30th June. Where's Rob

Several members of the birding public have expressed their concerns about the recent absence of Mr Fray, whose blog has seemingly dried up just like the flood of 'rares' on Shetland. As a service to you all, though god knows why I should care, I give you a new feature entitled Where's Robbie. Now perhaps you lot can stop wittering and get on with some birding.

29th June

An enjoyable mornings ringing with the Sorby Breck Ringing Group. The highlight were two Grasshopper Warblers (adult and juvenile) one of which I rang. Hoping this won't be the last locustella that I ring this year.

Grasshopper Warbler (juv)

Whilst watching Glastonbury from the safety of my front room I was amazed to spot my good friend Mr Lawson in the crowd. Come on Andy you can stop wearing that costume now.

An anonymous sender recently emailed me this shot of two ex Llamas one of which is sporting a rather dodgy (early 90's) Take That hairdo and appears to be wearing some floral garb, probably from some caravan towing, tarmac laying old witch.

It only takes a minute girl

Perhaps only fair that I post this picture.

Tw*t in a hat

28th June. Quiet

After a couple of weeks rest from birding I finally cracked and decided on a walk through the Rother Valley starting at Whiston Meadows and finishing at Pit-house West. Typically for June it was very uneventful though two Water Rail chicks halfway round made it worthwhile.

On returning home I stumbled upon an appropriate episode of Jerry Springer entitled Pies and Fat People, a link between lard products and obesity surely can't exist.

25th June: Not a lot

Not a lot happened over the last week or so, work, sleep, work etc etc. The only birds of note were the flocks of Spoonbills drifting over my house, between RV and Wath, over the weekend. None of which I saw. This gives me an idea for yet another list, Birds that I might have seen from my house!
More bird molesting this weekend, hoping to get my mits on some Great Tits or anything else worthy of some school boy humour.

16th June Pt 2. Subliminal Messages

Those wags at Birdwatch have taken to printing subliminal messages among their pages. Have a look at the extract below by clicking on it.

You will notice that on the opposing pages are two articles that have a common interest. If you need a clue it's the Rock Sparrow at Cley. What I find amazing is that by moving letters around within the middle article (Moth Magic) you can make the words: Bollocks, Stringy, Pile of Shit etc etc. Very clever Dominic Mitchell but I'm on your case!

16th June. Fruit Gums

Whilst queing in W H Smiths, with my first copy of Birdwatch for over twelve months, I had the sudden urge for something sweet and fruity (no I am not on the turn!). I decided on a bag of Rowntrees (Nestle) Fruit Gums an old favourite of mine and one which I had not indulged myself in for a long time (much like the afore mentioned magazine). On opening the bag I was shocked to find it contained sweets that I can only describe as having midget gem like proportions, not at all the choking hazard that they were when I was a lad. Making it worse they were as soft as shit and not at all filling pulling hard. It seems that those bastards at Nestle have gone the same way as Waggon Wheels and Monster Munch and sold out to the nanny state. Food should carry an element of risk, it's part of the fun of eating it e.g. luke warm chicken pies, frozen prawns, live bees etc etc. I will not be purchasing again!
Birdwatch magazine still looks the same except for the cost of £3.80!! The 76 pages include 24 pages of adverts and Bill Oddies 'birding quiz' (is it me or does Bill makes us all look like a right bunch of pricks?). The photo however of the Cheshire Stilts, having sex, swung it for me and made me put back the copy of Nuts.

Pygmy's Bell End

14th June. Ring Ding

Since first starting birding some 25 years ago I have always fancied taking up ringing. Having recently drawn a blank with the BTO I had resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't going to happen at least for the forceable future. Fortunately I bumped into one of the Sorby Breck Ringing Group a few weeks ago and blagged my way in as a trainee ringer.

My first session began this morning at 6am at Williamthorpe Nature Reserve. By 10am I had rung no less than 11 individuals, namely: Linnet (my first victim) 3 Blackbirds, 3 Dunnocks, 2 Whitethroats, Long-tailed Tit and a spanking drake Bullfinch. To my amazement I was not only allowed to slip the rings on but could actually put my hand in the bag and remove them. By the time we packed up I was well and truly hooked and had enjoyed a very rewarding day.

13th June. Back in the olden days

It is a little known fact that during the mid-eighties the Fair Isle Bird Observatory was used as a youth interment camp. Teenage miscreants were shipped there by the Young Offenders Club (now disbanded following numerous investigations - probably) for a week or so of correctional therapy. Unfortunately for three of us they failed and after 10 days of suffering the warmest August week that Fair Isle had ever offered 3 of us boarded the Good Shepherd with a life time ban from the island (this was later cut to 18 months by the governor Prick Niddiford). What the good people of FBO never found out was that it was a certain Mr R M Fray that meddled with Heligoland Traps, nailed a dead Blackcap to the side of another residents bed (in a God Father type style) and helped me pick only the freshest of Sheep shit later deposited in the same victimised resident.

