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Trip reports and latest news from Oriole Birding tours
Date: 2018-06-21

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FRIDAY 22ND JUNE – Bright and sunny all day, moderate cold northerly wind, 17C


A cracking start to our summer wildlife tour, in a big part helped by a superb day of sunshine which really brought out our target insects, along with some great birds. Heading out at 8:20 from the Blue Boar, we made our way to a site on the Holt/Cromer ridge, where a host of insect interest waited, along with breeding Firecrests. A walk into the mixed pine and deciduous woodland was greeted almost immediately by the song of a male Firecrest up in the canopy, which showed well on occasions as we tracked it from song post to song post. The bird was very vocal and was singing against a second male close by. Walking out into a sunny ride, we started noting our first butterflies, with Meadow Brown and Speckled Wood noted on bramble flowers. Things were still cool though, with activity relatively low, so we continued through the woods, where Adrian kindly showed us a number of flowering spikes of Birds-nest Orchids and Common Twayblade, the former being an incredibly rare plant in Norfolk. A third singing Firecrest was heard here, making for an impressive morning for this species, while Nuthatch, Blackcap, Goldcrest and Treecreeper were also all seen or heard. Returning to our bramble patch, the warmer air revealed a brief Comma butterfly, but we were blown away by the superb Silver Washed Fritillary which drifted into view, nectaring and floating in the sunshine. As fresh as they come, this was quite an early individual, so we were dead pleased to find it! Heading on, we entered another flower-rich glade where another quick check for butterflies came up trumps with a super White Admiral sunning itself on the track. We were doing rather well so far! Further on, a check of a small pond in the woods revealed Black-tailed Skimmer, Four-spotted Chasers, Azure and Large Red-eyed Damselfiles; a nice introduction to the odonata for the day. Walking out into an area of open heath, out target here was the scarce Keeled Skimmer, and this species didn’t disappoint. First, we noted a brief male, followed by an orange female which showed better among the heather and gorse. Another male was noted shortly after, allowing us to appreciate its powder blue abdomen and amber coloured pterostigmata. Our first Large Skipper was also noted in this area, while the distant song of a Woodlark was also heard.  A single Emperor Dragonfly was also seen here, along with a number of Azure Damselflies. From here we made our way back to the car park, very pleased with our haul. Moving on, we headed now for another area of heathland habitat, with a mixture of bird and insect targets. The song of Yellowhammers greeted us, and one male showed very well, while Common Whitethroats were also vocal. Small Tortoiseshell and Ringlet were added to the butterfly selection, along with another Large Skipper, though the big butterfly interest was just around the corner. Reaching a sheltered and sunny area of short grasses, the ground was awash with beautiful Silver-studded Blue butterflies, stunning blue males fluttering across the area in search for the brownish females, and many noted mating. Superb! Another highlight here was a pair of extremely confiding adult Woodlark which allowed unusually close approach as they sat quietly on the deck, creeping amongst the low vegetation. Looping back towards the car park, a late and extremely worn Green Hairstreak was discovered sunning itself on the path, followed later by two more individuals on a flowering bramble which also attracted Ringlet, Painted Lady and a number of Meadow Browns. Back at the van we enjoyed our lunch in the sun, hearing Bullfinch nearby.



This fresh Silver-washed Fritillary and mating Large Red Damselfiles were some of many insect highlights today


The rest of our afternoon was to be spent at Holkham, where a number of sought-after species would be hunted for. The grazing marshes held small numbers of Lapwings and Egyptian Geese, while a Red Kite drifting overhead gave spectacular views. A Lesser Whitethroat gave a few bursts of song but couldn’t be located in the dense vegetation. Walking along the sunny main track heading west through the pines, we saw a number of Speckled Woods, our first Green-veined and Small Whites of the day and a number of the ubiquitous Meadow Browns. Reaching Salts Hole we noted a number of Red-eyed Damselfly (though this one was brief and only seen by the hawk-eyed Ade!) Common Blue Damselflies and a Black-tailed Skimmer. From here we took a quick look out of the Washington Hide, which proved fruitful as we enjoyed watching a single adult Great White Egret feeding at the back of the pool, along with a couple of Marsh Harriers. A short way further along we paused for a short while beneath the stand of English Elms, peering up into the canopy in the hope of catching sight of the elusive White-letter Hairstreak which is a speciality of this site. Shortly after settling down to watch, a small dark butterfly performed a sortieing flight over the canopy; our target! Unfortunately, and as is often the case, the views didn’t come better than this one, the insect settling down unseen in the canopy. Adrian then showed us a small colony of Antlion pits which he had recently discovered. A member of the Lacewing family, the Holkham NNR is one of only two sites in the whole of the UK to hold these fascinating predatory insects, so we felt well privileged to be shown the colony. This walk was feeling like there was something new and exciting to be seen around every corner, and shortly after we were stopping for our next new odonata species. A small hawker doing a circuit in a clearing proved to be a Hairy Dragonfly, which showed well once it settled in the trees, while Blue-tailed Damselflies and Small Skippers were also new for the day. Finally, we made our way up to the Joe Jordan Hide, where a rather superb group of 20 Spoonbills on the edge of a pool was enjoyed, newly fledged juveniles begging for food from the adults, whilst others just slept in typical Spoonbill fashion! Finishing up with these, we made our way steadily back to Lady Anne’s Drive, where a pair of Grey Partridges capped off a fantastic day in the field!


However, there was one last treat in store for this evening. After dinner we loaded up into the van once more and headed for the pine plantations and heaths of West Norfolk, visiting one of our favourite rides for observing roding Woodcock and a reliable Nightjar territory. Pausing at a suitable clearing it wasn’t long before our first Woodcock sighting, with a calling bird flying steadily at treetop level. We probably enjoyed 10 sightings of at least 2 individuals here. It was nearly 22:00 before we heard our first ‘Whip’ call and churring from a Nightjar, which soon after made a steady flight, tail fanned and twisted and wings beating deeply, through the clearing. It perched up and churred on four different occasions, during which we were able to get the scope on it and enjoy the subtle plumage features of these fascinating birds! The performance, overall between two males tonight, was superb, and we had to tear ourselves away rather unwillingly to head back. A superb day finished off with a real summertime speciality.



The surreal sound of churring nightjar capped off a great day. Also Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly






THURSDAY 21ST JUNESunny spells and cool in a fresh NW wind, 16C


A day of quantity rather than quality as we finished the tour with a good list of wetland species, splitting our day between the two main reserves of Cley & Titchwell. First of all, we opted to start the day with a short seawatch, as the North-west wind was fresh to strong and whipping up some real ‘white horses’ over the North Sea. These type of conditions in mid June are often good for producing small movements of seabirds, including non-breeding Manx Shearwaters, so we were keen to give it a go. It was pretty chilly on Cley beach but we sheltered behind the old brick hut on the shingle ridge and began to enjoy some good views of passing Sandwich Terns battling their way west towards their breeding colonies. We saw some Little Terns too, also nice and close in, but everything else was predictably rather distant. This included the odd Gannet, a couple of Fulmars and really distant auks. The highlight though was a single Manx Shearwater, shearing west into the wind in lovely light, and not too far offshore. Local birders went on to log 45 during the rest of the morning, a decent count for the time of year.


Cley reserve next and after collecting our permits at the centre, we walked out to Dauke’s Hide. Here we were sheltered from the wind and could enjoy the variety of waterbirds on offer – this included two superb male Ruff still in breeding plumage, right outside the hide. There were good numbers of Redshanks, including the odd fresh juvenile, and a group of smart Black-tailed Godwits of the race islandica dropped in. We were also able to compare both Common Ringed and Little-ringed Plovers, and saw a second calendar year Mediterranean Gull among the roosting Commons. Wildfowl numbers are just starting to increase now, as the drakes start their post breeding moult and form batchelor flocks – there were around fifty Common Teal on Simmond’s Scrape, and obvious increase on recent days. Sand Martins were lovely to see, whizzing low over the pools in the strong wind, and as we left the hide and headed back along the boardwalk, we had great views of a Eurasian Spoonbill flying low overhead.



Adult and young Tawny Owl, Titchwell 21st June


Trundling west along the coast road, we reached TItchwell in time for lunch in the car park. It was comparatively warm and sheltered here, and soon we were enjoying another great owl moment as we watched an adult Tawny Owl sitting out in full view in the sunshine. A pair have bred on the reserve this year, and currently have ‘branching’ young by the Visitor Centre. We couldn’t see any of the chicks, but would check again on our way back. The freshmarsh was full of birds today and already there is an autumn feel about things, even though we are only just on the longest day of the year! Immature and failed breeding waders make up the bulk of these early season movements, and we picked out two fine adult Spotted Redshanks among the mixed throng of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits. Two Dunlin were a poor return on the small waders though, and there was no sign of yesterdays Curlew Sandpiper. Little Gulls are to be expected at this time of year, and we saw eleven first-summers, dip feeding over the water in tern-like fashion. An adult Spoonbill was roosting at the back of the marsh, and we noted eight Red Crested Pochards – including a female with two young. A feature of Titchwell in summer nowadays is the bustling gull colony, ironically created by fencing the main island which was in the hope of increasing productivity of Avocets. Of course, the gulls not only now occupy most of the available nesting space, but predate the very species the fence was designed to protect! Nevertheless, it is excellent for Mediterranean Gull, a species which is booming in the county – there are scores of breeding birds here and they offered super views from Parrinder Hide. We also managed to pick out a single Bar-tailed Godwit showing some red summer plumage, and it was great to see a group of five Spoonbills – including two recently fledged local juveniles – heading west over the reserve. Back at the Visitor Centre, one of the young Tawny Owls was now sitting out in view, next to the parent bird – great to see! From here, we ran into King’s Lynn to drop off some of the group for a train, before returning to Great Ryburgh with the remaining guests. One last bird for them was a lovely Little Owl, roosting out in the sunshine in an old gnarled hedgerow Oak just outside the village. Four owls in a trip in June is not bad going!



