Saturday, 25 June 2011

Çurkurbağ Village, Çamardi and Demirkazik Peak - Southern Turkey May 2011 (Part 3)

Well, it has been over a month since returning from my trip to Turkey and I still haven't finished writing posts for this blog, so just in case you thought I have forgotten here is the next installment.

After three nights at Tusucu and the Goksu Delta, we headed north to the north Aladagar Region and the Taurus Mountains; the journey was a long one, but was broken with stops along the way to look for new species. Eventually we arrived at the village of Curkurbag and Safak Pension, which was to be our next stop. The purpose of driving all this way was to attempt to see some of the high altitude species that inhabit the mountains in this region. The most sought after of these species was Caspian Snowcock, which breeds at scattered sites in mountainous regions in Eastern Turkey and Armenia. To stand a chance of seeing this species an early start is required, as it is a long and slow journey up to a height of 2,250 metres and their breeding site on Demirkazik Peak. Caspian Snowcocks usually stop calling just after dawn, so a pre-dawn start from our accommodation was essential. 

Caspian Snowcock - Demirkazik Peak May 2011

Our journey up to our viewing area was not without some difficulty due to areas of low lying snow on the track, but we arrived in plenty of time and were soon enjoying good views of the Caspian Snowcocks. This species is identified from the similar Caucasian Snowcock by the presence of a mainly grey nape, finely spotted breast and pale flanks.

Caspian Snowcock - Demirkazik Peak May 2011

When calling, birds throw their heads back and with their beaks wide open they emit a far carrying and echoing call. It was strange watching birds calling but not hearing the call until it arrived a few seconds later, on the opposite side of the valley. Another specialty of the region is Radde's Accentor. This species was relatively easy to find as individuals scampered around the scree slopes; the strong white supercilium and pale white throat are distinctive and separate Radde's Accentor from Siberian and Black-throated. On Demirkazik Peak the only other Accentor species present is Alpine Accentor, so there is no chance of confusion with the other two similar species.

Radde's Accentor, Demirkazik Peak - May 2011

Both Radde's and Alpine Accentor's were easily located during our visit which meant that there was also time to enjoy some of the other species present. Horned or Shore Larks were also fairly common and as with most of the other birds on the mountain they were extremely confiding. I have featured this species previously, but not this subspecies. The pinkish nape, white throat and thick black breast band that joins the cheeks, identify this as the eastern race Eremophila alpestris penicillata.

Horned Lark of Eastern race penicillata - May 2011

Other species on the mountain included northern wheatear, but rather than being of the nominate race Oenanthe oenanthe, they are of the south-eastern European race O. o. libanotica. This race resembles pale individuals of the nominate race but has pale grey upper parts, cream or white underparts, a slightly longer bill and narrower black tail band.

Northern Wheatear of the race O.o. libanotica - May 2011

Snowfinch's were very common both up at the snowcock site on the scree slopes, but also lower  down on the vegetated hill sides. On the ground they can be a difficult species to locate since their subtle colours merge in with their surroundings, whereas in flight, the white inner wings and predominantly white tail make them highly conspicuous. 

Snowfinch, Demirkazik Peak - May 2011

As well as the birds we also saw Ibex and Souslik or Asia Minor Ground Squirrel. The Ibex were feeding high up on the peak, just below the snow line, whereas the Souslik were running around our feet. It was interesting to see their burrows, which had been exposed by the melting snow. They appear to forage under the snow, and their burrows zig-zag all over the place, presumably searching out their food by smell.

Souslik or Asia Minor Ground Squirrel, Demirkazik Peak - May 2011

Back down from the mountain, and after a well earned lunch we headed out around the village and surrounding valleys in search of birds. The species list included Chukar, Red-billed Chough, Rock Bunting and Rock Sparrow and single Crimson-winged Finch and Ortolan Bunting. But I think the highlights for me were the stunning Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and Red-fronted Serins.

Male Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush - May 2011

Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush is not a particularly rare species but it is not one that I encounter very often, although I did catch up with a first year male bird in Denmark in 2010, which was only the third for the country. Male birds have stunning orange underparts and a blue head and mantle, the female is generally brown and densely vermiculated dark above and below.

