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BIRDING DIARY
Trip reports and latest news from Oriole Birding tours
Date: 2017-07-20

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NORFOLK BUTTERFLIES & DRAGONFLIES JULY 2017 - [AS]

 

THURSDAY 20TH JULY - WEST & CENTRAL NORFOLK

Showery rain and grey skies in moderate E winds, 17C

 

A bit of a challenge today as we really had to work around the weather – there were some brighter, warmer patches to be found though, we just had to wait for them at times! It rained most of the way over to Roydon Common NR, where we planned to spend a couple of hours looking in particular for Black Darter. It just about stopped as we arrived though, and in fact some thinner patches of cloud began to allow the temperature to rise quite sharply. Gatekeepers were therefore bouncing along the hedgerow as we headed down across the common, where a family of Common Stonechats, male Yellowhammer and Eurasian Sparrowhawk were also noted. Once at the dragonfly pond area, we began our careful search among the surrounding heather and bracken for any maturing darters. At this early stage of the season, this tends to be the best place to look, as they mature away from the water. It was pretty tough going though, and other than the odd Ruddy Darter we saw very little. Around the edges of the pool, we did have excellent views of a number of Emerald Damselfly, providing a useful comparison to yesterday’s scarce. A female Brimstone was trying to get warmed up enough to take to the air, but better still was a female Dark Green Fritillary which came powering in and settled on the bracken just in front of us. Pressing her wings against the bracken frond for warmth, she allowed us to get pretty close and admire her intricate markings – much better than the views at Holkham yesterday. Perhaps more importantly though, this was the first time we had ever recorded the species at the site.

 

 

Black & Ruddy Darters at Roydon Common today. Note the black triangle on top of thorax of the former

 

The search for Black Darter continued and it was hard going as we weren’t even getting any false alarms with other species! Eventually though, we found one sheltering among the heather at the far end of the pond, and with the cool and cloudy weather now dominating, it was not in any rush to fly anywhere. Fantastic views were had by all, and with the close focus binos we could really see the black triangle on the thorax clearly. Another one was then seen on the way back round the pond, and a few Keeled Skimmers were also seen including a nice male. A Green Woodpecker perched up nicely as we walked back to the car park – we had to make haste though as the weather closed in again and we got a soaking!

 

What to do next was the question as it really didn’t look like the weather was going to clear any time soon. We decided to cut through to the A47 and head east and try a site for the Small Red Damselfly. It was still raining hard as we arrived though so we decided to continue further, to the NWT reserve at Thompson Common. After lunch in the car park, we realised the rain wasn’t going to stop, but folk were keen to take a look at the pingoes anyway so we wandered down through the woodland. This really is a lovely site, and benefitting greatly from the trusts management work carried out recently. We walked down to the edge of the largest pond, and here we found a wet Common Darter clinging to the vegetation, and several exuviae of recently emerged larger dragonflies – probably Southern Hawker. Among the tall grasses and sedges, we managed to find myriad damselflies – Blue-tailed, Common Blue and Azure Damselfly, but also both Emerald and Scarce Emerald Damselfly too. Because of the weather, close observation of the fine identification marks was possible as none of them were really flying. Singles of Common Blue and Green-veined White were also found skulking in the grass, so we actually didn’t do too badly at all. Just as we were about to leave, a single trumpeting sound was heard overhead, diverting our gaze from the ground to the sky just in time to see four Common Cranes flying low over and off to the south – what a surprise! It just goes to show, that you really do never know what you are going to see!

 

 

Common Blue upper and undersides from NWT Thompson Common today

 

So heading back north, we revisited the only location in Norfolk for the Small Red Damselfly and after a short wait in the van to let more rain pass through, we wandered down onto the site. Immediately it cleared and the temperature shot up – so did the damselfly! We saw about seven different individuals of the Small Red Damselfly, the most delicate of insects and such a stunning little beast when seen up close and personal using the close focus binos. We saw a range of males and females, and also enjoyed Marsh Fragrant Orchid and a few butterflies – Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small Skipper and Common Blue. A nice way to round off an excellent few days wildlife watching – who says July is a quiet month!

 

WEDNESDAY 19TH JULY - NORTH NORFOLK

A hot day in moderate E winds after torrential overnight rain, 25C

 