Warm day with sunny spells and fresh northerly winds, 25C


An epic days birding today! We spent the whole day down in Breckland, with a mixture of forest, heath and wetland birding giving us a superb variety of species and one or two really cracking specialities. First up in the breezy conditions, we decided to chance our arm looking for Goshawk from a favoured watchpoint. Raptor activity was pretty high, with plenty of Common Buzzards around, and it didn't take long to pick up our target as a monster female Goshawk drifted up out of the trees and circled around a few times for us before dropping away out of view. Almost right away, a smaller male appeared, clearly in wing moult and possibly and immature bird, but it was higher and more distant than the female. Still its bulging secondaries, fairly narrow, pointed 'hand' and long rounded tail were typical features. Being a smaller male, and busy trying to gain height, it showed some faster wingbeats than is often the case with the species, and it was useful to note the differences in identifying the two sexes. A good start to the day, and time to move on further into the forest where we planned to spend some time checking clearings for Tree Pipit and Woodlark. Reaching a spot we know well, we could hear a Tree Pipit singing as soon as we approached the area, and had decent views in the scope of the bird perched on the top of a young conifer. Yellowhammer, Common Whitethroat, Stonechat and Goldcrest were other species noted hereabouts, and we soon picked up the soft fluted notes of a Woodlark too. Continuing towards the sound, we found the Woodlark also perched up on a confier, and had some good scope views before it flopped away over the treetops and down. We had now enjoyed good views of our target species, and so decided to wander on a bit further, to check and area where we sometimes find Common RedstartsEarlier in the season we had drawn a blank here with no singing males found, so it was purely speculative. We were therefore delighted to see a female Redstart flick across the track ahead of us just a short way along, and then even happier to locate a stunning male as well! Whats more, the pair were calling constantly and clearly gathering food, so we figured there must be young close by. Keen to prove the breeding attempt, we stood back with the scopes and watched carefully. Eventually a streaked juvenile Redstart hopped into view, with yellow gape and half grown tail! This was clearly the more mobile of at least two young, with the second one remaining fairly terrestrial and well hidden. We couldnt work out why the adults seemed so agitated though, as we were standing well back - they seemed to be constantly returning to the same bare bush and flicking around calling. Two Willow Warblers then also joined in with the same behaviour, and we figured there must be a predator - perhaps a stoat, or fox, hiding under the bushes. Imagine our astonishment, when closer inspection of the bush in question revealed a Long-eared Owl, perched in view with ear tufts fully erect!! No wonder they had been agitated! The owl now took centre stage, with scopes all trained onto the bird and a little gentle pruning of the bracken to allow the shorter members of the party to see over it through the scope! An amazing bird and quality moment to chance on it in this way! The Redstarts meanwhile continued to ferry caterpillars to the concealed youngsters - we left them too it, in favour of heading back to the van for sustenance of our own!



Some of the Brecks' most elusive species, the Common Redstart and Long-eared Owl


Lunch today would be in the car park at Weeting Heath, before we wandered down to West Hide to look for Stone Curlew. Unfortunately, due to the disease-ravaged rabbit population, it is now virtually impossible to see the birds from the hides due to the tall grass. A Common Curlew was striding around, but initially we couldnt find our target. Eventually a beady eye was spotted through the vegetation, and a check in the scope revealed a Stone Curlew standing motionless and very well camouflaged. Eventually, the view improved as the bird moved around a bit, and everyone got a satisfactory look at this classic Breckland special. A quick check of the feeding station revealed a Yellowhammer, and a male Blackcap bathing in the small pool outside the hide. With time ticking, we had to make the most of tthe remainder of the afternoon and crack on to Lakenheath, where we would spend the rest of the day. It was certainly warm now, but the fresh wind was very welcome and keeping the temperautre pleasant. We walked pretty much directly to the New Fen viewpoint, and had a great half hour here pretty much 'cleaning up' on all the main species. A Kingfisher showed really nicely, hovering over the pool before perching on the reeds at the far side. Then a Bittern appeared, flying low over the reeds from right to left long enough for everyone to get a good view. Soon after, a second bird flew in from high across the river, showing a full crop, and dropped down in a similar spot to the first - superb! Distantly, a Hobby was seen hawking back and forth across the front of West Wood, and to cap it off two young Bearded Tits appeared along the edge of a reed island in front of us and gave some really nice views. Reed Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Reed Bunting were also noted, while odonata were also excellent today. Variable Damselfly was identified close to the watchpoint, and along the track towards Joist Fen, we had great views of a Scarce Chaser, perhaps the flagship dragonfly for the reserve. Red-eyed Damselfly, Four-spotted Chaser and Ruddy Darter were also noted as we walked along. Stopping by the corner of West Wood, we watched for a while to see if we could get better views of the Hobby. We saw it perched along the edge of the trees, and also in flight, but it was pipped by another cracking view of a Bittern, which flew out of the reeds quite close to us and off into the wood. Joist Fen itself was pretty quiet, though we enjoyed sitting on the benches there and relaxing! A muffled grunting alerted us to yet another Bittern though, which flew right past us calling, flying down into the reeds back towards West Wood. It flew again a short while after, and we saw it in superb light - five great sightings of at least three different birds today. Two Cuckoo were calling in stereo, but we didn't manage to see them - the reserve had given up pretty much all of its secrets today though.


Our excellent day was not even yet done, as tonight we had our dusk excursion to the west norfolk heaths to look for Nightjar & Woodcock. Our trip out started well, with two Barn Owls tussling right over the road in front of the van. Soon after we arrived at our chosen site, the first Woodcock of the night was seen in 'roding' display flight above the forest ride. This was followed by a cracking Woodlark, hunkered down in a rut in the track in front of us. The bird was only a couple of metres ahead of us, so the view through the scope was fantastic despite the fading light. A second bird, probably a fledgling, flew up from the grass and the two birds headed off to the pines presumably to roost. Our next sighting was totally bizarre, as we looked up to see an adult Eurasian Spoonbill flying towards us over the ride! It flew directly overhead, and the last embers of the sunset were making it glow warm pink below as it headed purposefully north - quite remarkable!! More expected was the churring of a Nightjar, marking the start of the evenings activity and soon we had our first sighting, of a male floating over the bracken with white wing spots flashing. He perched in a Silver BIrch, allowing some brief scope views, until the female chased him and the two began wing clapping and calling as they flew between the trees. We had a couple of other flight views, and some more excellent Woodcock roding overhead, as we headed back to the car park in the semi dark. There was still time for one more highlight though, as we had tremendous views of a Woodcock which landed on the road in front of the van and stood in the headlights no more than five metres away. The best views many of the group had ever had of one! What a great day! 



Highlights today came in both bird and insect form, with Bittern and Scarce Chaser both at Lakenheath



Overcast but warm in light winds, 24C


A bit of a mixed bag today with some nice highlights, but a few 'dips' as well! We started our day in North-east Norfolk, to try one of our favoured spots along the Cromer-Holt ridge for Firecrest. They can be tricky at this time of year, often in between broods and the males only singing occasionally from high in the canopy. That was pretty much our experience today, though over the course of an hour of careful observation, we were able to work out the routine of a male Firecrest which was signing on and off, in between foraging trips high in the treetops. Only once or twice did the bird perch in the open, on some bare twigs inside the shade of the canopy, but everyone managed to get a decent view. The woodland was full of birdsong of other species too - Common Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Goldcrest and a family party of Treecreepers. All in all a nice start to the day. Moving onto the heaths, we spent the rest of the morning looking for a couple of target birds, and it was a really lovely day to be wandering around birding here in light winds and warm temperatures. Almost right away, we were enjoying great views of Yellowhammers, Linnets and Common Whitethroats, which would entertain us throughout our walk. Willow and Garden Warblers were also noted, but the latter only heard, babbling its sustained song from some distant birches. We could also hear the soft fluted scale of a Woodlark, and soon found the bird perched on the top of a small pine. We had great views through the scope of this sought after bird, before it flew down into the heather. In the warm sunshine, Silver-studded Blue Butterflies began to emerge in clouds - we must have seen fifty or more along one stretch alone. They were beautifully fresh, and we saw one still with partly furled wings obviously having just emerged this morning. Our quest for Dartford Warbler was unfortunately unsuccesful today, with just a single 'tchaaair' call note heard at one spot, but no sighting. We worked hard, trying a number of good spots, but the birds just didnt want to show themselves today. Raptors were frequent overhead though - Common Kestrel and Common Buzzard of course, but also a pair of Hobby, swooping high in the clouds. Heading back to the car park for lunch, we had more nice views of song-flighting Woodlark, and then a great interruption to lunch itself - a fine Turtle Dove which flew in and landed for us and allowed prolonged scope views. Nice one!


Our afternoon would see a total change of scenery as we headed south-east to Potter Heigham, to spend a couple of hours birding the marshes along the River Thurne. Unfortunately, the summer growth meant the vegetation was now too tall to properly view the first pool, which is full of waders just at the moment! With some degree of difficulty, we managed to see a flock of Black-tailed Godwits, two fine male Ruff, Common Greenshank, three Knot and a handful of Dunlin. Driving down to the fishermans car park, a Swallowtail Butterfly flew past, with another seen shortly afterwards along the riverbank. Here we also saw the other iconic insect of the Broads in early summer, the Norfolk Hawker dragonfly. Excellent views of one perched in the pathside vegetation allowed us to see the yellow triangle at the top of the abdomen which leads to its latin name isocoles, as well as its 'other wordly' green eyes. On the scrapes, we saw plenty of wildfowl - Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall, Egyptian Goose, Great Crested & Little Grebes. Waders were low in number on this side though, other than the local Avocets. Two superb adult Mediterranean Gulls flew in calling, and landed on one of the islands, and we also had some great views of Marsh Harrier. Along the path, many damselflies were seen, including the localised Variable Damselfly. Back at the van, we had a coffee before returning to the first pool again - the Ruff were showing much better, and we could now see four fantastic males. A Green Sandpiper had also appeared, and we had better views of the Greenshank too. A decent day, and a weary van as we made our way back to Great Ryburgh!



