4 May 2014

4 May 14 - Rock Partridge

Last Autumn I heard some old mates from Southampton, Mark Edgeller, Gavin Maclean & Ken Arber, & a Bristol mate, Andy Mears, were planning on a short break to look for Rock Partridge in Croatia. This immediately sparked my interest & I managed to book a flight & accommodation and get the last place in their car. So we were all set for a early May bank holiday trip to Cavtat, Croatia for Rock Partridge. The trip was based around the excellent report by Ian Merrill of a trip he made in early May 13. In this post, I'm going to focus on Rock Partridge, which is a difficult bird to see in the Western Palearctic & I will cover the rest of the trip in other posts.

Seeing a Rock Partridge has been something I have wanted to do for about 20 years. The problem has always been they occur over a wide part of Southern Europe from the Southern Eastern corner of France to Switzerland, Italy, Sicily, the Balkans & Greece. But not that many birders seemed to have looked for them & those that have seen them, looked many years ago. So getting up to date sites on them has always looked difficult. Friends who have looked, have complained of spending 2 or 3 days of walking up rocky hillsides & then getting poor (or worst still no) views of them. Therefore, I was very interested in reading Ian Merrill's report of him seeing & hearing several in a morning in the hills above Cavtat. It seemed all you had to do was fly there on a charter, stay on the coast, have a short drive into the hills & there they were. Therefore, if we went at the same time the following year & had several pairs of eyes, how difficult could it be? Well not surprisingly, the level of difficulty turned out to be different to what I had ancipated.

Thanks to the Monarch flight leaving Gatwick 2 hours late, we didn't get to the accommodation until 00:30 in the morning & the alarm was set for an 05:00 wake up & 05:30 start. It was a 15 minute drive to the hills about Cavtat until we pulled into viewpoint on the minor road to the small hamlet of Velji Do. We got out the car & within about 2 minutes as we were pulling on coats, grabbing cameras & scopes, Andy said he could hear one. Another minute & we were watching it: about 80 metres away from us & right next to the road. Quick views & I was down on the ground trying to get a stable enough camera to get some photos as the early morning light wasn't bright. So I had photos of this difficult to see Western Palearctic Partridge all before 06:00 on the first morning. As I said, how difficult could it be!
Rock Partridge: Male. Western P tick 680 firmly on the list & all before 06:00 on the first morning (result). My last Western P Partridge (based up Birds of the Western P boundaries)
Rock Partridge: Male. Like a seasoned pro, he moved across to a nearby rock to get a better calling position or maybe he thought the photos would be better?
Rock Partridge: A rarely seen underwing shot

Photographing the Rock Partridge: The light wasn't great & I had already bumped up the ISO settings, but I still needed to get the camera still. Not elegant, but it worked 
After a 20 minute wait, it was relocated an another prominent perch, but this time not as close.
Rock Partridge: Like the other Red-legged Partridge types, they like to call from prominent positions
At this point, we decided to explore further along the minor road from the viewpoint. After all, Ian had seen or heard several in the area, so we figured we might bump into others. After an hour of birding, we hadn't seen any more along the road, so I returned to the original bird. He had moved, but was still calling on & off from the hillside close to the viewpoint.
 Rock Partridge: Still quite distant on the hillside. It clearly wouldn't be straight-forward visiting when they aren't calling. There is a lot of habitat for them to disappear into
Fortunately, at this point, it flew & landed close to & below the viewpoint. I walked back to there & had much better views from just below the viewpoint. Also, the light had improved noticeably compared to the early morning light. I then had it to myself for about 30 minutes, before leaving it in peace to go find the others. We returned to see if they could get some better views, but it had moved on.
Rock Partridge: Note, the white supercilium & black extending along the depth of the upper mandible 
Rock Partridge: It was quite happy posing for the camera 
The only downside is there are rumours that the Sicilian subspecies could get promoted to a monotypic species. If that happens & Clements then adopts that split, then I might still have another Western P Partridge to look for.
Rock Partridge: Note, the lack of any spotting below the black sharply demarked necklace. Apparently, the Sicilian subspecies has a broken breast band & easily separated from this subspecies, by a big patch of sea :-)
Getting such excellent views & photos, was a great start to the trip. We left late morning for a welcome late breakfast/early lunch. Note, the following morning, the wind strength had got up & it wasn't pleasant up by the viewpoint. We only spent a few minutes (without any joy) looking for the Rock Partridges, before, heading to a lower, more sheltered area. Therefore, there are risks to seeing Rock Partridges in a very short trip to the area.