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Post Info TOPIC: The view from Madrid


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RE: The view from Madrid


Sunday Oct.14th 2018

Arrived here on 12th (with typically unfortunate timing in context of events in Timperley). Nevertheless we have two family birthdays to celebrate here, and the Timperley bird will just have to wait in line to make it onto my GM list.

After a late start this morning l hopped onto line 5 westbound on the Metro for the 15 minute ride to Casa de Campo on the western fringe of the city.

On arrival, there was a cool eye watering breeze with the northern mountains swathed in low cloud.

There was little to get excited about over the first hour, the best of a modest bunch being a sharpei Green Woodpecker, very common here of course, and differing from its UK congeners in different head pattern and slightly different vocalisations. Ive always treated it as a subspecies of our bird but as Im not on the ball as regards the latest splits, if any of you have a more recent taxonomic grasp I should appreciate an update please.

I was surprised to hear the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker in view of the date, so crept up to investigate. I located a female and close by a drumming male, with another bird somewhere well behind me giving the usual call, so 3 birds were obviously having some interaction.

Despite listening carefully I found no Firecrests or Crested Tits, both of which are regulars here, but was hearing Cettis Warblers spaced out at intervals along The valley bottom where a small mucky stream runs. I settled by a thick pine trunk to see if I could glimpse a particularly vocal Cettis some 40 feet away in dense bramble type cover. After some 20 mins the Cettis was winning hands down, seemingly at eye level able to travel sideways wearing an invisibility cloak- yes, I know, par for the course for these. I moved in very quietly to within 10 feet and still was unable to see even a rustle. (At other times I have noted them scurrying on the ground, but here any view of the muddy side to the streamlet was too restricted).

I decided to give up, but gave a few very low gentle squeaks prior to setting off for home. Immediately the Cettis started diving through the undergrowth as if it had suddenly undergone a personality change, popping up, calling, moving again calling again and finally perched up some 6 feet away at knee height on the brambles in full view-rather in the manner of a bold brazen Whitethroat. - Mike the winner on points!

Along the path some 100 yds along, A strongish single zit note alerted me to a flash of a Treecreeper as it shot off to a thick tree trunk and promptly vanished around the blind side. The birds here of course are all Short-toed and I always like to check them out visually to reinforce my mental picture; typically they always look dingy, longer billed and with less fore-supercilium than our UK birds and with louder lower calls. The finer points on the flight feathers are just about impossible to distinguish unless captured in a good photo or in the hand; - at least to me. I tried a couple of squeaks and obligingly the Short-toed broke cover and flew closer onto a nearby trunk- a decent view, so I strode off smiling to catch the train back to Urgel.

In summary, a steady couple of hours enlivened by a bit of fun at the end.

Cheers,

Mike P.

 

 

 

 

 



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-Been here all week and done no birding at all. Its actually rather nice to switch off and watch the football with a beer, go rowing on the lake in Parque del Retiro, or swimming with Anne in the outdoor baths. 

Its very sad to read about the moorland fires back in GM; - I wonder what the longer term damage might be?

Cheers,

Mike P.

 



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Wednesday, 28/03/18

A return visit to Casa de Campo still only produced a modest 25 species in a 90 minute session (10.30 to noon). 

I found no trace of either Crested Tits nor Short-toed Treecreepers, despite a marked improvement in the weather; perhaps I should get up earlier? They will doubtless be around,- I just havent put the time in.

Hoopoes were calling and chasing about and I settled down to watch one at close range as it foraged beside a sandy track some 20 feet away. I counted the black spots on top of its crest. Had someone asked me how many there were I shouldnt have known; - how well do we actually look at common birds, rather than just identify them and move on? -There were 4 black spots, so for what it is worth I know that some Hoopoes have 4 black spots here, but do they all?.....

I took a short cut through the pines towards the climb up to the metro station and heard a Firecrest, so sat down to coax it into view with some gentle squeaks. I find that trying to squeak in cold weather is almost impossible as my lips are too tight to hit the best pitch. Today however with nice warm weather it was easy to do properly and effectively and the Firecrest instantly broke cover and made its way towards me, almost landed on me and perched some 8 feet behind me for several seconds. Firecrests still take my breath away, and this one was so easily my highlight bird of the morning.

Cheers,

Mike P.

 



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Monday 26/03/18.

Our 30 minute train journey south out of Atocha station was a prelude to a great day in Toledo. Below one of the old bridges over the river Tagus my first house martins of 2018 had already returned to their sizeable colony under one of the arches, this comprised about 50 nests in a traditional long established site.