While the birding was great today, the insects were excellent! Norfolk Hawker and Silver-studded Blues here




SATURDAY 9TH JUNEOvercast in light northerly winds clearing to sunny spells, 17C


Today we would be based around the Druridge Bay coast, just a short drive from our base in Rothbury. The Northumberland Wildlife Trust site at Druridge Pools would be our first stop, and here we had an excellent start to the day with a fine adult Eurasian Spoonbill standing among the sedge grass outside the hide, closely followed by the Glossy Ibis dropping in on one of the pools to preen before tucking up and going to sleep – our two main targets within five minutes! Also on the excellent pools here were a number of fine Black-tailed Godwits, single Common Snipe and an assortment of common wildfowl. Sedge and Willow Warblers were common in the waterside vegetation and along the dunes we found several Reed Buntings and a Common Stonechat. The new, so called ‘coal road pools’ were definitely worth a check, and we found several arctic bound Tundra Ringed Plovers, half a dozen Dunlin and a stunning summer adult Little Stint here, picking around the muddy margins. Next we called in at Cresswell Pond, where Tree Sparrows were back on the agenda and Reed Warblers were singing outside the hide. Otherwise it was fairly quiet here, apart from the nesting Avocets and a Sandwich Tern.



Roseate Terns [these on Farnes yesterday] and Glossy Ibis at Druridge Pools


The midday period would be spent back out on the water, as we met Dave Gray and the old Eastbourne Lifeboat at Amble Harbour for our one hour boat trip out to Coquet Island to view the breeding Roseate Terns, of which 80 pairs were said to be in residence so far this season. We noted five redhead Goosander in the harbour as we set sail, and soon we were in amongst the action on Coquet with throngs of Puffins, Guillemot, Fulmar, Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns all around the boat. On the beach, large numbers of terns were resting and with the tide high, we were able to get in nice and close and enjoy really lovely views of the Roseate Terns. We could also see several pairs on the terrace of nest boxes provided by the RSPB, and enjoy further comparisons of the four tern species on the sandy beach below. At the south end of the island, we saw the breeding Kittiwake colony, and saw several creches of Common Eider, singing Rock Pipit and lots of Common Seals hauled out on the rocks. Back into harbour, and we relocated to the river mouth for lunch, where a large colony of Sand Martins could be observed in the distance.


The remainder of the afternoon was spent largely at East Chevington, though a quick stop at Hadston Scours on the way down produced a non-breeding flock of around 150 Common Scoter offshore, which was a nice bonus. At East Chevington, we found our main target bird in the lush vegetation alongside the path – a Grasshopper Warbler moving around furtively and occasionally clambering up into the clumps of cow parsley as it foraged for food for its young. Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were also common here, and we saw another fine male Stonechat in the coastal scrub. The hides here were disappointing – no Little Gull this year but plenty of terns and common wildfowl on offer. We opted to end the day back at Cresswell Pond, where a real drama unfolded as we had our afternoon tea and cake! A dark bird on the water turned out to be a Carrion Crow, which was being attacked relentlessly by a pair of Shelduck. The crow had presumably been attempting to predate the Shelducks brood, and been knocked into the water by the aggressive drake who was now hammering it to such and extent that the crow would completely dive underwater to escape its blows. The Shelducks relented a little, allowing the crow to begin paddling furiously with its wings, in an attempt to struggle back to dry land. The stricken bird was a good 20m from shore, and after 3-4 minutes of ‘rowing’ it was still some way from the edge. It seemed to stop struggling, floating along with just its head and bill out of the water, before finding a second wind and going again. We were sure it would make it, but only a few metres from the shore it sank below the surface, and did not reappear. The Shelducks, meanwhile, carried on as normal, the ducklings feeding around the crows corpse as if nothing had happened – nature in its rawest form! This gruesome end to the day in the now warm sunshine saw us head back to Rothbury, where we concluded the day, and the tour, around 6pm.


FRIDAY 8TH JUNECool and cloudy in light northerly winds, sunshine later, 13C


A superb days birding today with the weather being kind to us for the first of our Northumberland coast boat trips, and some nice upland birds in the Nothumbrian National Park. Some of the group started the day before breakfast with a Dipper on the River Coquet in Rothbury, while for the rest of us the first birding of the day was in the beautiful Harthope Valley, leading up to The Cheviot in the national park. After negotiating the steep entrance into the valley, we were soon parked up and enjoying the first of many Spotted Flycatchers in the riverside Alders. Willow Warblers were also really common here, and we began to pick up our first breeding Lesser Redpolls, trilling overhead in song flight. They were very flighty, and reluctant to perch in the open for long, but they were so numerous that it wasn’t difficult to get everyone a good view of a nice rosy male eventually! Setting up our scopes, we carefully scanned the scattered hawthorns on the hillside looking for the localised Whinchat. Our initial searches drew a blank, but eventually we found a smart male Whinchat and everyone was able to get a scope view. We saw a pair in the end, flycatching from the tops of the small bushes way up on the hillside. A Common Cuckoo flew by mobbed by Meadow Pipits, and we also saw Common Chiffchaff, Reed Bunting, Mistle Thrush and Grey Wagtail. Next we walked upstream for a few hundred metres, seeing lots more Willow Warblers and Spotted Flycatchers, and also a couple of dapper male Siskins. Sand Martins were nesting in the river bank and afforded lovely views, while on the hillside, we saw at least three calling male Red Grouse. After tea and fresh scones from the Rothbury bakers, we drove back out to the start of the valley and made another short stop, to look for Tree Pipit. We sadly couldn’t find any this year, but did have a nesting Garden Warbler and more nice views of Redpolls. Now it was time to make our way over to Seahouses, for our afternoon trip to the Farne Islands.



Puffin and Arctic Tern - classic Farne Islands!


Sailing out of Seahouses on the Billy Shiel’s 2pm boat trip, we saw our first Common Eiders with young around the harbour, and a nice pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. As we reached the inner group of islands, the seabird numbers around the boat intensified, and we were soon surrounded by vast rafts of auks, and feeding frenzies of Kittiwake and Arctic Tern. Due to the light northerly winds, the south side of Staple Island and the pinnacle stacks were sheltered, and we were able to get the boat right in close for amazing views of all the breeding birds. Razorbill, Shag and Puffin were of course also present in numbers, Puffin being the most numerous breeding bird on the islands. Crossing Staple Sound, we enjoyed really close views of the Grey Seal colony out by the Longstone Lighthouse, and of course heard all about the daring rescue by Grace Darling and her father, back in 1838. Other species noted as we sailed around the outer group of islands included a couple of Turnstones, a surprise Barnacle Goose! Landing back on Inner Farne, we were mobbed by the hordes of breeding Arctic Terns as we made our way up onto the top of the island. Great comparisons of Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns could be made here, and a Rock Pipit was picking around the edge of one of the small pools. After enjoying the ridiculously close views of Razorbills, Shags and Puffins up at the viewing point, we returned to the jetty early to check the big flocks of resting terns on the beaches. A pair of adult Roseate Terns instantly shone out, their whiter-than-white appearance visible even with the naked eye looking across the sound to the stony beach on the island opposite the jetty! Through the scope, we could take in their rosy pink flushed breast and all black bills, really beautiful birds and a nice bonus to pick them up ahead of tomorrows planned trip to Coquet Island, where we should get better views. Back in the harbour, we had the chance to take some scope views of the Red-breasted Mergansers, before afternoon tea in the sunshine on the harbour. A great day!


THURSDAY 7TH JUNEA fine day with sunny spells and a light Northerly  breeze, 18C


Our longest day of the tour today saw us depart West Carlton in East Yorkshire and make our way north to the fells of County Durham, where we would spend the day birding on our way up to Northumberland. After a 2.5hr drive, we reached Scotch Corner services for a break, before continuing on for the last hour up into the Pennines north of Middleton-in-Teesdale. Our main site for what remained of the morning would be the excellent Moor House NR and in amazing warm sunshine and blue skies, we set off walking across the meadows towards Widdybank Farm. While the fine weather was not the best for seeing the breeding waders which seem to prefer claggy days, we were still shocked by how few birds there were here today. We have been visiting this site for over fifteen years with tour groups and this was the quietest we have ever known it – not a single Redshank recorded and only small numbers of Lapwing and Curlew. We found one Common Snipe, and a female Golden Plover which we watched sneaking down onto its nest leaving only its golden head poking out of the long grass. It was a stunning day to be out, but worrying t see so few waders – perhaps it was just too dry for them after a spring of relatively low rainfall? Certainly the ground seemed pretty dry here this year. The local Black Grouse didn’t let us down, with four males strutting around among the buttercups high up in the distant fields, and as we approached Widdybank Farm we picked up our first Ring Ouzels, with a pair foraging on the hillside on the far side of the Tees. Down at the farm, we found a fledged Ring Ouzel hiding in the stone wall, and watched the male bird bringing in food. He would periodically perch up on the wall to preen in the sunshine and even sing a few notes, before crossing back over the river to forage. A pair of Northern Wheatears were also busy feeding young here, and a Common Sandpiper was ‘singing’ from the top of one of the walls. As we soaked up the warm spring sunshine, a pair of Dippers flashed past calling, before turning and chasing back past us and along the river. A fantastic spot and all our target birds seen! On the walk back, we had better views of one of the Black Grouse, the blue sheen to its fine plumage being visible through the scope. Lunch was had by the river, where Willow Warblers were singing and a Grey Wagtail was seen.