It was a very sultry day today though it actually started quite fresh under heavy cloud and with a stiff breeze blowing. With this in mind we headed over to Titchwell first, to enjoy the spectacle of the building numbers of migrating waders on the freshmarsh. Parrinder Hide provided the perfect vantage point, as some 240 Dunlin were feeding in two flocks pretty much outside the hide and giving excellent views. We were able to compare the different plumages of the adults and juveniles, which are just starting to appear in the flocks in small numbers. Despite being seen earlier in the day, we couldn’t locate yesterday’s Pectoral Sandpiper among them, or indeed among the vegetation on any of the islands. We did see plenty of Ruff, two juvenile Little-ringed Plovers, many Black-tailed Godwits in fine plumage and at least thirteen grey non-breeding Bar-tailed Godwits. The Pied Avocets are now assembling into post-breeding flocks and a large number were resting on the island right of the hide. Two rather different second calendar year Little Gulls were picking along the edge of the same island – one with wholly juvenile wing coverts forming a dark bar, but the other rather more advanced and already showing an almost wholly grey upperwing. Mediterranean Gulls have been a real feature of the freshmarsh this summer, as the first ever successful breeding has been recorded on the reserve – we could only pick three fledged young out today, but it was great to get to grips with their neatly scaled plumage and chunky black bills. Occasionally an adult would drop in ‘kyowing’ and the young birds would gather round it to beg for food. Other species noted included Common Sandpiper, Common Tern, and a single Common Greenshank which dropped in calling. Two Eurasian Spoonbills were also seen – a frequent summer sight on Norfolk’s coastal marshes – and great to see one flying past the hide with neck outstretched. The black wingtips denoted it to be one of this year’s young, and we learnt today that over twenty pairs have bred in the county this year. Bearded Tits have been showing rather well from the corner near Island Hide recently, and we had superb views of two juveniles feeding busily on the mud there this morning as we walked back towards the car park. Our final sighting of the morning was a Turtle Dove, which flashed over us as we had a coffee back by the van.

 

 

Juvenile Med Gull and Bearded Tit - both showing nicely at Titchwell today

 

Holkham Meals would be our next destination as we switched our focus back to butterflies. Sheltered from the wind and in the warm sun, it was bouncing with Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Ringlet along the main track. We could also see plenty of Large and Green-veined Whites, our first Speckled Wood [freshly emerged presumed third generation] and Large Skipper. It was great to see such a volume of butterflies and give people the chance to really study these common species up close, with the aid of the close focus binoculars. Common and Ruddy Darter were all along the trail here too, and we saw a male Brimstone, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Copper and Holly Blue to boost the variety. Once we reached Washington Hide, we took the boardwalk towards the dunes and here we found two stunning Grayling butterflies visiting the bramble blossom. This provided a great opportunity for close up observation of this cryptic species, though as ever getting a glimpse of the upperwing was not easy! The dunes were a bit hot and sticky, and the butterflies here were unfortunately too warmed up and so would not settle – three Dark Green Fritillary were seen, but each of them very much ‘on the hoof’. Common Blue was added though, and both Sandwich and Little Terns could also be seen along the distant shore. Back at Lady Anne’s Drive, we were glad of a sit down and some fluids!

 

 

Small Copper and Large Skipper - two of many butterfly highlights in Holkham Meals today

 

Rounding off the day we headed back towards Fakenham and decided to try a local site where we had received sketchy reports of the presence of Emerald and/or Scarce Emerald Damselfly. We normally visit Thompson Common in the brecks for these species so a more local population would be quite exciting. Finding what looked like ideal habitat, we had a wander round and soon found our target – a male Emerald Damselfly, but which species? Its thick set appearance, restricted blue on the upper abdominal segment, and club shaped inner claspers at the tip of the abdomen all pointed beyond doubt to Scarce Emerald Damselfly, and we ended up seeing four males and a female. A great result! Back in Great Ryburgh and a quick look from the Wensum bridge added many Banded Demoiselle flitting over the water, and a Common Kingfisher which called and flew past us. Broad-bodied Chaser was also added to the list, and a Sedge Warbler was watched carrying food in and out of the reeds. Another excellent day, but we were all feeling rather hot and sticky by the end of it!

 

Scarce Emerald Damselfly - great views at a new site today

 

 

TUESDAY 18TH JULY  - NORTH-EAST NORFOLK

Sunny spells and light W winds, 22C

 

A spectacular day of wildlife watching today among the woodlands and heaths of the Cromer-Holt ridge in North-east Norfolk. Primarily a ‘bugs’ tour, this shift of focus changes the pace from that which we are used to keeping for a birding tour, and a certain amount of ‘milling around’ looking at vegetation and the undergrowth is essential for success in finding the target species – and perhaps more importantly, for enjoying them and learning about their subtle identification features too. We started on the heath and with a warm ambient temperature, it didn’t really matter that the sun was not out. Plenty of ‘golden hogs’ started us off on the Viper’s Bugloss flowers – a mix of Small and Essex Skippers, the latter told by its black tipped underside to the antennae. We also hoped to find the remnants of the Silver-studded Blue population, and it really was the remnants! Only a single, very worn female was found on the north side of the heath. Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Red Admiral, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Small Copper were also seen, while a couple of Emperor Dragonflies were seen out patrolling over the heather. Special mention must go to the Gatekeeper, for which we were right on the money for its emergence period and we saw hundreds of them this morning – they were literally everywhere. It was quiet bird wise though, and other than a purring Turtle Dove, we didn’t see much other than a Common Stonechat, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Whitethroat and a few smart Common Linnets. A Garden Warbler was a nice bonus though, in the blackthorn by the parking area.

 

 

Essex Skipper and Silver-tudded Blue, 18th July. Not the finest specimen of the latter one will ever see!

 

Moving on to the excellent butterfly site that is Holt Country Park, we were soon enjoying our first Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies on the Buddleia in the car park. This really is an amazing place to see the species now – despite being only a relatively recent colonist, its now present here in droves. We enjoyed watching them copulating, and seeing the mid-air dances of the males around the females as they whizzed about, powered by the now pretty intense sun. We had them down nectaring on thistle flowers, right under our noses and it was possible to photograph them in a variety of poses. We couldn’t find the scarce form valezina though, despite reports of a high percentage among the population here this year.