We were not in birding mode however, as there is much to see and do in the architectural gem that is Toledo, and it was Annes first visit. The Tagus is of course Iberias longest river, and Anne enjoyed the tirolina, the gravity powered crossing high over the river hanging from a wire in a safety harness.

Cheers, Mike P.



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Friday 23/03/18

I took the 15 minute Metro ride from here (Urgel) to Casa de Campo to see what might be about on this my first visit of the year. 

The mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama to the north of the city were capped with snow, and these made a fitting backdrop to a passing White Stork. The highest peak, Peņalara, is marginally over 8000 ft and affords easy walking. As it turned out the birding over the next 90 minutes by way of contrast was somewhat underwhelming. I noted my first Blackcaps of the year, and heard a scatter of Cettis Warblers along a streamside walk of around a mile each way, but heard nothing of my main targets, Crested Tits and Short-toed Treecreepers.

Oddly, all the Sparrows here were House Sparrows, whereas in the other city parks they seem to be overwhelmingly Tree Sparrows.

On Monday we are heading off south to Toledo on the fast train (AVE) for a day out and a change of scene.

Cheers,

Mike P.



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Wednesday, 21/03/18 - 10 am.

After the school run within my granddaughter, I strolled round to San Isidro park, only ten minutes walk from Warrens flat.

After yesterdays biting wind, a fresh breeze and clear blue skies had more birds singing, and I was encouraged to hear the first buzzy songs from the Serins, two females of which were foraging in the grass alongside a Green Woodpecker and a gang of Monk Parakeets.

I noted the first Chiffchaffs of the year both in the pines and flycatching by an ornamental pond, but all remained silent. Though they looked ok for our common species, I did harbour concern in case I should overlook an Iberian Chiffchaff. A White Wagtail was also flycatching at the waters edge.

My main target for the morning was Firecrest, so I settled against a tree trunk to listen, but Coal, Great, and Long-tailed Tits were all I noted before a park employee strode alongside with a large noisy lawnmower which did nothing to help my quest. Before too long however, on the very edge of audibility, I though I caught a hint of zit, zit, from the deep cover of the higher trees, so decided try a few squeaks to speed things along. About a dozen small birds and a Magpie zoomed in, and one even from below, surely had an eyestripe?

I backed off to get a better angle and to relieve an aching neck, and within a few seconds manage a nice view, - my first Firecrest of the year.

Cheers,

Mike P.

 

 



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We arrived back in Madrid last evening feeling liberated from shovelling snow, and the daily diet of Brexit and Novichok.

A walk in Parque Sur this morning (20th March) produced the first Swallows, flashing by and keeping low to the grass due to the biting wind and with temperature hovering at zero. In addition to a few more common species, a Hoopoe was calling and within seconds flew overhead, being pursued and harried by a persistent Tree Sparrow. A Spotless Starling and several Green Woodpeckers (sharpei) were about. The calls of the woodpecker here differ slightly from our British form, being to my ear, less ringing in quality.

All in all, a modest start to my birding here, and hopefully the weather will soon pick up, and some more migrants will appear. I aim to explore some new sites within the Madrid Comunidad using my travel pass rather more, (while I still qualify for it).

Cheers,

Mike

 



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Today we return home after enjoying a family Christmas with Warren and Anne (now aged 11), with birding very much sidelined, in part due to poor weather over the last week, and as I couldnt find room in our luggage for our bins, due to top priority given over to Barb bringing out Christmas cake and Christmas pudding and brandy sauce mix ( seemingly not obtainable in Madrid?)

Annes birding phase over recent years has for the present at least been superceded by fascination with modern dance, and I wont overface her with birds in the meantime. A future project may well be to visit the Prado (which Anne enjoys) and compile a list of as many bird species as we might find in many of the paintings there; for example a good start is to be had in The garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronimus Bosch (El Bosco), - one of the great works on show.

I accidentally did note both Black Redstart, and sharpei Green Woodpeckers, confiding as usual, in Parke Sur, and if it is at all possible, even greater numbers than ever of wretched Monk Parakeets bombing over all areas of the city. 

We are back at Easter and my Madrid Year list will effectively start then?

Regards,

Mike P.



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Another morning, another venue;- this time at Casa de Campo, the former royal hunting park of the Spanish kings which forms a sudden mass of forest to the west of the city just 15 mins on line 5 of the metro.

The first notable species I heard, then saw, within 10 mins of the start of my walk comprised a loose party of some 7/8 Crested Tits in the pine scrub,- always a welcome sight as it is many years since I last saw them in Scotland. A Short-toed Treecreeper (common here) promptly appeared, duller than its U.K. counterpart, longer billed and with its supercilium mainly obvious only behind the eye. I have never seen one in the U.K., and wonder,  having seen so many over a fair period in Madrid's parks, if I could have as much confidence with the i/d of a silent vagrant at say Dungeness?