Red-fronted Serin, Emli Gorge - May 2011

Red-fronted Serin is a species of mountainous regions that breeds just below the tree line in mixed or coniferous forests. The sexes are similar, although the males usually show more black on the head. We encountered this species in two places, but they were most numerous in Emli Gorge. A large flock of over 60 birds were present in this valley, busily feeding on seed heads on the ground, occasionally taking flight and uttering their twittering trill call. There are scattered populations in Turkey, but the species generally a fairly common breeder in suitable habitat.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Bird Ringing During May and Early June 2011

The poor weather conditions in May, particularly on days when I was off, made mist netting very difficult, and even when I was able to net the number of birds caught was low. However I still managed to get in a few sessions and ended up catching 64 birds of 16 species. The usual species such as Blackbird, Blue Tit and Great Tit were present in the totals but so were a few migratory species including Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Blackcaps. Several retraps were also captured, the most interesting being a female Garden Warbler, who had returned to the same site 363 days after the original capture, and a Eurasian Jay, again at the same site 3 years 121 days after original capture.

Three new Common Nightingales were the icing on the cake so to speak, with two females and a male captured, but unfortunately the old bird I was hoping to catch, evaded my attempts. 

Common Nightingale May 2011

I also found an active nest with three eggs in, but when I returned two weeks later it had been predated. Interestingly, a pile of Muntjac dung was present right next to the nest, I know that Roe Deer will readily feed on the contents of the bird nests that they find, but I haven't heard the same of Muntjac, but guess that it is very likely.

Predated Common Nightingale Nest

All of the Common Nightingales I capture are marked with individually identifiable colour ring combinations, with the aim of identifying individuals without the need to always capture them. This year I was unable to get complete combinations, nonetheless I did continue with the colour ringing, so keep your eyes peeled for my birds when watching Common Nightingales. 

Common Nightingale wearing BTO Metal Ring and Colour Rings

Common Nightingales are relatively straight forward to age. Adult birds carry out a complete post breeding moult, whereas juveniles carry out a partial post juvenile moult. This means that  juvenile birds returning for their first summer, should have retained juvenile feathers. These show as feathers with obvious pale tips to the primary coverts and some of the greater coverts. In the image below, the pale tips are clearly visible on the primary coverts and also on the first six greater coverts, thereafter they are adult feathers. In addition note the more pointed shape of the primary coverts.

Wing of First Summer Common Nightingale

In contrast to the image above, the image below shows the wing of an adult bird. Note the uniform colouration of the primaries and greater coverts with no pale tips present. In addition note the rounded tip and broadness of the primary coverts.

Wing of Adult Common Nightingale

Other ringing activities included a brood of three Common Kestrels whose parents had taken up residence in one on my barn owl boxes. These three chicks were very relaxed about the whole ringing thing and seemed quite undaunted by the episode. The female bird sat on a post with a vole in her beak, she waited for me to put the chicks back in the box before flying in the feed them, presumably I have ringed chicks of hers before.

Three relaxed Common Kestrel Chicks

The European Nightjar is another species that I don't get to ring very often, in fact the last one I captured was in June 2002. So this individual was a real treat, but I had to work my way through Baker (1993), in order to age it correctly. Baker states that 'juvenile birds undergo a complete moult in their winter quarters, the primaries moult descendantly and the secondaries have at least two moult centres, usually retaining one or two juvenile secondaries'. Apparently adult birds can show two generations of feathers within the secondaries, but the pattening on these feathers is very similar. Sexing is by way of the presence of white patches on the primaries and on the tail feathers.

European Nightjar 

In the first instance it can be seen that this bird is clearly a male, with obvious white patches in the primaries and tail feathers. I aged this bird as a first year for three reasons. 

Wing of European Nightjar

Firstly there appears to be a retained juvenile greater covert, which can be seen in the image below. This covert stands out since it is mainly brown with a pale white tip and is located towards the right hand end of the greater coverts.

Close up of Wing of European Nightjar

In addition there is an obvious break in the secondaries, where a juvenile feather is present. This feather can be seen in the image above, being slightly longer and showing a pale off white tip to the inner web (partly obscured).

Tail of European Nightjar

And thirdly the amount of white on the outer tail feathers is limited mainly to the tip and does not extend up the feather, this patch is much more extensive on adults birds.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Demirzixli and Uzuncaburç (Diocaesarea) - Southern Turkey May 2011 (Part 2)

After having spent a few days in the Göksu Delta we headed into the hills for the afternoon of our final day in the area of Taşucu. The area around Uzuncaburç is covered by dry marquis, ancient ruins and pine forests and is an excellent area for searching for migrants. Unfortunately, a combination of a late spring and the early date of our trip meant that the vegetation was only just beginning to sprout and very few migrants were present. 

Our first stop was to an area of pine forest, and a steep walk up to the peak for an excellent view over the surrounding area. An ancient tomb was set into the hillside, and this gave us our first opportunity to see Western Rock Nuthatch, along with single Black-eared Wheatears, Cretzschmar's Buntings and a very distant European Roller.

