Isla Grasiosa, Canary Islands

Peregrine anchored off Isla Graciosa.  The cliffs in the photo are Lanzarote.
 September 18, 2008
I got up for the third and last time at 5:30am. That was about a half hour ago. Gene must have been up at least that many times, maybe more.  My first wake up came when I thought I heard rain.  I got up to shut the hatches but realized that the rain sound came from our plastic American flag flicking madly in the wind that had gathered  while we slept.  It sounded so much like rain that I stuck my hand out from under the dodger just to be sure—no rain.  I crawled back into the v-berth and was asleep before my head hit the pillow.  Later, the howling of the wind woke me.  Gene was awake and said he had been up earlier to shut all the hatches because of the rain.  He was up now because hadn’t tightened them down and the wind had blown so fiercely that it had driven the rain through the microscopic gap in the forward hatch and had soaked his bed.  Maybe it was raining when I first got up after all; I must have been more tired than I thought.  I was in the aft cabin.  I chose to sleep back there because we both stink!  We were going to take showers last night, but it was too cold.  Neither one of use wanted to subject ourselves to a shower in a cold, windy cockpit.  We went to bed stinky.
After our morning coffee, Gene removed the dinghy from its canvas bag and pumped it up while I dug out the oars and seat.  I used a few baby wipes and cleaned off enough to go ashore and bird.  I figured I’d wait till after birding for a real shower (if you can call a scrubbing with a soapy wash cloth followed by a rinse with a bug sprayer a shower).  I cleaned my binoculars and put in new contacts in preparation for new birds.  I knew I’d be out for a few hours so I threw an apple in the back pack along with the hat, water, field guide, camera and bins.

It was a calm morning and Gene dropped me off at the closest point on shore.  He rowed on to the town to take in our trash.  We arranged he would pick me up at the same spot in a few hours.  Invariably, a few hours for me turns into four or five, so we set up the usual ‘look out every half hour’ system.  He would read, drink beer and eat peanuts while I birded and pop his head out the hatch every half hour to see if I was ready to come back aboard.

 I gave this Island a Peregrine’s Magical Spot award.  I really thought about it before bestowing this rarely awarded honor.  I questioned my feelings. I thought that maybe I was enthralled because I hadn’t been away from the madding crowds for so long, or that it was so good to finally finish another long passage that ANYTHING related to terra-firma would have been magical.  The whole time my mind questioned, my soul whispered, “Stop rationalizing.  Just look.  Just listen.  Just feel the uniqueness.”  This Island is a very special place, and without doubt deserves the award.
We are about fifty miles from the African coast; seemingly separated from the rest of the world by vast amounts of Atlantic Ocean water.  Then why does it look like we turned left at Albuquerque?
Yellow-legged Gulls and Sandwich Terns flew overhead and Gene spotted the first bird on the shore as we got close.  I got out of the dink and he pointed me to the bird; even then I had a hard time seeing it.  It was a Kentish Plover in a depression of the lava rock tide pool. I scanned the shore and noticed a few others camouflaged on the lava.  A Ringed Plover, two Sanderlings and several more Kentish Plovers.

I followed a trail in the sand that led inland through the dunes.  It wasn’t long before I heard and saw a Berthelot’s Pipit.  I walked further in and stopped in a spot that was surrounded by low, scrubby dunes.  The ground and scrub seemed to be alive with the pipits.  I stood and watched them stretch to catch bugs that flew around the bases of the bushes, then quickly run to another and feast from it.  Sometimes they’d fly to the top of a shrub and perch for a second or two.  This was the first time in a long time that I had been birding and the birds let me look at them.  I’ve found the birds in the Med. to be very leery of people; and rightly so, they are unbelievably persecuted in many Mediterranean countries. (I will address that subject in a separate post, eventually.  Possibly.  Much of it sickens me to the point where I don’t want to write or think about it, but it’s not an issue to be ignored.)
I walked to a small, walled-in cemetery and close to it was a hose with a leak.  A tiny fountain sprang from it and a pipit was enjoying the spray off of it.  Another bird flew out from under a shrub and I watched it land low in another bush.  I got my bins on it and realized I had a new warbler, and I was pretty sure it was a Spectacled.  I had studied this bird before because I thought I had one on Mallorca but had such a brief look that I couldn’t list it.  I have had trouble with some of the warblers in the Med/Europe; they can be frustratingly similar and too fast to really see well enough to id for the first (or second or third) time.  I lowered the bins and turned the camera on to full zoom. I have learned that I might not get another chance at some birds and getting an image is important.  I clicked off a few distant shots and hoped I had more than a fuzzy blob. I stood in the bright sun and shaded the viewer with my hand.  I could see a reddish brown on the wing and a ‘spectacled’ eye.  “Yes, I get to add you to my list after all!”  As I was basking in my success, I heard a very loud call.  It was easy to tune in and find the source.  Sitting atop the cross that graced the locked gates of the cemetery was a Great Grey Shrike.  He was noisily expressing his disapproval of my being there. The one I saw in Cabo de Gata on the Costa del Sol, Spain, wouldn’t let me get within 100 yards of it but this guy allowed me a very good look.  I snapped off a few shots before moving off. 
I walked toward the little harbor town of Caleta del Sebo, and checked it out on my way to the shore.  I saw Turnstones, more Yellow-legged Gulls (Canary Island race), Sanderlings, B. Pipits, and Collared Doves.
I decided to head back inland and walk across the island.  As I went, the wind picked up and dark clouds began to blow over from Lanzarote.  I needed to head back.  I saw the Shrike again and more Hoopoes and pipits.  Gene must have seen me walking because he was on his way as I reached our point.  There was some wave action and I decided I needed to wade out to get past the waves. We were both a bit worried about getting off without a soaking, but my old, fat, arthritic body must have had an ancient memory of its athletic youth and I got in as gracefully as could be done.
I didn’t like having my birding day cut short, but I will go back tomorrow and get closer to the hills where I saw raptors.  I am hoping for Barbary Falcons.
Berthelot's Pipit