To my knowledge that, until last week, was Mr Fray's only visit and given the above evidence a belated ban of at least 18 months should be placed on him now before any more quality cage birds appear. Further evidence is posted below and suggests that he should also face charges for crimes against hair dressing!!

Overcome by excitement Mr Niddiford needed to check his pulse

Stalag Fair Isle where lights out meant just that, as the generator was switched off at 10pm sharp. I also recall not getting much sleep as we then had to listen to the assistant warden attempting to nail the cook to the wall of his room!!!

6th June. Rediscovered

On my return to the UK it gave me great pleasure to discover that the once thought extinct Leicester Llama has been refound. Sadly it appears to be the only one of its kind, though given the grotesque appearance of the individual concerned this is probably a good thing. Details on this exciting find can be found here http://www.leicesterllama.blogspot.com/ click for some new and historic hilarity such as below. Sadly the best and most popular photo I have ever taken.

5th June. Return home

The last day would be mostly spent travelling back towards Madrid, possibly taking in the Sierra de Gredos if time allowed. Unfortunately again the weather looked ropey so we didn't bother.

First stop off was back at the Belen Plains where only two Great Bustards were seen and a brief farting Little Bustard. Almaraz was the next step but I really couldn't be arsed to put too much effort in as the water levels were quite high and despite the breeze the heat haze was still a problem. I had been given a secret daytime site for Red-necked Nightjar before I left and decided rather than drive into the clouds to try for these. Our first walk through the eucalyptus failed mainly due to Jo moaning about the thistles pricking her feet! However after Jo had returned to the car I gave it another go and succesfully (probably not the right term to use) flushed a couple which showed well on the ground. Apart from a brief stop off at the side of the N5 for a group of Black-winged Stilts breeding next to a pig farm but I can't remember where it was.

All in all an excellent trip, though with a few glaring omissions from the list namely, Black-shouldered Kite, Bonelli's and Short-toed Eagle and Black Wheatear.

4th June. A Plan

Today would be better as we actually had a plan. Firstly get up to the Santa Marta Plains for dawn. Unfortunately I mis-calculated the dawn and our 5am alarm was a bit on the early side. This did however pay off in that we rather frustratingly had an Eagle Owl calling behind the hotel. Arriving at the plains in total darkness at 6am meant a wait of almost an hour before it got properly light.

Apart from 2 heard only Little Bustards and 11 Great Bustards the rest was pretty run of the mill.

By 8.30 I had given up on any Sandgrouse just as 5 flew across the road 3 of them landing in a weedy field. These proved to be the rarer Pin-tails. We drove up the first Santa Marta track to get better views but unfortunately on leaving the car flushed a party of 6 Black-bellied closely followed by the 3 Pin-tails. A distant Cuckoo flushed off the fence turned out to be a Great Spotted and was joined, surprisingly, by another 2. Happy that we had cleared up around the plains we headed into Trujillo for breakfast items before attempting the Spanish Imperials once more. This time, due to the plan, we were more successful and had scope views of the two adults close to the nest. Our next port of call was to the south of Trujillo to large Sierra de Bravas reservoir where we had distant hazy views of the Gull-billed Tern colony. Also here were 3 Red-crested Pochards and 2 Gadwall. A pair of Rollers showed well around an old farm building though there seemed to be several pairs in this area. A brief visit to the Paddy Fields added nothing new to the trip list and by now my head was throbbing due to lack of sleep and the heat.

Following a 2 hour siesta during which we discovered that those sly Spaniards don’t actually go to bed for a nap they just pop into the nearest back street bar, get pissed and make so much noise that those tourists, observing their tradition, get bugger all sleep. Following our broken sleep we called at the local supermarket and purchased supplies for the rest of the day, packing the picnic bag with ½ kilo of prawns, ham, bread, water, sangria, olives etc etc for just 15 euros (a meal which later turned out to be the best of the trip).

First stop of the afternoon was the Embasse El Campo. A few new trip species were added including Savi’s Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Night Heron, Little Egret and Purple Heron.

An alternative route to Monfrague is to take the new dual carriageway to Plasencia from the N5. This route was very quick and infact only took 30 minutes to get to the Eagle Owl spot - about 2 hours too early! An extended meal stop near the Hydroelectric Dam provided some nice views of Black Kites, Black Vulture and many Griffons.

