Birdwatch, June - July 2019

Published in Nature Watch

Steve Jones of Dol recounts his observations during June and July 2019, a mixture of some disappointments balanced by unexpected joys, including a couple of bird rescues!

Pygmy Cormorant Pygmy Cormorant Photo: Steve Jones
Little Bittern, well camouflaged! Photo: Steve Jones

On June 4th 2019 I had a bit of luck, which gave me a good observation: a Little Bittern at the pond, superbly camouflaged round the fringes. A totally new sighting for me, so I was delighted. It stayed around for three days, long enough for me to get pictures which were adequate to prove its identity. Incidentally, I learned just recently that the pond is known locally as 'Dračevica'.

Little Bittern. Photo: Steve Jones

On June 10th I was not so lucky: I came within 25 metres of a male cuckoo, which is quite close, but for some unknown reason my camera wouldn't focus, so the 15-odd shots I took all turned out to be rubbish. I know "the bad workman blames his tools" but the camera failure was a complete mystery. However, on June 13th we at Eco Hvar were extremely glad to receive a beautiful photograph of a cuckoo which went a long way to making up for the disappointment. Birdwatching enthusiast John Ball, who visits Hvar and has previously provided us with some of his exquisite pictures wrote most generously: "I thought I would share an experience I had in May when I was present at an occasion at Thursley Common in Surrey, where a Cuckoo came in so close and enabled me to get some special photos. In all my time as a lover of wildlife and from experience of following the Cuckoo call to get a distant image this was a real treat. Apparently the bird has been returning to the same area for 5 years and so has covered a lot of miles! The attraction being meal worms which it consumes gratefully and is totally unfazed by human presence and will readily come to within 4 metres to enjoy the worms. To see a bird of naturally retiring nature this close was a lifer for me."

Cuckoo. Photo: John Ball

Cuckoos are great travellers! The British Trust for Ornithology have a fantastic website where you can track individual tagged Cuckoos. I used to follow a couple from Dartmoor, although I think our local society 'Devon Birds' doesn't sponsor any now. At the time I noticed one which would have passed close to here on his way from Africa to South East England. On June 14th 2019 I managed a picture of a Cuckoo from a distance of about 50 metres. I was quite pleased with this, as they would not be around much longer. The previous evening I was down at the pond from 20:00 to 21:30. I specifically wanted to listen out for Cuckoos. I had forgotten to take any mozzie spray, but managed to survive and was rewarded by hearing two male Cuckoos and two females calling from some distance apart. One pair was at the place where I had been checking out. However, I couldn't fathom the host bird, although I wondered if it might be a Sub-Alpine Warbler. To find out, I need to concentrate on excessive activity, but really it's a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Roller. Photo: Steve Jones

On June 12th I had a sighting of a Roller, which is pretty rare here, and anywhere else for that matter. It landed on a branch some distance away, but I managed one token picture before it flew off. I also caught a Scarlet Darter Dragonfly on camera - dragonflies, although always present, have been more in evidence this year than previously.

Scarlet Darter dragonfly. Photo: Steve Jones

On June 14th there was a turtle dove perched on a branch for my photo-call, for which I was duly grateful. Around dusk I saw two nightjars, and heard several more calling with their unmistakable 'rattling' sound. I was hoping they might come out a bit earlier in the evening so that I could photograph them, but no.

Turtle Dove. Photo: Steve Jones

On June 16th I was given a young Hoopoe by some friends. It had crashed on their terrace two days before. As they have two cats they couldn't keep it. They said it hadn’t eaten anything. I made a little cage for it and watched it for an hour or so the following day. It seemed quite healthy, but whilst I had given it water and meal worms it didn’t appear to have eaten them. (They are insect feeders.) I tried to feed it a meal worm by hand but got no reaction. I was pretty sure it couldn’t fly although it looked pretty well developed so it had to be close. I was loath to keep it if it was not eating anything, but then again I didn’t want to put it outside and let it fend for itself as the cats around would soon have it. If it was eating, I would have made it a bigger cage. The following day I was due to be away in Split, and I was contemplating testing at the pond whether it could fly on my return the day after. If it could, I would let it go.