 

 

Silver-washed Fritillary - an absolutely superb showing from this species today at Holt CP

 

White Admirals delighted us with their Purple Emperor-esque long glides across the woodland glades, such an amazing flyer and all-round beautiful creature. Down at the pond, odonata took centre stage as we sorted out Common Blue and Azure Damselfies, found copulating Large Red Damselfly [which we thought perhaps might have been ‘over’] and compared Common and Ruddy Darters up close. The larger hawkers also put on a decent show, with a rather elderly looking female Emperor laying eggs, a brief flash by of a Southern Hawker and best of all, our first Migrant Hawkers of the season. This species, one of the last of the British regulars to emerge, will of course become progressively more numerous as autumn approaches, but it was nice to see two here today patrolling the canopy and picking off tiny flying insects on the wing.  Out onto the Lowes and we had another target in mind, the locally common Keeled Skimmer. It wasn’t difficult to find females, which were now away from the breeding bog in the valley bottom and sheltering from the attention of the males by basking up among the heather and gorse on the heath. Further examples of Common Darter were also observed, and a beautiful fresh Painted Lady put in an appearance.

 

 

Brimstone and Large White undersides - two stunning species when observed up close

 

Heading back through the car park, we were stopped in our tracks by more brilliant views of Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral, but they had also now been supplemented at the bramble blossom by Large White, Green-veined White, Peacock and Brimstone. The latter gave some fantastic views, and we saw both male and female up close, as well as a final instar caterpillar munching through its favoured buckthorn leaves. Back in the car park, we could hardly get through our rather belated lunch because more great things kept appearing – the best an absolutely cracking example of valezina – the so called ‘greenish Silver-washed Fritillary. A beautiful beast indeed and a great way to round off the visit.

 

 

valezina form of the Silver-washed Fritillary at Holt CP - despite searching, the only one we saw

 

Felbrigg would be our destination for what remained of the afternoon, and it did start to really warm up here to give us a taste of what was to come tomorrow. The lake is an excellent site for odonata, and we were not to be disappointed – the surface of the water was awash with Common Blue Damselfly and Black-tailed Skimmer in particular. Around the reedy fringes, several Four-spotted Chaser and Emperor could be seen, but careful observation of the floating weed also produced great views of the once-rare Small Red-eyed Damselfly. A Brown Hawker also put in an appearance, inflating our list to 13 species of odonata for the day. There was even time for a further bonus on the walk back, as we picked up a small silvery butterfly dancing among the canopy of one of the old oaks in the meadow. Of course, it could only be a Purple Hairstreak, but typically it was very difficult to get onto it! Eventually everyone could see it walking around on the leaves, no doubt sucking up aphid honeydew. The views were leaving us wanting a bit though, and we were not far from the van, so Ashley nipped back for a scope and thankfully, it was still perched on the same leaf when he returned! Now we had fantastic views, and could even see the tiny orange spots on the rear edge of the underside hindwing. Full notebooks all round today, and lots of photos to sort through!

 

 


NORFOLK SUMMER BREEDERS & LATE MIGRANTS - [AS]

 

FRIDAY 30TH JUNE - NORTH NORFOLK

Overcast in light northerly winds, 20C

 

A spectacular finish to our tour today started with cracking views of the Barn Owl again in Great Ryburgh, hunting right beside the road for several minutes. A quick stop in at the scrape revealed a Green Sandpiper, but there was now a lot of water on after recent heavy rain and so not too much else was about. Heading a bit further on, we wanted to check on a family of Little Owls in an old oak tree in the hedge. Choosing a convenient spot about 100m away where we could watch through a scope, we had a very enjoyable time watching four Little Owls – three fledged young and an adult – perching out in the open  and flying around their nest tree. Up towards North Norfolk next and a try for one of the birds we had not had time to search for properly in the Brecks yesterday – Firecrest. We could hear one singing as soon as we got out of the van at our chosen site and soon we were watching two flitting around in the Ivy-clad trees and often showing just a few metres above us in the shady foliage. The male even flashed his bright crest to the female as the two interacted, and we actually had ‘walkaway’ views in the end as everyone had filled their boots. One or two butterflies were starting to emerge as the day warmed up slowly – Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Large Skipper and Red Admiral. These were closely followed by Silver-studded Blue and Small Skipper at our next stop up on the heaths, as we headed up to look for Dartford Warblers. It was beautiful in the warm overcast weather, with Skylarks and Yellowhammers singing all around and several lovely male Common Linnets in the gorse. We soon had some sketchy views of three Dartford Warblers moving around in low heather, and so set ourselves up quietly to watch over the area they were favouring to try and get better views. Eventually the birds worked their way towards us, frequently popping up and pausing in the open for everyone to get some good views. Two fledged young and an attendant adult female were seen, but they were largely silent and certainly easy to walk past! As we watched, two Buzzards drifted into view above us – nothing particularly unusual about that. A quick glance through the bins revealed a densely chocolate brown barred breast and belly, strikingly barred underwing, long narrow head and paddle like tail – they were European Honey Buzzards!!!! And they were literally circling above our heads! The diagnostic tail barring could be clearly seen, but it was all going to be over a bit too quickly as they were clearly very purposefully heading North-west towards the coast. We manged to grab some poor quality photos and video to satisfy the rarities committee, as they flapped slowly away over the horizon, and then we were able to take stock of what we had just seen! Late June/early July is often a time when failed breeders or non-breeding immature Honey Buzzards float around and the wooded Cromer-Holt ridge has always been a traditional place to pick them up. But you still have to be lucky enough to be standing in just the right place at the right time to see them! The rest of our walk was rather tame by comparison, but did produce a purring Turtle Dove, nice male Common Stonechat and a Woodlark briefly flying over.