Ring Ouzel & Pied Flycatcher in County Durham, two of our main target birds


After lunch we headed over the watershed into Weardale. On the moorland, we saw two Red Grouse including a female with chicks by the roadside, and another female Golden Plover was seen at the summit. Reaching St John’s Chapel, we continued east along Weardale to the village of Wolsingham, and then up to Tunstall Reservoir, another site we have been visiting for many years. A slow wander through the beautiful oak woodland here soon revealed our first Pied Flycatchers, with a pair feeding young in one of the nest boxes by the main path. We had superb views of the male, by standing quietly with the scope set on its favourite branch used for perching before and after feeding the young. During the rest of the walk, we noted a further two pairs plus one or two other individuals, so it seems to be a decent year for them here. Other species noted in the woods included several Willow Warblers, a pair of Great-spotted Woodpeckers feeding young in a nest hole, Treecreeper and Nuthatch. We could not hear a single call of a Redstart in the whole wood though, and after about an hour of walking, it was time to retreat back the way we had come. Almost back to the start of the trail, we decided to take one last look along a short section which we had not explored. A brief flick of a bird low down above the bracken, alerted us to the presence of a Common Redstart – a pair were indeed present and despite being very furtive and calling infrequently, we ended up watching them for twenty minutes or so on and off, the lovely male bird often perching out in the open for us and singing. A Spotted Flycatcher perched up for us too, and our walk back across the dam produced another Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper. Two Grey Partridge were also seen at this lovely spot, before it was finally time to make our way north to the town of Rothbury, our base for the next three nights.


WEDNESDAY 6TH JUNEOvercast with drizzle in moderate northerly winds, 15C


A fairly slow day today which started with a hunting Barn Owl by the accommodation, for those up and out before breakfast! Our day would be spent to the north around Flamborough Head, and our first stop was the lighthouse. The fog horn was sounding, as the light drizzle had closed in the visibility somewhat, but we were grateful not to be hampered by the recent persistent sea fogs. A Common Whitethroat sang merrily as we wandered down to view the chalk cliffs and enjoy our first views of the bustling seabird colonies for which this part of the coast is so famous. The water offshore was peppered with many hundreds of auks, presumably off duty birds in between feeding trips. Kittiwakes were the main species breeding at this spot, and the air was full of their cries as they wheeled in and out from the chalk ledges. Further out, long lines of Common Guillemots were piling past, along with squadrons of Gannets heading around to the Bempton colony. Careful scanning of the birds on the water produced our first Puffins too, though we would get better views later on. The rest of the morning was spent completing the circular walk across to the south side of the head and back along Old Fall. This was the quietest part of the day, with few sightings of note aside from the breeding Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Skylarks. Old Fall Plantation looked prime for a scarce migrant to surprise us, but it didn’t! Heading up the hedge towards the road, a singing male Yellow Wagtail was picked up perched on the top of the winter wheat field, and a more obliging Yellowhammer was singing on top of the hedge right in front of us. The Old Fall steps are always worth loitering around, as migrant birds frequently make their way into the mature hawthorn hedges there. We almost gave up having drawn a blank, when a quick movement around the side of a bush alerted us to the presence of a migrant Spotted Flycatcher. We watched the bird for some ten minutes or more, sallying out across the oilseed rape and back to a favoured perch in the hedge. Returning to the car park, a brew was most welcome after the hike round, before we moved on to RSPB Bempton.


Bempton is of course a flagship location at this time of year for its breeding seabirds, and despite its popularity with tourists going through the roof in recent years due to increased publicity, it is just about possible to blot out the hordes and enjoy the spectacle of the seabirds on offer! Massed ranks of Guillemots, Gannets and Kittiwakes, along with a scattering of Razorbill, Fulmar and Puffin, make up this amazing seabird city, and we just spent time at the various watchpoints soaking up the sights, sounds and smells! It was great to take in the overall spectacle, but also to zoom in on the interactions more closely through the telescope. A fantastic place which always captivates the groups and often its difficult to drag people away! Lunch was calling though, and a forty five minute drive on to our last stop of the day at Tophill Low NR.



Fantastic views of the breeding seabirds at Bempton Cliffs RSPB today


This Yorkshire Water reserve is a nice place to wander round and enjoy a range of common woodland and freshwater birds, and we added a number of species to the list such as Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Bullfinch and Sparrowhawk. A great showing of Common Spotted and Northern Marsh Orchids around ‘O’ Reservoir were a welcome distraction, while on South Marsh East we found Little-ringed Plovers and plenty of common wildfowl. Shelducks, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Teal were particularly common, and Common Terns were nesting on one of the islands. A female Marsh Harrier floated through, and we watched Reed Warblers busy gathering food outside one of the hides. A pretty quiet session, but nice views of Willow Warbler and brief Garden Warbler on the walk back helped raise it up a bit. Everyone was weary, as we had put a shift of walking in today – thankfully our evening meal would be in the guest house, so no need to journey out tonight!


TUESDAY 5TH JUNEOvercast with a fresh Northerly breeze, sunny spells later, 16C


A pleasant days birding today with a few highlights despite the almost total lack of migration going on. Obviously come early June, the summer ‘lull’ between spring and autumn passage periods is almost upon us, but of course at Spurn particularly, arrivals of rarities from the south and east can continue with a little east in the wind, particularly of species such as Red-backed Shrike, Common Rosefinch, and Golden Oriole. Last weeks group had connected with one of the latter, but today we were to catch up with a pink pastor from the east, as a Rose-coloured Starling had appeared around Kilnsea, part of the recent influx of the species into Britain. We drove straight down to The Warren first of all though, to check if any waders had been pushed in on the high tide. Two Whimbrel were feeding on the saltmarsh, a nice surprise so late in the spring. There seemed to be little else though, so we opted to back track to Kilnsea Wetlands, to see if any waders were roosting there and to have a try for the starling. There were plenty of birds out from the hide – an assortment of large gulls, Avocets with young, Gadwall, Shoveler and Common Teal. A Yellow Wagtail was feeding around the edge of the pool, and a few Sandwich Terns were resting on the island. There were no waders to speak of though, so we decided to continue on past the listening dish and scan around for the starling there, as this was the last place it had been seen. A short way up the path, we met three birders who had just seen it ‘five minutes ago’ – damn, we could have seen it from the hide! Not put off by the fact they had now lost it, we continued on to Holderness Field and set up the scopes to have a scan about. The flashes were quiet, but there were a few Common Starlings coming and going among the sheep feeding fledged young, and two ragged looking Red Kites drifted south towards The Warren mobbed by various birds as they went. All of a sudden, the Rose-coloured Starling was there right in front of us! None of us saw it fly in, it just seemed to materialise out of the grass! We had some super views of it for fifteen minutes or so, before it eventually flew a short way and dropped out of view. Nice one!



Beacon Ponds next, and a chance to watch the Little Terns over on the dunes at the far side through the scope. We saw several flying up and down calling and a few settled on the shore face into the wind. We checked the margins of the pool carefully, finding four Grey Plovers hunkered down with a single Knot and summer plumaged Dunlin. Back at the wetlands, another quick scan revealed the Rose-coloured Starling again, which had now dropped in with a small group of its commoner cousins. We watched it briefly through the scope, before it flew back towards Holderness Field, our last sighting of the bird today. Returning to the van, we drove back to the Bluebell and started out on a circular walk of ‘The Triangle’, down past the contentious Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Discovery Centre and back up the canal bank. The highlight was a superb view of a Lesser Whitethroat, which popped out and sang on a bare snag right in front of us. We also saw several Reed Buntings, had good views of Sedge and Reed Warblers, and five late Brent Geese on The Humber. It was generally a quiet walk though, and we arrived back at the Bluebell ready for lunch. Scanning the sea as we ate, a few Northern Gannets and Common Guillemots were noted passing offshore, but generally there didn’t seem to be a huge amount moving in the northerly wind. Sammy’s Point is always worth a check, the network of small paddocks and thick hawthorns providing potential cover for skulking migrants. The only thing we found of note today though were six Whimbrel, feeding close in along the edge of the estuary. We were surprised to see so many still here this late, especially since they were the only waders to be seen! After a coffee, we took a walk along Beacon Lane noting a few butterflies out and about in the sunshine – Red Admiral, Common Blue, Wall Brown, Small Tortoiseshell and Small White. A Northern Wheatear was also seen, and we had more good views of both Common and Lesser Whitethroats. A nice surprise on the way back to base, was a superb Little Owl roosting in the sun in the window of a farm outbuilding by the roadside.


