time on the 27th of June. It soon started to pour with rain and intense thunder and lightning ensued as we drove to our hotel by Universal Studios, Portofino Bay. By the multitude of ponds and pools were Snowy and Great Egrets as well as many White Ibis. Black Vultures were soaring overhead. On arrival the rain had cleared. Mallards on the water seen from hotel as well as White Ibis on edges and House Sparrow, American Crow, and Common and Boat-tailed Grackles.
Woke early next day before sunrise due to time difference and the boat to Universal produced 1 Tricoloured Heron, sunning Anhinga, DC Cormorant and Moorhen.
Went for a look at the large pond behind the hotel in the afternoon. Two turtles were chasing one another round the edges. Moorhen around with chicks and a Brown Pelican was on the water. I was startled as another pelican took off from the branch I was walking under! And again as an osprey took off from a second branch! It perched on the top of a tree. Tricoloured Heron, Anhinga and GB Heron about as well as hundreds of introduced Cuban Brown Anoles. Mourning Dove seen before moving on and crossing the road into a storm drain area. Blue Jay and Northern Mockingbird were in the trees and a lurking Brown Thrasher was glimpsed in the undergrowth. Came frustratingly close to catching a small Florida Softshell and also observed a Red-eared Slider.
The next day I took advantage of how early we were waking to return to the pond. Two Blue Jays were mobbing a Coopers Hawk over the hotel grounds. An Osprey was on a tree, Snowy Egrets on edges, Moorhen with chicks on water and a single Limpkin was on the far side.
Later drove to Downtown Disney seeing 2 Swallow-tailed Kites, a group of Cattle Egrets, various Turkey Vultures, 1 Green Heron and 1 Little-Blue Heron on the way there.
On the 30th we set off early to Lake Louisa State Park, a place where I caught a Gopher Tortoise two years ago. Lots of ospreys and perching vultures on route as well as a single Swallow-tailed Kite. After a bit of confusion getting there we arrived where I had a short view of a Red-shouldered Hawk flying through young pines. After getting to the lake itself many Red-winged Blackbirds were in the surrounding reeds. Lots of grasshoppers about including several very large individuals as well as a Green Anole, the native of the two common species.
Went on a hunt for gopher tortoises and despite seeing lots of burrows didn’t manage to spot an individual out in the sun. However I glimpsed what I think was a Southern Black Racer in the undergrowth! Lots of large spiders also about. Came across 3 White-tailed Deer that approached quite close and 2 female Northern Cardinals were in the trees. Mourning Doves were abundant and a flyover White-winged Dove was spotted. Still no tortoises! Stopped at side of road while leaving multiple times and searched for one in vain instead spotting a South-eastern Five-lined Skink, rattler tracks and a very large freshly-shed skin of what I think was a rat snake.
A Loggerhead Shrike was in a Walmart carpark with a fledgeling.
Later that day we walked across the road from the hotel to a residential area in search of turtles. Birds seen included Tri-coloured Heron, Limpkin and a single Wood Stork. Managed to catch a Red-eared Slider which we returned to the water after taking some photos.
After prowling the waterways some more we managed to find a Striped Mud Turtle on the path and catch a medium sized Florida Softshell although several huge individuals were also observed.
On the 1st of July I once again crossed into the residential area during the afternoon. Squirrels, egrets, GB Heron, a male Red Cardinal and a Red Shouldered Hawk, which I got very good views of, were seen but not much else barring a single Southern Toad.
The next day we went to the nearby Winter Park for a historic boat tour of the surrounding area. Plenty of Ospreys seen while waiting as well as a group of Chimney Swifts. The boat ride itself turned up little except from Anhingas and what looked like a juv Red-tailed Hawk.
Afterwards we stopped by at the Kraft Azalea Gardens which had many nesting Anhingas and Great Egrets. Another Red-tailed Hawk landed in a tree. A medium sized Southern Toad was under a piece of bark. Faraway, 2 Red-shouldered Hawks were circling a residential area. To my delight I spotted a Florida Water Snake sat on a piece of driftwood in a pond! It came tantalising close before dispersing.
Later that day Coopers Hawk and Osprey were seen over the hotel and Southern Toads were seen in the evening.
On the 3rd I went to Shadow Bay Park in the late afternoon for a quick look around. Limpkin chicks were seen earlier on and Bald Eagles can pass through at this time of year. There was thunder heard in the distance as we arrived. An Osprey nest was on a telephone wire but the birds themselves were not present. Species seen included N. Cardinal, N. Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher and Bachman’s Sparrow. Gopher Tortoise burrows were present and I managed to find some Blue Jay feathers. On the car journey back as it started to rain, a Glossy Ibis was spotted by the road.
The next day was my last at this particular hotel and I went for a last morning look in the residential area. Managed to catch a Florida Red-bellied Cooter and other species seen included Red-eared Sliders, Florida Cooters and some Softshells. We moved to the Yacht and Beach Club Hotel in the afternoon. The day was spent playing water volleyball so no birding was done however a Swallow-tailed Kite and an Osprey passed over the pool!
261) Great Egret
262) White Ibis
263) Black Vulture
264) Boat-tailed Grackle
265) Tri-coloured Heron
267) Brown Pelican
268) Brown Thrasher
269) Cooper’s Hawk
271) Swallow-tailed Kite
272) Little Blue Heron
273) Red-shouldered Hawk
274) Red-winged Blackbird
275) White-winged Dove
276) Wood Stork
277) Loggerhead Shrike
278) Chimney Swift
279) Red-tailed Hawk
280) Bachman’s Sparrow