 

 

Honey Buzzard - one of two heading purposefully North-west over the heath today

 

With most of our key target birds in the bag we could spend the last couple of hours of the tour looking for waterbirds on the coast at nearby Cley, with a walk down the East Bank on the cards before lunch. There was a lot of water on The Serpentine after the recent rain, but we saw plenty of birds including chicks of Redshank and Lapwing, and a small party of Black-tailed Godwits. Reed Bunting and Reed Warbler were easily seen along the path and on Arnold’s Marsh, we encountered good numbers of resting terns. There were perhaps one hundred Sandwich Terns here today, and a few Common Terns, plus a single first-summer Arctic Tern among them. Its small size and short-legged appearance, short, stout and all black bill, long tail streamers and clear white trailing portion to the upperwing all helped to identify this tricky plumage. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew over too, and lunch was accompanied by a smashing Eurasian Hobby charging across the reedbed. From here it was pretty much straight back to King’s Lynn railway station, but we did pause briefly at Burnham Overy to check the lane for Lesser Whitethroat as several people in the group were keen to see one. We couldn’t find any, but had to make do instead with a family of Common Chiffchaffs, a Red Kite, and another Hobby dashing through. We had packed a lot into the three days, and there was even time for one more bird – a recently fledged party of Peregrines on the tower in King’s Lynn Docks on the way past!

 

 

THURSDAY 29TH JUNE - BRECKLAND

A dry overcast day in light SW winds, 16C

 

Today we ventured south into Thetford Forest and Breckland region to explore some of the different habitats on offer there. We started at the superb RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen, where we hoped to see as many of its specialities as we could! Walking up the main track towards New Fen, we were soon enjoying good views of some of the common species here such as Reed Bunting, Sedge and Reed Warblers and Common Whitethroat – the latter especially conspicuous today with several broods of young about. At New Fen, we spent some time patiently watching around the pool and scanning the reedbed, and it was not long before our main target put in an appearance – a nice long flight view of a Great Bittern across the reeds at the far side. We also had a couple of sightings of Common Kingfisher, and a pair of Great Crested Grebes were feeding two well grown youngsters. Continuing towards West Wood, a Common Cuckoo flew over us, and was surprisingly the only one we saw all morning. It was just starting to warm up a touch under the grey skies and this meant that we saw our first odonata with several Ruddy Darters basking low on the vegetation, and also several Ringlet butterflies which were quite happy flying in the cool conditions. Up at Joist Fen, we did another watch and as well as several superb male Marsh Harrier sightings, we were rewarded with an absolutely cracking view of another Bittern which came up from the reeds to our left and flew right across in front of us. A family of Bearded Tits were also a highlight here, with a male bird feeding three fledged young in the reeds below the watchpoint and making regular visits back and forth. With good sightings of most of the key species in the bag we decided to push on a bit further along the river bank, and were straight away rewarded with a nice view of a Cetti’s Warbler, which popped up and sang in the open in a dead elder allowing everyone to catch up with it. Once on the river bank, we headed west for about half a mile and picked another flight view of a Bittern up heading fairly distantly away from us. This was soon followed by another Bittern, a paler bird this time, which flew directly towards us giving more excellent views as it banked and dropped into the reeds. That was four different birds in about an hour! One bird we had hoped to catch up with here today was Eurasian Hobby, and here we got a good sighting of one making two passes in front of us low over the reeds – the only one we saw today with the cool weather no doubt keeping the dragonflies down out of the skies. The walk back was rather more direct, with a cup of coffee calling us at the end!

 

Next up was a visit to Weeting Heath where we planned to have lunch in the car park and pop down to the hides after to look for Stone Curlew. We ended up not leaving the car park though as we spotted two Stone Curlews across the road viewed from the gate. Because of the overcast conditions, there was no heat haze today, and we were able to get some nice views through the scope. One even stretched a wing and did a bit of preening. Several Mistle Thrushes and a Common Kestrel were also seen here during lunch, before we pressed on into the forest to look for some of the typical birds of the more open cleared areas. This took us along a fire break into one of our favoured spots in the forest, and while it was quieter than usual here today we managed to eke out most of the key species with patience. There were lots of small birds in the woodland on the walk down, with roving parties of Coal Tits, European Nuthatch, Great-spotted Woodpecker and Common Treecreeper all noted. Once into the clearing, several lovely Yellowhammer were seen, plenty of Common Whitethroats, Willow Warbler and a family of Common Stonechats with two fledglings. Continuing around the far side of the clearing, we took another track back along the far edge and here we found three Tree Pipits, including two fledged youngsters up in a big dead pine which gave some good views through the scope. Almost at the same time, we could hear a Woodlark singing very distantly, back along the track we had just walked, so we made haste back there. The Woodlarks were foraging on the track in front of us, but not easy to see in the long grass. One flicked up and over the fence, into the more open field, and here we could see it standing head and shoulders in the grass softly subsinging its distinctive song. Turning the corner, we then found two fledged scaly young Woodlarks sitting on the track in front of us, just long enough to get a scope on them before they followed the parent birds back into the original field. More nice Yellowhammer sightings followed on the walk back, where a piece of cake and cup of tea was welcome to wash down a good afternoons birding.