MONDAY 4TH JUNE – Overcast and cool in moderate northerly winds, 15C


After meeting up in Great Ryburgh for 11am, we were soon loaded up and on our way for the second of our North-east England tours this spring. Picking two guests up in King’s Lynn, we made our way on to Frampton Marsh, which would be our birding stop for the afternoon. After a picnic lunch, we made our way down to the marshy pools below the seawall, so often a magnet for passing waders. It was pretty quiet here today though, other than the odd Common Ringed Plover and nesting Avocets with plenty of young chicks around. A Little-ringed Plover called and dropped in, and we saw several Little Egrets, Great Crested Grebe, Common Tern and Reed Warbler. Up on the bank, seven late Brent Geese were still hanging out on the saltmarsh, and a steady movement of Common Swifts was taking place low overhead – whether they were migrants or local breeders coming here to feed was hard to tell. Heading back to the visitor centre we parked up before walking out to 360 Hide, noting a good selection of wildfowl including several Shoveler, Gadwall, Common Teal and five drake Wigeon. A party of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits were looking really lovely, several of the birds being in full breeding plumage, but the undoubted highlight of the visit was a stonking male Ruff which dropped in amongst them. The bird was clearly fired up, as it began displaying to the godwits with its ruff fully inflated and blowing around in the wind! It then proceeded to bathe, before jumping up and down on the spot with ‘flutter-jumps’ a bit like those of a displaying grouse! A second male was also present but hidden in the grass – a great bird to see and becoming a bit of a spring special at Frampton. Two adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over calling, wrapping up a nice start to the tour. Before departure, we had a quick look around at Marsh Farm Reservoir, noting a smart male Yellow Wagtail. From here it took about three hours to wind our way across the country lanes of Lincolnshire, up and over the Humber Bridge and through Hull. After check at our delightful farmhouse accommodation, and a welcome cup of tea [and Tree Sparrows!], we headed out for a meal at one of the local pubs. Our last bird of the day was a lovely Little Owl, perched right beside the road on a farm gate. Off to bed, ready for a busy day down at Spurn tomorrow!





SUNDAY 3RD JUNEovercast all day, showers later on, very light N winds, 18C


Our last day of the North East England trip was to be spent with a very costal tilt, first starting at Cresswell Pond. Pulling up at the first carpark, a scan of the pool revealed a fly in drake Garganey which dropped into the far corner of the pool and gave good scope views but then dropped out of view. Lapwings, Gadwall and breeding Avocets were much in evidence, while Linnets abounded in the dunes. Moving to the hide, a 2nd calendar year Spoonbill flew up from in front of the reedbeds, circled low overhead several times giving great views, and drifted south, later noted at Newbiggin. The Garganey was showing well from the hide, as were a couple of near-fledged Lapwings and some vocal Avocets. The volume went up furtheramongst the Lapwings and Avocets , as suddenly an adult Hobby dashed through in front of the hide, did a lap of the scrape and the flew off over the dunes. Fantastic! From here we headed north a short way to Druridge Pools, where we took a short walk north of the Coal Road, where a couple of flooded fields were productive. A small flock of summer plumaged Sanderling and Dunlin were enjoyed at leisure at close range by everyone, along with good numbers of Ringed Plovers and a few Lapwing with small chicks. A quick check of the next field along was worthwhile, initially with a flyover Greenshank which dropped onto another flash calling. The flash also held a number of Shoveler and displaying Teal, while an adult Whooper Swan had obviously passed on the spring migration option! Walking back towards the van a creche of Shelduck and ducklings were scoped up, their black and white ducklings looking typically vulnerable! Moving then to the main pool, a view across to the south revealed a Glossy Ibis flying across the water, dropping down in front of the hide to our left! A long-staying bird, we headed across and enjoyed excellent views of this increasingly frequent UK rarity, feeding close to the viewing screen. A single Black-tailed Godwit was also feeding out in front of the hide, while another 15 or more icelandica Black-tailed Godwits dropped in, including a couple of superb summer-plumaged birds. Along with an array of common wildfowl, we enjoyed excellent views from here. Once we were done, we headed further north, to the Druridge Bay Country Park.


Stopping here, we had lunch enjoying watching a Willow Warbler returning several times with food to its nest site behind a vegetated bank. Overlooking the main lagoon, Common and Sandwich Terns were in evidence, along with Tufted Ducks and a pair of breeding Great Crested Grebes nest building amongst the main islands. Reed Buntings, Sedge Warblers, Reed Warblers and Whitethroats were much in evidence throughout. However, on the walk back from here, despite the sudden heavy rain, a highlight was a Grasshopper Warbler which showed well carrying food to a nest site in thick scrub along the main path. Particularly pleasing, as this was a main target species for a few in the group. Back at the car park another Willow Warbler carrying food was noted, while a male Bullfinch showed well on top of a small pine. Mid-afternoon now, we needed to head up to Amble to catch our boat over to Coquet. A brief stop to look at the sea north of the park produced a few Eiders, Fulmars and Gannets, as well as several Sandwich Terns. Arriving in Amble we had a coffee, and after a short wait we boarded our boat and set off. Nearing Coquet Island, we began noting small numbers of Guillemots and Razorbills, as well as good numbers of Puffins flying by. Close to the island, the breeding terns were much in evidence, with numerous Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns flying by and calling. With the expert boat handling of our skipper Dave Gray, we got really close to the island, and were able to note our first Roseate Terns on the specially built terraces on the island. These birds really stood out, their more elegant structure, pearly white, pink flushed underparts and black bills standing them out from the crowd. A fantastic pair in particular came down to the beach and displayed, shoulders dropped and tails cocked in incredibly elegant fashion. Amazing views of one of Europe’s rarest seabirds. Puffins littered the grassy top of the island, while Kittiwakes nested on the cliff faces below the lighthouse. A unique experience in front of a very special island. Returning via a final drift by the beach, enjoying further excellent views of Roseate Terns, we returned back to Amble Harbour very happy with our final island experience. From here we headed back to the Queens Head, where over dinner we reflected on what has been a fantastic week.





SATURDAY 2ND JUNEovercast with sunny spells, humid with very light NE winds, 23C


Waking up in the picturesque town of Rothbury, near to the impressive Cragside, today would be a day of two halves. The first half would be spent in the beautiful Harthope Valley, while the second half would see us visit the impressive Farne Islands. On our way to the Harthope Valley we passed through some beautiful countryside, noting a single male Grey Partridge on a roadside field. In the valley itself, Grey Wagtails abounded along the Harthope Burn, while Lesser Redpolls numbered at least 8 birds, all very vocal, and the males looking particularly splendid in their bright red plumage. Chaffinches abounded in these mature alder woods, while a single Yellowhammer was noted on the hillside, along with a pair of Common Buzzards and a couple of vocal Curlew. Further up river, a small colony of Sand Martins was enjoyed in the riverbank, while an initially hidden but vocal Garden Warbler was eventually enjoyed out in the open. A male Siskin was flighty and vocal overhead, but showed well on top of a nearby tree on a couple of occasions, while a pair of Bullfinches were noted briefly. After a couple of hours here it was time to make our way towards the coast for a special visit to the mighty Farne Islands.


Arriving at Seahouses, we had our lunch on the quayside overlooking family parties of Eiders, several female birds tending to chicks of various sizes, while the splendid males patrolled about the place. Boarding our boat, we headed out into the North Sea, bound for the Farne Islands. Nearing the islands, the number of auks increased rapidly, with Razorbills, Guillemots and Puffins seen in numbers on the sea, increasing all the time as we got closer to the colonies. Shags were standing sentinel on the rocky coastline of the Wideopens, while a small ground-nesting colony of Cormorants was also present here on the East Wideopens. Arctic Terns were seen feeding offshore in small numbers, along with a number of Kittiwakes. Crossing to the outer group of islands, we were wowed by the incredible colonies of 1000’s of Guillemots and 100’s of Razorbills on the cliffs, a cacophony of noise producing a real treat for the senses. Many Grey Seals were noted along the rocky coastline, and as we rounded Brownsman, it was impressive to see the 1000’s strong colony of Arctic Terns rise up around the lighthouse keepers cottage as the National Trust wardens exited to carry out their duties, bombarded by these tenacious birds. This was a prequel for what would be happening to us soon! Making our way back to Inner Farne, we were soon stepping ashore, ready for the real adventure. Below St Cuthbert’s Beach, Arctic Terns were roosting on the rocks, a small number of Sandwich Terns interspersed amongst them, while many pairs of the former were nesting on the sandy beach. Walking up the boardwalk towards the chapel, we encountered our first Arctic Terns on nests close-by, and therefore their first attacks! A cacophony of noise rose up as the birds screeched and occasionally pecked the heads of passing visitors, ensuring you didn’t forget that this was their territory, not ours! Onto the island plateau, many female Eiders were still incubating eggs, and one was watched as she quietly brooded here newly hatched chicks, literally 2 meters from where we stood. Towards the ponds, Common Terns were nesting close to the mixed Sandwich Tern and Black-headed Gull colony, while Puffins nonchalantly strolled through, this area being heavily burrowed by these sea parrots. A brood of Eider ducklings were part of a creche on one of the small pools here. A walk to the Lighthouse Cliff completed the spectacular picture of the Farne Islands, this amazing spot bringing you into contact with some seabirds you can rarely get so close to. Shags nest right under the railings, brooding some very small chicks but mostly still incubating. Guillemots fill the flat-topped cliffs and stacks, Razorbills interspersed thinly throughout, and finally Kittiwakes nesting so close you can look down into their nests. Just an incredible, unforgettable site! Puffins littered the clifftops to our left in their 100’s, while the sea was littered with more. A single Rock Pipit was seen on the roof of the lighthouse cottage as we made our way back to the jetty, our time already up far too soon! Boarding the boat, the journey back was really spent reflecting on what an incredible place this is. Landing back in Seahouses, we made the journey back to Rothbury, having enjoyed another fantastic day.