Isla Graciosa:
Berthelot’s Pipit /Anthus bertholotii bertholotii
Hoopoe/Upupa epops
Kestrel/Falco tinnunculus dacotiae *
Southern Grey Shrike/Great Grey Shrike/Lanius excubitor koenigi  or algeriensis  *??--Whatever, it was a shrike!
Spectacled Warbler/Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis*
Collared Dove/Streptopelia decaocta

Sandwich Tern/Sterna sandvicensis
Turnstone/Arenaria interpres
Sanderling/Calidris alba
Kentish Plover/Charadrius alexandrinus
Ringed Plover/Charadrius hiaticula
Cory’s Shearwater/Calonectris diomedea borealis (Off-shore, as we sailed in.)
Gannet/Sula bassana (Off-shore, as we sailed in.)
Little Egret/Egretta garzetta
Raven/Corvus corax tingitanus  * 
*According to my Canary Island bird book, these would be the appropriate races for the birds I saw, but  I don’t know for certain if I have the subspecies right.  The shrike looked like the Lanius excubitor algeriensis illustration in my Collins guide and I had it down as that until I noticed the endemic subspecies listed in  A Birdwatcher’s Guide to the Canary Islands by Tony Clarke and David Collin

Raptor Migration, Gibraltar

September 7, 2008
The Barbary 'Ape' is really a monkey, albiet a tailess one.  
Just when I thought I would have to leave Gibraltar without seeing a few migrating raptors, I saw some;   hundreds and hundreds of them.  I was going to go to the Botanical Gardens for a few hours of birding, but before I even got out of the marina, I looked up and saw several large flocks of raptors flying above the Top of the Rock.  I went as fast as my old legs could go to the tram.  The whole time, I kept willing them to stay soaring long enough for me to see them as something more than blobs.  Since I am not familiar enough with the European raptors to ID by shape, I needed good views.
 There was a group of five undecided people at the ticket counter asking about all the ticket options.  It was all I could do to keep myself from yelling, “Just buy the damn tickets and move it!” I was anxious the whole way up; I just knew they would be in Africa by the time I got to the top. Someone said something about seeing the apes.  Since I had been up a few times, I told them they would have no problem seeing them.  I said I hoped the raptors would still be there.  The tram operator assured me they would be and that more would be coming, mostly Honey Buzzards.  Before we reached the top, most of the passengers were looking at the raptors and asking questions about them.

The operator was right, there were plenty of birds and the vast majority were Honey Buzzards.  The top lookout area over near the restaurant was a great spot and often the birds came quite close.  I saw light, dark and common phases. I like the ‘common’ morph the best, what a beautiful bird!  A few Sparrowhawks were in the mix. I got lots of shots and when I viewed them later, I saw what I’m sure are Black Kites as well.  The photos are not good, just blurry silhouettes, but you can just make out a tail starting to vee, or a few wings with long fingers.
Sometimes, there would be a short period when the sky emptied, but it wouldn’t be long before another Raptor Wave would hit.  Some groups flew in a tornado shape, some were swirling cumulus clouds and others a long ribbon. Some flew over the top of the Rock and others flew lower, over Gibraltar Bay.   It was an amazing sight and I’m glad we’ve been too content to hurry with our projects and lingered long enough to witness this migration. Both Honey Buzzard and Sparrowhawk are lifers for me.
There were more than birds to see on the Rock.  I love this Moorish gecko.
People are warned to keep their bags and food concealed, but there are always the special people who don't follow the same rules as the hoi-poloi.  One day when we were on the Rock, a special person had her tote snatched from her and her bag of chips was extracted before the tote went for a downhill flight.  Gene and I heard the woman screaming and turned to see the monkey the action. About fifteen minutes later we saw this guy off the beaten path being a pig with his booty. He turned his back on his buddy while he ate and gave us a 'Don't even think about it.' look.