 

Nightjar - female of a pair which showed very well this evening

 

The day had run away with us somewhat, and with an evening excursion planned for crepuscular birds, we headed back to base. Not before a couple of nice sbonuses though as we drove down the country lanes - the first a smart male Grey Partridge wandering around in the open, and then far more surprising was a Tawny Owl which flew out of a hedge and flew low across a wheatfield into a small copse! At 2030 we met up again and kicked off our ‘night tour’ with a Barn Owl hunting by the bridge in Great Ryburgh. This set the precedent for what turned out to be a great evening, as we headed into the pine forest of West Norfolk to look for European Nightjar. At our regular site, we were soon in position and enjoying the first ‘roding’ Eurasian Woodcock of the evening overhead. Around 2140, the first flight call of a European Nightjar was heard, and what followed over the next half hour were some of the best views we have ever had at the site. First the female appeared, flying alongside us, and then her mate began to follow her up and down against the trees dancing above her with wings and tail spread. The female then settled on the wires just above us, giving some superb scope views for a full five minutes, leaving the male to carry on displaying before eventually heading to a perch to ‘churr’. Several more Woodcock sightings rounded off a successful evening, and we headed back to base for about 2230.

 

 

WEDNESDAY 28TH JUNE - NORTH NORFOLK

Heavy rain and strong Northerly winds, 13C

 

A day to forget in terms of the weather today, but in true Oriole Birding style we plugged away and ended up with a pretty decent list of wetland birds and one or two nice bonuses along the way too. We essentially were confined to birding from hides because the rain for the most part was simply too heavy to do anything else – we started at the local hide in Great Ryburgh and this got us off to a nice start. We saw five Pied Avocets, a Little Egret was feeding right outside the hide, and a Green Sandpiper flew off towards the River Wensum. Common Buzzard and Grey Heron were also about, but the hoped for Kingfisher and Little-ringed Plover seen yesterday evening did not reappear! Heading up to the coast at Cley, we drove through torrential rain all the way – it was going to be a difficult day! We collected permits and made for the Bishop’s Hide overlooking Pat’s Pool, but we had to stand at the back of the hide as the rain was hammering in through the flaps on the northerly wind. Another Green Sandpiper was feeding along the edge of the main island, before flying off to the back of the scrape showing its white rump. A trickle of birds passing through the scrape included good numbers of Sand Martins probably from the nearby coastal cliff colonies, and a few terns – large and strikingly white Sandwich Terns battling into the wind on angular wings, but also a Little Tern with its much snappier flight action and smaller size came through too. A Common Greenshank passed through giving its three-note call, but headed off strongly over the West Bank. Many of the birds on the scrape were very bedraggled – in fact we watched a Skylark picking around for some while before we could even work out what it was – it looked black! Heading back to the car park we warmed up with a brew before continuing round to Dauke’s Hide. Here we had nice views of a small party of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits in breeding plumage, but also picked out a less glamorous but equally interesting Yellow-legged Gull in fourth calendar year type plumage. It was good to see this species alongside the three other more regular large gulls, and compare structure, mantle and bare part colouration. Two recently fledged juvenile Marsh Harriers were nice to see, sitting in the reedbed waiting for their parents to bring them in a meal, and a second calendar year Little Gull breezed through the scrape and off towards the North Hide. Popping into Avocet Hide, we had closer views of the godwits, and also a very brief view of a Eurasian Spoonbill in flight over the Cricket Marsh. Four Sandwich Terns had also dropped onto Simmond’s Scrape, and we could now see their yellow-tipped bills and shaggy black crest. The walk back to the car park was rather grim, into the rain, but we at least now had some decent birds to show for it!

 