FRIDAY 1ST JUNEfine and sunny most of the day, light winds, 23C


Today we would transfer from our fantastic base at West Carlton Country House (and its associated Tree Sparrows), and travel north to our new base in Rothbury, Northumberland. A long run, but with lots of fantastic birding planned on route. Following a couple of hours run up to Scotch Corner, where we had a short break, we took the A66 west into County Durham, where the scenery became that of rolling hills and moor of the North Pennines. Our route took us to the quiet village of Langdon Beck, where we would spend a good few hours exploring the hay meadows and moorland of this superb nature reserve, famed for its breeding waders and Black Grouse in particular. Crossing a small weir an adult and recently fledged juvenile Dipper showed really well to us all. Moving along we made ready to walk down to the Moor House Nature Reserve, towards the River Tees. Exiting the van, the sounds of calling Curlew filled the air, and it wasn’t far along the path before we were watching vocal Lapwings and a superb close female Golden Plover, here black belly and gleaming gold, black and white plumage a real treat at close range through the scopes. Redshank were noted, while Snipe were heard calling on a number of occasions but not seen. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks completed the soundtrack of the area. As we neared the old farm, John noted a dark shape up the hill to our left at the base of a fence. Scopes up, and we were watching a super male Black Grouse at fairly close range, quietly feeding in the short grass and wildflowers. Once it had walked out of view behind a dry-stone wall, we continued down towards the River Tees, where we would spend some time watching the impressive Cronkley Scar, its rocky slopes a traditional haunt for Ring Ouzel. A pair of Red Grouse were quickly noted in the thick heather here, while a male and female Stonechat were also working back and forth here. A Grey Wagtail flew over calling and a female Wheatear was also rather confiding. It was looking like we would have to leave without seeing our main quarry, but one last hard scan of the slopes revealed a fantastic male Ring Ouzel working its way along the slope. On reaching the wall it disturbed a second bird from its hiding place, this time a female. Fantastic! Another pair of Red Grouse flew past us as we watched, and we left happy following a successful vigil. Back at the van we headed a short way back to take lunch besides the river. A Common Sandpiper showed really well on the bridge here, as did Grey Wagtails down the stream and a pair of Mistle Thrushes on the fences, while singing Willow Warblers were ever-present. Finishing up, our tight schedule meant we needed to meander our way north out of the Pennines, but with a few stops on the way to look for more Black Grouse. A pause overlooking some lush hay meadows did reveal the head of a single male Black Grouse poking through the vegetation, but we couldn’t find any more than this. However, another pair of Grey Wagtails and three Golden Plovers were encountered further on. All in all, a fantastic whistle-stop tour of this amazing area!


From here we continued north, but with another stop in store before we made the final journey onto Rothbury. Heading along the A689 we made our way north towards the Tunstall Reservour, an area of wooded hillside where we would search in particular for its breeding Pied Flycatchers. Walking across the dam, two Great Crested Grebes had two chicks in tow, while Common Sandpipers were also seen, along with Grey Wagtail. Into the woods, a Blackcap was singing high in the treetops. Entering the lush leafy oak woods, it wasn’t far along before we found our first stunning male Pied Flycatcher singing in the canopy. Suddenly he chased off after another bird; a female which flew straight into a nest box, over which the male stood guard for a while. Over the course of the next half an hour we encountered two more male Pied Flycatchers, their stuttering song often being the giveaway to their presence. The woods were alive with birds carrying food to hungry young hidden within their nesting cavities, including Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Treecreepers and Nuthatches, while a pair of Spotted Flycatchers were also on territory in the treetops. Walking back to the van the distant call of a Cuckoo could be heard; a fitting ending to a great couple of hours here. From here we completed our journey to Rothbury, arriving at the Queens Head at around 7pm, ready for a well-deserved pint!





THURSDAY 31ST MayFoggy during the morning, but clearing to warm sunshine pm, light NE, 16C


Waking up to the sound of chattering Tree Sparrows on the feeders at West Carlton guesthouse is always a treat!  A short pre-breakfast walk this morning yielded a good number of these, plus singing Blackcaps, a couple of Stock Doves and, the highlight this morning, a Barn Owl which flew out of the barn and went on to hunt over the valley below, giving some nice views. Following breakfast, we then made our way north to Flamborough, where we would spend the morning on the hunt for migrant birds. However, as we approached it became evident that we would be unlikely to see much beyond our noses, the fog was so thick! We took a walk from the car park towards the lighthouse, noting Chiffchaff and Common Whitethroat in a patch of scrub, while Linnets and Skylarks were in evidence throughout. From here we headed to the Old Fall Planation and track, the hedgerows and trees here often holding a few migrants in the right conditions. A male Yellowhammer singing loudly from the top of the hedge gave fantastic prolonged views for everyone, while Common Whitethroat also sang from a few locations. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling, while a little way along the lane a Spotted Flycatcher darted along the hedge and perched up prominently, allowing great views of this characterful summer visitor. The bird darted ahead of us and quickly joined a second one, and then there were three! Reaching the Old Fall Plantation, Spotted Flycatchers were flitting around in the canopy and calling from deep at the other side of the woods. At least six in total, so a small arrival and not bad for such foggy conditions! A Lesser Whitethroat was singing from further along in the mist. Retracing our steps, we had a coffee back at the van and then headed to Thornwick Pools. The visibility was slightly better now, and we enjoyed hearing and seeing singing Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and a number of Greenfinches. Scanning the pools, a very smart summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper was parading up and down the narrow muddy islands, its plum red plumage really well developed. Otherwise this was the only wader here, a single Moorhen and a pair of noisy Reed Warblers also being noted.


Now we were nearing lunchtime, which we would spend at the RSPBs superb Bempton Cliffs. As luck would have it, the sun had managed to burn off the fog, just in time for a seabird spectacular! A quick check of the trees near the visitor centre yielded another Spotted Flycatcher, but the draw of the seabirds was keenly pulling towards the cliffs. Walking out to the cliffs we quickly noted a pair of Puffins sat at the edge of the grass slope, sitting pretty before one dived into a small hole at the clifftop. A small number of Razorbills were nesting here, and Gannets were passing at close range, but the next viewpoint was truly spectacular. Looking down at the cliffs along here, densely packed colonies of Guillemots allowed brief views of their turquoise eggs if you were patient, along with two ‘bridled’ individuals, while Razorbills were interspersed more loosely; by far the most smart and clean cut of the seabirds! Kittiwakes were numerous across the cliff, incubating eggs on their mud nests, plastered securely to the rockface. A small number of Fulmars could also be found on the cliffs, and also flying past frequently at close range, while the spectacular Gannet colonies formed long lines on the suitable ledges. A great spot by Bryan alerted us to dolphins just offshore, which transpired to be a family party of seven Bottle-nosed Dolphins passing close inshore, their two calves close in tow. Superb! Such an amazing place, and always difficult to drag yourself away, but all to soon we had to go, our last port of call beckoning. However, a change of plan was dictated by news that a male Red-backed Shrike had been discovered at Thornwick Pools, just down the way! Our original plan was to head to Tophill Low on our way home, but this went out of the window as we headed over to the pools, and quickly located this superb bird perched prominently on hillside bushes, its superb dark bandit mask through blue-grey head and rich rusty upperparts a real delight in the sun. After a bit of wandering we managed to find a spot that allowed fantastic scope viewing over a prolonged period, a real treat, particularly for the members of the group for whom this was one of their most wanted British birds! We enjoyed this for a good 40 minutes or more, and also noted that a Dunlin and Little Ringed Plover had joined this mornings Curlew Sandpiper on the scrape. Willow Warblers also gave excellent views again. By now it was time to head back to base, where an hour exploring the farmland around the house revealed the very confiding Little Owl on telegraph wires, a couple of Stock Doves, a potentially territorial Curlew perched upon telegraph wires over damp grassland and the ubiquitous Tree Sparrows. A final act for today was a super Barn Owl which flew ahead of the van on our way out to dinner; an especially good bonus for the group member who didn’t make the morning walk today. Another great day!



Seabirds and a Shrike - another cracking day in the north-east!



WEDNESDAY 30TH MayFog all day, light N wind, 14C


Our first full day dawned as forecast; foggy! However, fog has never stopped us at Oriole Birding from having a good days birding, and today was no different. Our day today would be spent wholly in the environs of Spurn NNR, where we would take in most of the main habitats here, attempting to find our own birds as well as trying to catch up with some of the lingering rarities present. On our way down towards Spurn we took a route through some farmland areas that can be productive for a variety of species. Fog was really hampering viewing of the area as a whole, but a brief fortuitous pause near some pea fields yielded excellent views of both a singing male Yellowhammer and a pair of very confiding Yellow Wagtails, a male and female skirting the roadside. Making our way down to Spurn, we knew that a Golden Oriole had been around for the last few days and had been seen and heard singing this morning. With this firmly on the cards, we parked up opposite the Crown and Anchor pub and made to walk the canal bank. The walk out produced a couple of Whimbrel on the Humber which flew calling off into the mist. A single Yellow Wagtail flew north calling and numerous Sedge and Reed Warblers were singing in the reeds. On reaching the visitor centre a shout went up from a nearby birder; the Golden Oriole had flown from some scrub and dived deep into a patch close to the canal scrape. After a patient wait the bird flew out of the patch and towards the Warren. In hot pursuit, the bird treated us to three flight views, its dark wings and tail contrasting with quite vivid yellow body, even in the fog! Walking back, we enjoyed further good views of the singing Reed Warblers, but the bushes were otherwise quiet. Back at the van for a coffee, a quick chat to some other birders revealed that someone had just found a Savi’s Warbler back along the same bank we had just walked along! Finishing up, we drove the van along towards the visitor centre and walked out onto the bank from there, where a group of around 30 birders were already assembled! News travels fast here. However unfortunately, barring a couple of 1 second bursts of song from deep in cover, the bird just didn’t want to perform, and as it transpired didn’t show itself at all for most of the rest of the day. Bad luck and a shame, but that’s birding. Back at the van we enjoyed excellent views of singing Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat in the hedgerows. Moving on, we took a walk to an undisclosed site where a Marsh Warbler was enjoyed singing from deep cover for a short while, its rich and varied song interspersed with various bouts of mimicry. A couple of Tree Sparrows joined the House Sparrows nearby, while a Yellow Wagtail flew over nearby fields and Lesser Whitethroat sang from the hedgerows.