Other significant year ticks were Green Woodpecker and a scatter of White Storks which here are all year residents,

Oddly, there was not a note from the usually common Cetti's Warblers.



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As we are now in 2017, I galvanised myself to emerged out of a warm bed (albeit after 9am) and had a stroll down by the Manzanares river, having borrowed my granddaughter's binoculars.

There was little of note in birding terms, only 17 species, the pick of which being a single Black Redstart, a Chiffchaff, one Little Egret, a couple of underwhelming Spotless Starlings and the ubiquitous Monk Parakeets. I did hear several yaffles from a Green Woodpecker (here the sharpei sub sp.) but failed to see it.

A group of 4 young ladies (who turned out to be visitors from Venezuela) stopped me to ask for directions regarding a good place to walk in the area. After setting them on a good interesting route to take in the Puente de Toledo, (about a km upstream), I explained that the binoculars which I was cupping closely in my gloved hands belonged to my young granddaughter;- these happen to be bright pink in colour, hence my need to explain, somewhat to their amusement.

Happy New Year to all.

Mike P.



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-Playing kickabout football with Anne and a couple of little mexican kids and their dad in Parque Sur on Sunday when Anne stopped playing, pointing skyward to a raptor with a forked tail, - a Black Kite, and our first for Madrid City. With no prompting from me she remarked on its odd tail, - pretty good for a 7 year old.

The kids beat the oldies 8-5.

Cheers,
Mike P.

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I noted the first Swifts of the year on 15th, screaming high overhead, preceding a thunderstorm which cut short our visit to the park with our 7 year old granddaughter Anne.

- Not done any birding thus far, the main highlight last night being Gareth Bale with his amazing 60 yard sprint culminating in a precision finish and solo winning goal to vanquish Barcelona in the prestigious Copa Del Rey final; a great night to be a Madrid fan.

It´ll take a bloody good bird to top that!!!!

In the meantime, I´m keeping a watchful eye on Manchester Birding....

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With better weather over the last few days I spent several hours this morning at Casa de Campo, sauntering about 6 miles along the creeks and woodland trails.

A noticeable feature was the unwelcome increase in the packs of feral cats which can hardly be of benefit to the bird population. The birding was rather steady but patience was the order of the day. My usual banker spots for Cetti´s Warblers produced none and the best of these was occupied by a couple of gross looking filthy cats.

I then heard a Cetti´s a good 100 metres away from it´s usual site (the one where the cats were), where I have managed to obtain "record shots" in the past.

I tracked the song bursts to a 20 x 30ft patch of dense bramble and crept quietly to within 30 ft, then stood dead still for 30 mins. I generally quite like to pit myself against the bird at each encounter with Cetti´s to see if I can see it, (I normally win, but by no means not every time).

They are normally easier to see in Phragmites by looking for movement of the reed stems, but this is harder in bramble. Either way, a Cetti´s is best searched for by a lone observer, when the option to "squeak" it out is more readily available, and often works straight away in the right setting.

This morning I decided just to wait quietly to see just how long and difficult it might be. The bird was giving typical song bursts but then repeating the final "PENT" several times, and on one rendering repeating the final note 8 times, (which I have never heard before), and also a very subdued low key version of song, before reverting back to its typical burst. 

It was a typical impressive performance that the bird sang from different sections of bramble without the slightest movement of vegetation, and I suspect it was moving either on the ground below deep cover or very nearly on the ground. I finally spotted it in deep cover from scanning low down over the area of its latest vocalisation;-a lousy view, back on, but unmistakable in that its tail was typically held high, waying laterally (as if top heavy).

Pleased to have won my game, my attention was drawn to a couple of short monotone notes high above, and glassing almost vertically I noted the rather dowdy brown tones of a Short-toed Treecreeper, another bird I like to test myself on, - (no identification problem here as its the only certhia present). The Madrid birds seem always to be short in the supercilium and really unmistakeably duller browner beasts and the call is stronger and not as high pitched as that of its UK cousin.

I´ve never seen "Short-toed" in Britain as I ve never fancied the arduous twitch from Durham to Dungeness,-( in fact I´d prefer a short term prison sentence if given the choice).

best Wishes,

Mike P. 

 



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After some 3 months of birding inactivity on my part, interest was rekindled on 31st August by a noticeable influx of Pied Flycatchers in Parque Sur (probably into 3 figures), with a single Melodious Warbler to add spice, -both Madrid local patch ticks.
Temperatures are a little more bearable now after the early August peak of 42 degrees.

Regards,
Mike P.

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