In the afternoon we drove west along the coast road to Titchwell, where we lunched in the [empty!] overflow car park which has recently been frequented by a breeding pair of Turtle Doves and their squab. We couldn’t see the doves, so hoped that we might get another chance on the way back as the weather was due to slowly improve. Heading up the West Bank path, we had to battle into the wind and rain and head pretty directly to Parrinder Hide. Once there, we spent a good while enjoying the excellent mix of birds on offer and had a really good session. A drake Garganey was almost the first bird we looked at, roosting with Common Teal among the vegetation. There are quite a few ducks starting to build up on the coastal pools now, mainly drakes going into eclipse – the Garganey was starting to look a little scruffy itself! Excellent opportunities for close observation of waders outside the hide included a fine male Ruff in full plumage, and a pair of Little-ringed Plovers sparring with a Common Ringed Plover. It was great to see these two side by side, and compare their structural differences as well as the more obvious eye ring and bare part colour. Several Common Terns were resting on one of the islands, and they were joined by a couple more nice Sandwich Terns and also two second calendar year Little Gulls. We had much better views of these than the earlier fly-by, and it was great to watch them dancing over the water in the rain from the relative comfort and dry of the Parrinder Hide! The main fenced island is now a bustling mixed gull colony, and an estimated nine pairs of Mediterranean Gulls are reported to be breeding here this year for the first time. We had some super views of them, looking especially fine with their bright red bills, black hoods and white wing tips. It was good practice for the group to try picking them out in flight above the island, when they really come to life against the dark sky. The final highlight was a juvenile Eurasian Spoonbill, which suddenly appeared right in front of the hide. This gave us the chance for some real close up views, as it fed alone with bill ajar, sweeping from side to side. Its short, flesh-coloured bill, small size and black primary tips denoted a recently fledged juvenile from the North Norfolk colony – unusual to see one away from its parents so soon after fledging, they normally continue to beg for as long as possible! Back at the Visitor Centre, we had a look at the feeders so that Kate could see some of the common birds, as she was joining us all the way from the USA and many of these species were new – Blue Tits, Great Tits, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Dunnock were just as exciting as some of the scarcer species we had been watching on the pools! One final twist came as we were just about to leave the car park – a dove flew in and landed in an Elder right in front of us, showing a bright white tail fringe. It was the young Turtle Dove, and thankfully we had some great scope views of it to round off the day – we were very pleased not to have missed out on it after all!

 


MULL & IONA 19TH - 5TH JUNE 2017 - [AS]

 

SATURDAY 24TH JUNEStrong westerly winds and heavy showers, 11C

 

 

A bit of a ‘mopping up’ day today as we planned to visit the north-east end of the island, the only part we had not been to so far. Our journey started with a superb view of a male Hen Harrier flying low across Loch Beg and off across the grassland towards Pennyghael, but was otherwise uneventful until we reached Salen. Here we parked by the old boats in Salen bay and saw three Red-breasted Mergansers and several Common Seals around the exposed skerries. Our main target bird for morning was Wood Warbler, which can often be found in the mixed Oak, Ash and Beech woodland along the Sound of Mull. We tried one short walk, but didn’t hear anything at all, so returned to the parking area. Just as we approached we heard the familiar high pitched shivering trill of a Wood Warbler, but it was in a tricky spot on a busy narrow stretch of the road. We tried watching patiently from the parking area, and eventually among a number of roving tits, we had a glimpse of a Wood Warbler feeding in a big Beech tree. Over the next twenty minutes or so, we worked out the birds feeding pattern as it was clearly ferrying caterpillars to a fledged youngster somewhere nearby. Eventually we all managed to piece together some excellent views of this most delightful of British warblers, and we even saw the youngster briefly too. After a coffee we continued on to Aros Bridge, and explored here and a mile or so upstream along the Aros River for Dipper. We weren’t lucky with a sighting, and had to make do instead with Grey Wagtail and Spotted Flycatcher sightings. As we drove on up Glen Aros, the rain became heavy and more prolonged, but we still had another stunning male Hen Harrier float down along a ridge and across the road in front of us – it was certainly shaping up to be an excellent trip for this species. Reaching Dervaig we turned right and took the narrow winding road along the north end of the island towards Tobermory. Lucnh by the track to Loch Frisa, and a brief stop at the Mishnish Lochs, produced only Little Grebe of note as the weather continued to close in.

 

We always try to build in a short visit to Tobermory itself as it is a beautiful town and worth seeing, and this seemed like as good a time as any to go. We did also hope we might have another chance for Dipper in the distillery burn, but again we only found Grey Wagtail here. After folk had done their souvenir shopping, we began to head south back generally towards base, along the Sound of Mull to Craignure. It rained for most of the journey back to Kinloch, but as it was only just 4pm, we decided to take one last drive around the far side of Loch Beg to see if we could find another Otter. A Common Greenshank was a nice bonus – a bird we had looked for here all week without success, and a lovely spotted breeding plumaged bird too. Presumably one of yesterdays single Otters was located again in a similar spot, feeding fairly close to the shore on the rising tide. We parked in a strategic pull off and waited, hoping it might catch a crab and bring it to shore underneath us. After only a few minutes, the Otter caught a fish which was too large for it to handle in the water, and began making its way to shore. Sure enough, it came out onto the rocks just below us, and we had absolutely brilliant views of the animal until it had devoured its catch and re-entered the water. A bit further out, a breeding plumaged Red-throated Diver was bobbing on the water, and as we had only made one previous sighting on the trip so far, we felt it warranted a proper look through the scope. It was great to be able to see its red throat, and finely striped nape, as it preened on the water. Heading back across Kinloch, a female Hen Harrier rounded off our day as she crossed the road just in front of our van – we had lost count now how many we had seen on the trip! A great end to our final day and despite some pretty changeable weather, another excellent visit to the island.