From here we headed over to the Kilnsea Wetlands, parking up in the carpark. Scanning from the western end we quickly picked up a 1st Summer Little Gull on one of the spits, later flight views revealing a beautiful pink flush to the breast and red legs. A Common Sandpiper was feeding along the far bank, while Teal, Gadwall and a single Tufted Duck were also present. A walk round to the Holderness Fields was very productive for waders, including a flyover calling Greenshank. A dozen or more Ringed Plovers kept company with superb summer plumaged Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and three Dunlin, along with a single male Ruff. The Grassland surrounding the area held a couple of male Yellow Wagtails which also offered superb views, while Sand Martins and around 40 Swallows hawked for the innumerable flies! A walk over towards Beacon Ponds offered nice views of around 50 Little Terns flying around in chattering squadrons over their well protected breeding site, while a number of Sandwich Terns and a single Common Tern were also noted. Especially splendid here was a summer plumaged Grey Plover which was patrolling the far bank. Returning back to the van, we made to use the small amount of time we had left to return to the site of the Savi’s Warbler, on the off chance that it might have changed its behaviour. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, with it not being seen or heard again since we were last here. However, the views of Sedge and Reed Warbler were excellent. From here we headed back to West Carlton and had dinner in a local pub. However, one more good bird was kept till last. As we drove into the driveway a small broad-winged bird glided ahead of the van from the garden; a Little Owl. The bird perched on top of a neighbouring barn and also on some phone wires, really showing itself off. A great end to the day.




This summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper and the local Little Owl were some of many highlights today



TUESDAY 29TH MayOvercast with mist and fog, moderate N wind, 14C


Day one of our North East England Grand Tour was mostly a travel day, picking up a couple of group members from the Blue Boar, three from Kings Lynn station and finally meeting our final group member at our one birding stop of the afternoon; the RSPB’s Frampton Marsh. Getting lunch and hot drinks down us, we made our way along the edges of the marsh, briefly chatting to Reserve Warden Toby Collett, who kindly answered some of our questions about this fantastic reserve and its management and told us a whole lot more about the fantastic work the RSPB and its staff are doing here. And it showed, with lots of activity across the scrapes, including many breeding Avocets attending their broods, Lapwings with well grown chicks and a cacophony of sound from the nesting Black-headed Gulls. A few pairs of Little Ringed Plovers were noted, while wildfowl included Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler, along with still good numbers of Dark-bellied Brent Geese yet to make the journey north to their breeding grounds in arctic Russia. Further scanning of the pools and islands revealed a flock of around 30 islandica Black-tailed Godwits, many in summer dress and looking very dapper. A couple of summer plumaged Dunlin were also present, along with many Redshank and a single summer plumaged Turnstone. Walking out towards the sea wall, the highlight of the couple of hours here was a pair of 1st summer Little Gulls which dropped in to rest on the eastern marshes, the reddish-flushed legs an indication of breeding conditions despite their immaturity. A number of Sedge, Reed and Cetti’s Warblers were also heard singing across the reserve, but were difficult to see in blustery conditions, while a pair of Reed Buntings were noted in flight over the reedbed. A stop in the 360 hide provided us with excellent close views of the Black-tailed Godwit flock, along with the various wildfowl and Little Ringed Plover, but time was flying and it was already time to make our way to our base for the next three nights; the West Carlton Guesthouse near Aldborough in the East Riding of Yorkshire. This will be our gateway to the various exciting sites on offer over the next few days.





SATURDAY 2ND JUNESunny spells and fog, light winds, 16C


Our final day on Orkney was spent birding the West Mainland, working our way out to Stromness where we would eventually take the late afternoon ferry back to the mainland. Pre-breakfast, we opted to make the most of the beautiful calm morning and headed the mile or so down to Echna Loch. Here we scanned the bay, picking up a female Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser and an amazing tightly packed flock of eleven Great Northern Divers! A pair of Wigeon with young were on the loch behind, and the first-summer Little Gull from yesterday was also still present. With twenty minutes to spare before breakfast, we headed to a nearby spot for breeding Little Terns, and enjoyed views of twenty two birds on the beach viewed through the scope. All in all not a bad start to the day. After breakfast and check out, we met with Andy and made our way out to West Mainland, stopping briefly at a small loch on the way which held a few Gadwall, more Wigeon and another couple of offshore Great Northern Divers. Heading west, a ringtail Hen Harrier drifted over the road – our first of the trip.


Reaching our main spot for the morning at Marwick Bay, the fog bank had just started to roll in off the sea and over the top of the cliffs. Where we were standing though, we were still bathed in sunshine! On the beach, two second calendar year Glaucous Gulls were sleeping among the rocks, looking strikingly white in the sunshine. These arctic brutes had been attracted by the rotting carcass of a whale on the beach, and soon a third ‘Glauc’ flew in and began to feed on the remains of the animal. This bird eventually flew towards us and dropped into the stream mouth for a wash and brush up, among an assortment of other gulls that included large numbers of Kittiwakes from the adjacent cliffs. Also on the rocks here was a nice Whimbrel, our first of the trip. Eventually the fog lifted off the cliffs a bit and we decided to take on the hike up to the top to view the breeding seabirds. Fulmars were scattered among the Sea Thrift on the way up, and the smell of the breeding colonies below was wafting up on the breeze! At the top, the fog had rolled in again, but we could still see the massed ranks of Common Guillemots [including several of the ‘bridled’ form], lots of Razorbills, patrolling Great Skuas [including one eating a Kittiwake!] and several nice Puffins. Back down the path though, we tried another viewpoint and the visibility was much better – closer views of Puffins to be had here, too! The water below us was peppered with off-duty auks, and several Black Guillemots too which would be nesting among the rocks at the cliff base. Several Northern Wheatears and Rock Pipits were also on the clifftop here, adding passerine interest.




Next we relocated to The Loons RSPB, and popped into the hide. We didn’t note much here other than a dapper Little Grebe, so moved up to the ‘listening wall’ overlooking the marshes. This was the perfect spot for lunch, and it was boiling hot sat behind the wall in the sun and out of the wind. There were lots of displaying Curlew, Redshank and Lapwing here, plus a single Black-tailed Godwit, but not a great deal else. We had two more target spots to fit in before the ferry, so decided to continue on up onto the moors to try for Hen Harrier. Unfortunately, the fog rolled in again as we ascended the track to our chosen spot, and visibility was dreadful, but we enjoyed watching a pair of Red-throated Divers on a small loch here, our first proper views on the trip of one. It was soon clear we were not going to see any harriers, so we descended again to the coast and made for the beach at Aikerness. This is a lovely spot where we should have been able to enjoy views out to Rousay, but we could only just about see half way across the water. A creche of Common Eiders right below us was a highlight, along with another super pair of Red-throated Divers and a raft of twenty Red-breasted Mergansers. It was nearly time to head for Stromness, but one more stop to scan the lowland bog area near Cottiscarth for Hen Harrier produced a nice view of a Cuckoo instead! Stromness was bathed in warm sunshine, but this soon turned to another bank of pea soup fog as we departed on the ferry, so unfortunately the views of Hoy, and chances for seabirds and cetaceans, were reduced to zero. We arrived in Scrabster at 1815, to start the 2.5hr transfer south to Inverness where we would spend the night. The drive was thankfully through clear weather, and we had superb views of the various bays and estuaries along the east coast. One short stop produced great views of a fishing Osprey, with a second bird visible on the nest. Our final birding of the trip, before our long drive tomorrow.


FRIDAY 1ST JUNEDense fog in light easterly winds, clearing later to 17C


We woke to yet more fog today, something which had been a feature of the trip on and off throughout. This pretty much scuppered our pre breakfast activity, and so most people opted to meet down at the pier for our departure on the 1030 ferry back to Kirkwall. For those that did venture out, it was slim pickings – a couple of Willow Warblers, Pied Flycatcher and Common Whitethroat up around Holland House. Once we were away on the ferry, the fog actually lifted a bit for around an hour as we passed Sanday and Eday, and we were able to note all the common seabirds – Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Kittiwake, Shag, Fulmar, Gannet and Great Skua. Auks were the most numerous seabird seen, with little squadrons flying past the ferry en route to nearby breeding cliffs. In Kirkwall, we disembarked and grabbed some lunch in the town, to take with us up to East Mainland where we would try a couple of birding spots in the afternoon. It was clear and warm in Kirkwall, but as we headed east, the fog descended on us again! At Deerness, we had lunch in the car park surrounded by calling Redshank and Curlew, before walking up beyond the visitor centre to check the plantation. We saw no birds here at all! The Sandside Willows, back along the road a mile or so, looked fantastic habitat for migrants but today only held a single Willow Warbler. We avoided The Gloup, since we wouldn’t have been able to see anything – we needed a plan B!


As always we had one, and a quick call to Andy’s wife Joan confirmed that the visibility was better on South Ronaldsay. We headed there, picking up two good birds along the way. The first was a super Short-eared Owl hunting by the roadside. We pulled up alongside and watched it hovering in perfect light, before dropping into long grass. The second was a bonus first-summer Little Gull, hawking over the water on Echna Loch. The bird made several lovely close passes to the van, allowing everyone a good view. We reached South Ronaldsay, parking at Olaf’s Wood and walking down through the bushes and trees to Andy’s house. It was beautiful, warm and clear here! A Redpoll shot out of the trees, and there were singing Willow Warblers and Sedge Warblers too. Greenfinch, Reed Bunting and Robin were also noted, but it was just lovely to wander through the woodland on the trails and listen to the birdsong along the little stream. At Andy’s, Joan greeted us with tea and flapjack, and we sat in the sun in the garden watching Curlews displaying overhead and the odd Great Skua cruising by. An idyllic spot! To end the day, we decided to motor down the final couple of miles to Burwick Head, and park by the harbour. A short walk up onto the clifftop and we could sit among the Sea Thrift with the scope and watch the parties of auks flying by, lots of Gannets, Kittiwakes and frequent close fly pasts from the Great Skuas. There were a couple of Puffins resting on the water too. We could see out to Duncansby Lighthouse from our vantage point, and across west towards Hoy. A lovely spot and nice way to end the day.