Italy: A Trip To The Po To Find A Pygmy Cormorant

April 11, 2008
Yes, those are mozzies buzzing Gene's head; one of the reasons he loves to go birding with me.
I usually bird in the area where we are  moored because I usually have only my feet for transportation, but there have been times when I have driven to distant locations to find a particular bird. In Australia, I had a car and I drove to find a Southern Cassowary, Chowchilla, Budgie, and Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher.  Last week, Gene and I went to the Po River Delta on the Adriatic coast of Italy to find a Pygmy cormorant. I have wanted to see one since learning of them while we were in Turkey. Apparently, there are lots of them in Thessalonika (Northern Greece), but we sailed though the Southern Islands instead of going north (had to see an Eleonora's Falcon and I thought Tilos was my best chance) .

I really thought that I had lost my chance to see a Pygmy until I browsed through Nigel Wheatly’s, Where to
Watch Birds in Europe and Russia. He mentioned that three pairs of Pygmy's bred in the Po River Delta in 1994**. I still had a chance to see them before setting sail for Spain! I did some googling of Pygmy’s in the Po and found a report by someone (sorry, can’t remember who it was) who saw them in the Punta Alberete area of the vast Parco Delta del Parco. More googling showed me where Punta Alberete was.

I talked Gene into going with me, and made a one night reservation at the Corrallo Hotel in the town of Marina Romea. I figured we could check things out once we were there and stay another night if necessary, or move to another location for another night if that was needed. Now all I had to do was get to Marina Romea using public transportation. We went into the termini in Rome and got tickets on a fast train to Bologna where we would then catch another train to Ravenna; from there it would be a short bus ride into Marina Romea.
It was 5:00 pm by the time we got checked in and I inhaled a few olives and a glass of wine before heading out for a little birding before the sun went down. There is a pine forest reserve directly across the street from the hotel and I went in there. I walked through it until I came to the next little town, Porto Corsini. I had a map that the hotel had given me and saw that if I crossed the road here, I could get on a trail that went along the marsh. This area was Pineta Staggioni, not Punta Alberete which was a few miles away.
I still had enough light, so I decided to walk back to the hotel via the marsh trail. I had gone a bit north of the trailhead so it took a bit of time to find it. Once I was on it, I soon saw a viewing tower. Instead of going up it right away, I walked past it a bit to the edge of the path and looked over the marsh. I could see four cormorants, very small cormorants; small cormorants with short bills. I hadn't been in town for two hours and I got my bird! It was dusk and my photos were silhouettes even with my setting on low light. I have had this bird on a ‘What I want to see in the Med’ list for quite awhile and I couldn’t believe I found it so quickly. As I walked back to the hotel I started to doubt myself. They were quite far, around 75 yards. Hard to judge. What if the distance was so great that I was seeing the bird as smaller than it really was? What if the bill really wasn’t that short? What if it was a shag?

By the time I got back to the hotel my mood was darkening faster than the sky. “You know what you saw. You knew immediately that it was a Pygmy,” said the little angel on my shoulder. “Yes, but when people really want to see something, they often develop selective vision,” said the evil, confidence killing devil on the other shoulder.

I asked Gene to go back with me in the morning. His eyes are really good, and he is very good at birding, much better than me, and I wanted confirmation.

We went right after breakfast and found the birds in the same spot. Pygmy Cormorants. Lifer #567.We walked along the trail till it ended and I saw another Pygmy there. The sky was whited out and the water was grey, but I tried some photos anyway.

When we got back to Peregrine, I loaded the photos onto the computer. They turned out to look like silhouettes, but they were good enough to show a pygmy cormorant.
click to enlarge
Slender-billed Gull
We stayed two nights at the Corallo. I can recommend it; the staff was excellent(I'm kicking myself for not getting the name of young lady at the front desk, she was great), the place was spotless, and the location was good. The only problem was the trickle of hot water in the shower. Unfortunately for us, the hotel no longer loaned bikes and the bike rental place was not open. Too early in the season? Anyway, you would need a bike or car to see the area well. There is no car rental in Marina Romea so if you want to check this area out by car, you need to rent in Ravenna. I also got lifer #568 on this trip--Common Tern. Here is a list of birds seen in walking distance from the hotel:
Black-necked Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Little Grebe
Great Cormorant
Pygmy Cormorant
Little Egret (lots)
Grey Heron
Curlew Sandpiper
Black-headed Gull
Slender-billed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Common Tern
Whiskered Tern
Collared Dove
Scops Owls were heard in pine forest across from hotel
Barn Swallow
Yellow Wagtail
Black Redstart
Sardinian Warblers heard
Cetti’s Warbler
Willow Warbler
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Hooded Crow
Italian House Sparrows
**That book was published in 2000, and the bird was listed as endangered. After seeing my bird, I went to the IUCN site to see what the status was and was amazed to find that the species has been downgraded to Least Concern. It is good to see that some stories are not all doom and gloom.