 

FRIDAY 23RD JUNE - LOCH NA KEAL & LOCH BA

Breezy day with frequent light showers, 14C

 

Our main target for this morning was to try and get some better views of Otters, as we had only seen them either briefly or distantly so far. With this in mind we set off in the rain and wind around the far side of Loch Beg – good weather in fact for seeing Otters and the tidal state was suitable too. Sure enough it didn’t take long to locate a lone dog Otter catching crabs and bringing them up onto the seaweed covered rocks to feed. We had some pretty good views for about fifteen minutes, and he caught three in that time alone! Further on, in the next bay, we found another lone dog Otter, but this one was closer – by staying in the vehicle we were able to enjoy fantastic close ups of him rolling around on the rocks and marking them with his scent. Eventually he took to the water and headed further out into the loch, when other people started walking along the road with cameras – an increasing problem in Mull where it seems everyone now wears camo and has a long lens, but no binoculars or fieldcraft. We continued on our way around past Tiroran and along Glen Seilisdeir, getting some good views of Common Ravens and seeing Northern Wheatears flitting ahead of us all the way. Once we broke out the other side by Gribun Cliffs and dropped down to the shore of Loch na Keal, we found a nice spot to stop and stretch our legs and scan the loch. The first thing we saw was another lone Otter, fishing by a small skerry of rocks and again regularly bringing crabs up to feed out of the water. We were able to scope this one, so perhaps even better views. Also along the shore were Rock Pipits and more Wheatears, while the odd Common Eider was out in the bay. We drove further on, and chose another stopping place for morning coffee. Here we picked out a very distant Golden Eagle way up on a crag, drying its wings in between the showers. A female Red-breasted Merganser was also seen, and the sun even came out briefly transforming the view and illuminating everything beautifully – the Grey Heron fishing in front of us suddenly looked stunning! Two Twite flew by calling, but were too brief – we still needed a proper view of one this trip. Our final stop of the morning was looking up to an active Golden Eagle eyrie and the female flew in just as we arrived. We quickly put up scopes and had a cracking view of her circling the crags before dropping down to perch in the open on a bare branch, where she sat for then next twenty minutes at least. The sun glinting off her golden nape feathers as she preened was a really awesome sight. Two more Twite flew in, and landed briefly to drink from a puddle – some of the group at least saw them this time, and it was even possible to see their pink rumps as they flew off!

 

We planned to lunch at Knock, but we had yet another impromptu stop as a bright red bird flew up from a channel of water by the side of the road – a cracking male Common Crossbill! It took us a little by surprise, and unfortunately was only seen [very well!] by those on the right side of the van. We didn’t have to worry though, because a female flew in and began feeding in the treetops just above our parking spot for lunch, and we watched her in the scope for ten minutes solid. A juvenile Goldcrest was also foraging in the conifers close by, and we added Coal Tit to the trip list courtesy of a juvenile in the trees by Knock bridge. The water was rushing through here after the heavy overnight rain – no rocks for Dippers to sit on today! After lunch, we set off on the Loch Ba walk, one of the most beautiful walks on Mull. Once the path opened out near the start of the loch, we noticed a number of small birds feeding under the trees to the left and walked a short way up a side track for a better look. There were scores of birds – Chaffinches, Siskins, a few Common Redpoll, four Bullfinches, Spotted Flycatcher, Song Thrushes and our first Common Treecreeper of the trip. It took a while for everyone to see all of them, but we got there in the end! The Spotted Flycatcher ended up being particularly obliging, and everyone got a nice view in the scope. Further down, a Grey Wagtail was feeding a fledgling up a little burn to the side of the track, and there were several Sand Martins zipping by giving their trilling calls. The weather eventually perked up and the dramatic mountain scenery all around was beautifully illuminated. A good moment to scan for raptors, and straight away we picked a Golden Eagle up hanging on the ridge opposite. This was soon followed by two young White-tailed Eagles, which circled in and landed on the top of the mountain. Another eagle then appeared further to the right, and it was coming towards us – another adult Golden Eagle. Suddenly the eagle folded its wings and stooped from a great height, almost striking a Common Buzzard in the valley below. The eagle made several further attempts on the Buzzard, before its mate came up from the trees and assisted in seeing off the eagle which then drifted all the way along the ridge in front of us. The views through the scope were superb! The fifth eagle in five minutes then appeared and this time it was an adult White-tailed Eagle, which soared up and could be seen in the same field of view as the goldie. We followed the White-tailed Eagle as it drifted high across the valley, and suddenly noticed two very small birds coming in to mob it aggressively. One of the group remarked that they looked like hirundines, but they were in fact Merlins! Two of Britain’s smallest raptors mobbing the biggest – what an amazing sight! We hadn’t even made a start on looking for our actual target bird here, which was Common Redstart! We walked on along the edge of the trees, noting a Tree Pipit creeping in the grass, and several Willow Warblers, before we heard the distinctive persistent ‘hoo-eet’ call of a Redstart. Sure enough a female flicked up onto the deer fence and we also noticed a spotted fledgling skulking close by. We waited patiently and in the end, everyone got a decent view – they didn’t sit in one place for very long! The walk back gave us time to reflect on what had been an absolutely brilliant hours birding, and to see some of the birds again. Over a brew back at the car park, we were treated to excellent views of four Common Crossbills, including two males in full song flying back and forth over the track – superb!