Red-Backed-Shrike. Photo: Steve Jones

Happily on June 17th my Hoopoe successfully flew from the pond. Then there was another casualty on June 18th when a Red-Backed Shrike fell into a water trough. However, he was rescued and ready to fly first thing the following morning having dried out. After that the bird scene was very quiet, apart from the elusive Oriole. I was seeing them often, but didn't manage a decent picture... A couple of weeks later in early July, as I was trying to sneak up on an Oriole in another failed attempt to take its picture, by pure luck I got a shot of a Red-Backed Shrike in my garden, so that was some consolation.

Pygmy Cormorant. Photo: Steve Jones

On July 4th there was a Pygmy Cormorant at the pond, but one that was a totally different species from the normal one. About a week later there were two, but only for one day. After that, one stayed at the pond for another couple of weeks, apparently taking up residence, but then it disappeared, presumably moved on. During its stay I was happy that it apparently got used to me and allowed me to take some good pictures.

Pygmy Cormorant. Photo: Steve Jones

Birds of prey were in evidence in July. I photographed one which I thought was a Buzzard but a couple of people suggested it could be a Honey Buzzard, so I didn't add it to the list of sightings until I was 100% sure. I have seen both the Honey Buzzard and the Common Buzzard on the island, pictured below, and it can be hard to spot the difference at a distance.

Common Buzzard. Photo: Steve Jones
Honey Buzzard. Photo: Steve Jones

Another bird of prey I caught on camera in a distant shot was possibly a Levant Sparrowhawk, but as it was so far away I won't count that one in the listing.

At 07:15 on the morning of July 18th I caught sight of another new species which I hadn't seen before on Hvar, a Curlew. Sadly I couldn't get a photo of it, as it flew up when it heard me close my car door. It circled the pond a couple of times, giving me hope that it would come down again, but no such luck. Anyway, it brought the number of species sighted this year to about 86. It's a shame that there was no water in the pond earlier in the year, and no really cold temperatures, otherwise there might well have been another eight or nine species to be seen.

Montpellier snake. Photo: Steve Jones

There are of course other interesting creatures to see on Hvar when one goes out looking at nature. In early July I got a decent picture of a Montpellier snake (Latin: Malpolon insignitus, Croatian: Zmajur), just down the road from my house. Looking at it I think it was full or digesting something, as I read they are supposed to be quite quick. This one needed to be prompted to move on and was quite lethargic about it all – I guess it was a metre in length. They can grow to more than twice that length, and although they can look (and be) aggressive, they are not particularly dangerous to humans, as their poison is contained in their back teeth. If they manage to bite a human (for instance if they are provoked or picked up) the venom generally causes numbness and swelling, sometimes a fever, all of which will subside naturally within a few hours (although it is wise to seek medical attention if you are in doubt). Male Montpellier snakes fight each other for a mate, but have a charming courtesy towards their females: a male will offer a gift of food, such as a mouse, to the female of his choice, and if it is accepted the courtship will continue! These snakes can also be useful to humans, as they are apparently the enemies of Nose-horned vipers (Latin: vipera ammodytes, Croatian: poskok), which are potentially dangerous to humans.

Montpellier snake. Photo: Steve Jones

Later in July birding was quiet, but, saying that, there was more happening than last year, as the pond levels were higher following the heavy rain. I picked up a few new species for the year but none that I hadn't seen before, apart from a Pallid Swift. The picture I took of it was poor, but two knowledgeable people in Devon kindly confirmed the identity. I have to say here that I have paid more attention to the different types of Swifts since we received a detailed list of sightings from an experienced Dutch birdwatcher who visited the island in May. The Alpine is easy to tell apart from the others, the Pallid less so.

© Steve Jones 2019.
For more of Steve's nature pictures, see his personal pages: Bird Pictures on Hvar 2017Bird Pictures and Sightings on Hvar 2018, and Butterflies of Hvar
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    Will McCarry is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

    Cover image: A large seagrass bed in Honduras (© Joanne-Weston)

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