Following our excellent supper we headed back to the Eagle Owl spot ,which I've temporarily forgotten how to spell (see below). After a couple of hours of nothing besides a couple of Subalpine Warblers, nightingale and the first perched Black Vulture of the trip which made me realise why they're now called Monk Vulture. We were then joined by a group of noisy Spaniards, who spent the next hour or so shouting laughing and barking - well the dog did! This continued until 10pm when they finally decided to go. It was at this point that they stopped in the road and started jabbering excitingly at a lump on a rock behind us. My fluent Spanish skills acquired over the few days enquired "Bubo?" to which I received a "ce" - language barrier my arse. This lump was indeed a juv Eagle Owl which was later joined by an adult before both disappeared. It was now getting very dark so we headed back to Trujillo having a brief unsuccessful listen for Red-necked Nightjar and almost wiping out a Scops Owl whilst negotiating the treacherous Monfrague highway.

3rd June. Pain in Spain

The previous evenings over indulgence took its toll and we arose later than planned at 7.30, closing the shutters is not a good idea as it gives you the impression that it's still dark. Non the less we managed to get on to the nearby Belen Plains. Immediately we were amused by the farting calls of two Little Bustards, one of which showed very well near to the road. A 3rd bird passed over carrying out its display flight. At least 3 Great Bustards were also seen here. Next stop was for the Spanish Imperial Eagles, just outside Monfrague. Unfortunately our late start didn't help and by now (10:15) the heat haze was becoming a problem. Two probables were seen near the nest but the haze made their I.d uncertain. We continued towards Monroy in the hope of seeing Black-shouldered Kite. Again we failed and our run of bad luck continued at the Rio Almonte where we failed to see Black Wheatear. We returned to Monfrague and took shelter in the Castillo car park in the hope of a siesta. Unfortunately some noisy Spaniards had other ideas insisting that the whole of Extremedura heard their conversation about the price of chorizo or something equally important. Drained from the intense heat we moved on to the Portilla del tierter where we achieved a run of four successive dips and failed to get a sniff of any Eagle Owls. We returned to the hotel to find that the restaurant was closed and again had to chance one in the square. This was much better than the previous evening and we were able to soak up the atmosphere of the square i.e. Storks, Lesser Kestrel etc before having an early night.

Don't get too close they fart

2nd June. Nob Rock

A rather damp Madrid greeted us first thing so a leisurely breakfast was taken. The diversion to the Sierra de Gredos was put off as the area appeared shrouded in cloud. We arrived at the Hotel Houeso, in Trujillo just after midday. After lunch we decided to visit the Pena Falcon (presumably named after it's phallic stance) Monfrague. The spectacle of over one hundred Griffon Vultures with a couple of Black's and a single Egyptian Vulture for company. A Black Stork had a single chick in the same nest hole as my previous visit in 2003. Around the view point were Rock Buntings, Serins, Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martins And Red-rumped Swallows. The Castillo de Monfrague is an impressive sight perched on the edge of the ridge. Fortunately it is possible to drive almost all of the way, by heading beyond the car park and parking where the road ends. So after dragging Jo to the top of the Castillo (a nice treat for her birthday especially given her fear of heights) we took in the spectacular views and had two nice White-rumped Swifts drift by. By now it was 18:30 and I was torn between trying for the Eagle Owls at Portilla de tierter or having a look at the plains to the west of Trujillo. We decided on the latter and had excellent views of nine Great Bustards along the second track along the Santa Marta de Magasca road. Birds along here included 5 Montagu's Harriers, Little Owl,, Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes, Spanish Sparrow, Calandra, Short-toed and Crested Larks. Pleased with our haul we headed back to Trujillo for food. Unfortunately we picked the worst restaurant in the square and had quite possibly the worst meal that Spain had to offer, consisting of dish water garlic soup, slimy fish fillet (species unidentified) and some dessert hidden among the squirty cream. Fortunately the wine was okay and we made light work of the free acorn liquer. The latter helped make the decent down the stone steps slightly treacherous. More alcohol was required so we stopped off in the hotel bar to remove any after taste of the slimy fish!

1st June. Donde esta la hotel?

Madrid - Extremadura 2008

The first day of our 5 day trip commenced with a two hour drive to Luton Airport, which I managed to sleep through. The 06.45 Easyjet flight went without a hitch and we arrived on time at 10am. The hire car collected we headed for our hotel in Madrid. Fortunately I'd had the foresight to bring the Sat Nav so finding the hotel would be a doddle! After successfully directing us to within 500 metres of the hotel we got lost (note we got lost). Help was at hand however as whilst navigating a roundabout I was offered some assistance by the local Police who could see that I was a tourist in distress and flagged me down. Unfortunately they claimed that I had driven through two red lights. They then followed a rather amusing good cop bad cop routine which ended in me getting let off, though not without the bad cop threatening a 300 euro fine before they left. The rest of the day was spent sight seeing, eating and drinking. Tomorrow some birds - hopefully.