 

It was now gone 4pm and we had crammed a lot in already, but we still had time to just check one more spot nearby. As we drove along, an adult White-tailed Eagle flew alongside the loch shore putting up all the gulls, and it did a spectacular mid-air roll to present its talons to an onrushing Buzzard! Parking up further down, we could see the second adult White-tailed Eagle perched up in the trees, and really this was our first chance so far to study a perched one in the scope. The first bird flew back in too, right overhead, much to the annoyance of the local Hooded Crows! Our route back to base today was basically a retrace of our steps along Loch na Keal and back down Glen Seilisdeir where we noted some lovely Rock Doves flying through. The tide was really high now though around Loch Beg, so we didn’t see any more Otters. A female Hen Harrier appeared though and was quartering the boggy grassland at Kinloch. We parked up for a better view, but then realised the male was flying straight down the road towards us! A really fantastic view as he passed our van and joined the female, and they both circled up against the hillside in dramatic brooding light. Amazingly, we had only driven a mile when another Hen Harrier literally dropped out of the sky and began quartering right alongside the road – a superb adult female with strongly spotted chest and beautifully barred underwings. We were so close we could see every detail. Her mate, our fourth Hen Harrier in quarter of an hour, was seen further along towards Pennyghael, flying low over the grassland. When Mull decides to deliver, it certainly does so on a spectacular scale! Three Otters, nine eagles and four Hen Harriers was not a bad day at all.

 

THURSDAY 22ND JUNE -TRESHNISH ISLES & IONA

Showers and drizzly rain in light N winds, 16C

 

Today we journeyed down the Ross of Mull peninsula to Fionnphort and joined the Staffa Tours boat for the Treshnish Isles wildlife cruise for the day. It was a nice morning and the sea was lovely and calm as we set off down the Sound of Iona, and out into the Atlantic towards the island of Staffa. Soon we began to see many seabirds from the top deck of the boat – Common Guillemots, Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins were all plentiful on the water. Kittiwake, Northern Gannet and Arctic Tern were also seen, but the highlight was a complete and utter surprise. Two of the group spotted a small bird sat on the water, which they called out as something odd as it took flight. Ashley then picked it up and it was clearly a small wader, with prominent white wing bar and distinctive ‘jinking’ flight. Those who had seen it on the water described a long fine bill, and a black stripe down the back of the neck – it was clearly a Red-necked Phalarope! It has been a good year for passage of this species in the British Isles, and this was in fact the third we had seen on tours in recent weeks – it was certainly the first we had ever seen around Mull though! Reaching Staffa, we had around forty five minutes ashore to visit Fingal’s Cave. Ashley took a walk around the island seeing several Twite, displaying Common Snipe, and a pair of Great Skuas which the group then all caught up with as they flew over the jetty. A pair of Black Guillemots showed superbly by the cave entrance, and we could see several Northern Fulmars along the columnar basalt cliffs.

 

Razorbill - showing off its waterproof plumage on Lunga today!

 

Next we steamed across to the uninhabited isle of Lunga in the Treshnish archipelago, and had a great two hours ashore despite the horrible drizzly rain setting in and blanketing what should have been superb views out to the other islands. The water around Lunga was carpeted with auks, and as we clambered up the rocks from the landing pontoon we could hear a Corncrake crekking distantly. Rock Pipit, Northern Wheatear, Common Sandpiper and Common Ringed Plover were just around the small beach and once up on the clifftop, we could of course get very close to the thousands of Puffins on the island. They seemed to be bringing in good quantities of sandeels this year, so hopefully there were plenty of healthy chicks below ground. Another Corncrake was then heard, calling from a rough area of bracken just back from the clifftop. The vegetation looked far too tall for a sighting, though the bird was only a few feet away and almost deafening us! A narrow path looked like a good spot for it to run across, but it didn’t! Following the precipitous route along the edge of the islands, we headed towards the auk colony on Harp Rock. Here we had point blank encounters with nesting Shags by the side of the trail, and Puffins all along the walk. The Razorbills looked absolutely superb today, with the rain beading on their backs – their plumage was clearly the most perfect waterproof gear! At the Harp Rock, we marvelled at the sight of the closely packed ranks of breeding Common Guillemots, and picked out several of the bridled form. Kittiwakes were nesting here too – altogether a fantastic sight, sound, and smell! Walking back, a couple of Twite flew by calling, and some hung back for another try at the Corncrake which had began crekking again after we passed. These lucky two had a fantastic sighting of the bird, which came out into the open onto the small path we had hoped it might cross earlier! An awkward one for the checklist later! Down at the boat, two Great Skuas gave a superb display as they came in right over our heads and along the cliffs, sending the Puffins scattering off the top like dominoes as they cruised along. Time flies though and it was now time to board the boat again for the one hour run back into Iona.

 

 

It was now about 1500 and we decided to get off on Iona, and spend a couple of hours trying for views of Corncrake as the weather forecast for the coming days suggested strong winds would be moving in. Our circular walk around the famous Abbey and round the top of the island produced only one distant crekking bird though, so a bit of a disappointment. We had to make do with just a few Rock Doves, Song Thrushes and Common Linnet on our walk round, before catching the ferry back across to Fionnphort. Everyone was pretty weary after a long day, so we headed straight back to Pennyghael wrapping up the day there around 1800.