Western Rock Nuthatch, Uzuncaburç - May 2011

After a fairly uneventful walk up the hill, we headed back down, a Masked Shrike was our first of the trip and two Sombre Tits finally gave us decent views, after frustrating us up the hill earlier.

Masked Shrike - Turkey 2011

We moved on a picnic area known for its Krüper's Nuthatch, and were immediately rewarded with a pair. They were extremely vocal, constantly making contact calls as they fed and interacted together in preparation for breeding, presumably in one of the many nest boxes located in the area for the species. A Common Cuckoo, four Golden Orioles, Chaffinch's and Coal, Blue and Great Tits provided some additional interest, but generally with the exception of the nuthatch's there were few birds present. 

Krüper's Nuthatch - Turkey 2011

We continued up to the ancient ruins of Diocaesarea, and another excellent area for migrants, but again there were very few birds present. A male Black-eared Wheatear sang from the tallest ruin and a flock of House Sparrows included a lone Spanish Sparrow. In the most densely vegetated bits of scrub two Eastern Orphean and a single Sardinian Warbler were located, and two Wood Warblers and a Blackcap added to the migrant tally.

 The Ancient Ruins of Diocaesarea provided a Stunning Backdrop for Birding 

We decided to head back down to a lower altitude in search of migrants and stopped in a layby where the vegetation was more advanced. We were immediately greeted with two pairs of nuthatch's, one Western Rock and the other Krüper's, along with a stunning male Cretzschmar's Bunting, and an equally stunning male Blue Rock Thrush. We continued to bird along the road and suddenly heard a brief burst of song which was reminiscent of Ruppell's Warbler, and after much perseverance we were all rewarded with excellent views of a cracking male bird.

Starred Agama Agama stellio lazing in the Afternoon Sun

Having exhausted all of our birding opportunities for the day we headed back to Taşucu for our last overnight stop before moving on, all the time being watched by the Starred Agama's as they soaked up the late afternoon sun.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Three Woodpeckers and a Rannoch Looper

Put my moth trap out for the first time in ages last night (3rd June), which meant an early start in the morning to check it before the resident House Sparrows ate the contents. The weather conditions were also good for netting, a bit breezy, but worth a go so I opened one net in the garden in the hope of catching some new birds. The warm overnight conditions proved good for mothing and the trap was crammed with over 150 moths of 50 species. Three Shoulder-striped Wainscots were immaculate, suggesting a recent emergence, and a singe Grey Arches was an uncommon visitor to the garden. But my attention was drawn to a small geometrid that I had not seen before. I think subconsciously I knew what it was as I went straight to the page for Rannoch Looper and there it was.

Rannoch Looper, Hampshire June 2011

This species is classified as a Nationally Scarce Notable A species in the UK, occurring only in central Scotland in open pine and birch woodland, but it is also a suspected immigrant. Having spoken to a couple of mates it would appear that there was an influx in Hampshire last night, as a few others have been caught in the county, and also in neighbouring Dorset at Portland Bill

Rannoch Looper, Hampshire June 2011

Given the number of moths turning up I don't think there is any doubt that this species is also an immigrant from mainland Europe to the UK. As I continued to work my way through the moths a family party of two adult and five juvenile Great Tits stumbled into my net, and just as I got up to begin extracting them, a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker joined them. Within the hour I had caught two juvenile and one first year male Great Spotted Woodpecker, along with a few more Great Tits and a couple of new Blue Tits.

Head of Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers have a crimson red crown......

Wing of Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

......white tips to the primaries..

Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

.....and a pale red vent. According to Baker, K. (1993) juveniles undergo a partial post juvenile moult which includes body, primaries, some or all of the upper wing coverts and tail, with secondaries, tertials and most or all of the greater and primary coverts retained.

Head of First Year Male Great Spotted Woodpecker

Adult Great Spotted Woodpeckers can be sexed by the presence of a bright crimson nape patch, and can be aged by the bright red vent and lack of with tips to the primaries.

Wing of First Year Male Great Spotted Woodpecker

According to Baker, adult birds undergo a complete post-breeding moult. This bird showed an obvious contrast in the greater coverts, and had retained five apparent juvenile greater coverts, in addition, the tips of the primaries were extremely abraded.

First Year Male Great Spotted Woodpecker

I therefore aged it as a first year male bird. Three woodpeckers and a Rannoch Loper was not a bad score for a nights mothing and an hours ringing in the garden.
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