THURSDAY 31ST MAYFine day with sunshine in light east to south-east winds, fog later, 17C


After yesterdays excitement, today was always going to have a lot to live up to, but with a nice belt of easterly winds coming directly across from Scandinavia and early morning showers forecast, we had equal if not higher expectations! Sadly these weren’t met, and not only did yesterdays birds appear to have largely departed, but new migrant arrivals were also few and far between. Our pre breakfast walk produced a Common Chiffchaff and what was probably a Garden Warbler zipping around the end of one of the traps, and the female Pied Flycatcher still around the obs. Up at Holland, a skulking Willow Warbler was along the stone wall by the road and singles of Spotted Flycatcher and Garden Warbler were noted along the garden edge. We didn’t go in the garden as Simon had the nets open – and had caught a new Red-backed Shrike! We didn’t see this though, and so headed back down for breakfast. Our plan for the rest of the day was to take a packed lunch, and get a lift in the obs van up to the lighthouse and spend the whole day working our way back. It was so fine and sunny, that we didn’t even need coats on! Not what you expect on the Northern Isles in spring! Working the two small lochans by the lighthouse, we saw a few Dunlin and Sanderling, drake Teal, four Knots [including a lovely red one] and a cracking Golden Plover which was in one of the sheep fields adjacent to yesterdays ‘Rosy field’. Around the dykes we found Northern Wheatear, and enjoyed close ups of the Fulmars nesting at ridiculously close quarters – though not too close! Great Skuas were frequently patrolling the headland, and on the shore on the south side we found two Purple Sandpipers. These were watched in lovely light, as they fed among the seaweed with the waves gently breaking around their feet – just the way they like it! Back along the road, we had a quiet stretch of a mile or so, checking the Starlings but with no sign of the Rosy. A commotion over the west side behind a croft alerted us to our first raptor on the island – a diminutive Merlin dashing north. There are no breeding raptors on North Ronaldsay, so any you do see are migrants.


After working some irises and around one of the lochans, we dropped down onto the beach on the east side of the island and made our way south on the outside of the sheep dyke. There were fifty Ringed Plovers on the ‘machair’ type ground here, and scores of noisy Arctic Terns nesting all along the shore. A dark phase Arctic Skua gave a lovely close view as it cruised by along the shingle, and there were several Bar-tailed Godwits and Wheatears around too. Eventually we made our way back up to the crossroads and had lunch in the sunshine, before plodding on towards the south-east corner of the island. Passing yesterdays Marsh Warbler spot, we continued down to Bride’s Ness, a beautiful spot where we sat on the beach in the [unbelievably!] warm sunshine. Summer plumaged Sanderling and Turnstone were on the shore right in front of us, and we added Gadwall and Wigeon to the trip list on the loch. Back up to Holland House, and another sit down in the sunshine to watch the sycamores – a cracking Pied Flycatcher perched out for us, and both Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler were seen briefly again. The final straight down to the obs felt a long one after a full day of hiking – we had covered just over 8 miles by the time we got back there. Another Willow Warbler was by the trap and a Black-tailed Godwit was on Gretchen. A total contrast to yesterday, but a stunning day to be wandering around the isle and we still have first thing tomorrow!


WEDNESDAY 30TH MAYA fine day with sunny spells and a light North-easterly breeze, 15C



Red-backed Shrike & Hawfinch - worth getting down the breakfast table for!


Today will go down as one of those epic days that live long in the memory. We had everything from the unexpected excitement of good birds from the mist nets, to mad dash twitching and finding our own scarcity. We met for a pre-breakfast walk, which took us as far as Holland House and back. It hadn’t really ‘kicked off’ at this point in the day, and everything felt very serene with the same two Great Northern Divers in the bay, and drumming Snipe and singing Skylarks accompanying us as we walked up the road. Simon had trapped a Pied Flycatcher at Holland, so that was a good sign that perhaps there would be a few new birds around today. Back at the Obs, and just having ordered breakfast, we abandoned the table with news that a Red-backed Shrike had just been trapped and was being brought down to the obs! While we waited, a first-summer male Pied Flycatcher popped up on the fence, closely followed by a female – things were happening! The Red-backed Shrike was ringed and released, perching briefly on a moss covered stone wall. We just got breakfast finished, when a Hawfinch was brought down from Holland House and we got to see that in the hand too! It was going to be difficult to leave the obs! While we waited for our lift, we scanned Gretchen Loch with the scope, picking up a lovely drake Garganey, swimming around with a pair of Teal. Eventually we did get away, with a lift as far as the doctors house. A Chiffchaff was in the garden here, and further down at the willows by Ancum Loch, we saw a Garden Warbler very briefly, two Sedge Warblers and a phyllosc which gave us the run around before eventually giving itself up as another Chiffchaff! Sixty Bar-tailed Godwits in the field by the loch were a surprise number, though all were grey non-breeding types, presumably in their second calendar year.



Next we headed out onto the west coast, before taking the coastal route back south on the outside of the dyke. We saw Northern Wheatear and Great Skua, and spent some time enjoying the antics of the breeding Black Guillemots on the rocks. These characterful birds were a joy to watch up close, with the sun behind us giving perfect light. A pair of Shags were also looking superb in their glossy plumage, with the surf breaking on the rocks behind them. Just then we met with Lewis, who informed us that a Rose-coloured Starling had been found at the lighthouse, and it was a stunning adult! Thankfully we were close to the airfield, where George arrived in the obs van to collect us. It was fun squeezing 8 in, but we managed it! Tearing up to the north end, we were greeted with news that the bird had not been seen for a while and there were a few folk scattered around looking. We hopped out of the van and looked over a stone wall, and there was the Rose-coloured Starling in all its glory, wandering around among the sheep!! This dazzling bird was a lifer for many in the group, and would be an undoubted highlight of the trip. Soon it flew south, but we saw it again on the way back, feeding in the open in a field of docks, before taking flight again and heading south not to be seen again. All that, and we were only ten minutes late back to the obs for lunch!



Even lunch itself didn’t pass entirely without excitement, as the boys came in with two Pied Flycatchers from the traps, including the young male we had seen in the field earlier. For the afternoon, we planned to head south-east towards the old mill and on towards Bride’s Loch. On our way up, the Bee-eater made a surprise reappearance and we had some more lovely view of it hawking across the fields of dandelions. As we scanned, we picked up a female Red-backed Shrike perched on a wall – surely the same bird from this morning? Yes, a shiny ring on its right leg was just visible through the scope! In Holland House, a Garden Warbler was skulking around in the sycamores, though proved difficult to see. We then continued on to the old mill, and decided to take a walk around the ‘garden’ as a Tree Pipit had been seen there. The pipit came straight out of the grass and landed on the gable end of an old croft outbuilding, where we watched it in the sunshine pumping its tail and preening. There were two small elders around the edge of the plot, so it was prudent to take a quick walk around them. Out shot a grey looking passerine, which promptly dived into the next bush. It refused to show, even though we could see its shape clambering about inside the bush. It felt like an ‘acro’ from the brief views, and something more interesting than a Reed Warbler. We flushed it again, but it just refused to sit in the open. It ended up in a patch of docks in the field, and after a couple more attempts to get it out, we realised we were fighting a losing battle. It looked long in flight, and the lack of any warm tones to the rump made for a concolourous upperside. It was looking like a Marsh Warbler, but we couldn’t be certain! George and Tom arrived with a mist net, having just been up at the lighthouse watching another ‘acro’ which turned out also to be a Marsh Warbler. A net was erected in front of the birds favoured bush and an attempt was made to walk it in. It wasn’t where we had left it though, and eventually we relocated it in the ditch. Now it perched briefly in the open – pale underparts with a yellowish wash, a white fore-supercilium ending at the eye, and a pale eye ring, all added up to Marsh Warbler. At the second attempt the bird plopped into the net and was duly ringed, biometrics confirming the identification [its long primaries measuring 70mm]. A super bird to see up close! Now the afternoon had run away with us, so we made our way back to Holland [where we saw the Garden Warbler, a Pied Flycatcher, the Bee-eater again and even a flight view of the Hawfinch!] and on down to the obs. It had been a very, very exciting day!



Pied Flycatcher and Marsh Warbler - two more great birds trapped today!


TUESDAY 29TH MAYLight easterly winds and fog, 15C


We only actually had half a days birding today, but it was a corker! We drove up to Kirkwall in dense fog, which would shroud the islands for the entire day and hamper visibility – the whole of the 2.5hr sail up to North Ronaldsay was through the proverbial Scotch mist! This meant that relatively few seabirds were noted, though at various intervals during the crossing we saw Razorbill, Arctic Skua and Puffin. Arriving on North Ronaldsay, we were greeted by Alison in the obs van, and the news that the European Bee-eater was still on the island and currently at Holland House! We loaded the luggage into the van, and set off on foot to see if we could connect with the bird. Walking up the road towards Holland House, we soon spotted the Bee-eater perched on the wires, the little bit of sun that was glinting through the mist lighting it up like a beacon! This stunning bird was a lifer for some of the group, and we enjoyed some great views before it took flight towards the garden. Here it perched again in the sycamores, and we were able to scope it again before it flew off calling and was lost to view.



As we were watching the Bee-eater, a male Hawfinch flew out of Holland House garden an across the road in front of us, dropping by the old kirk! Walking round there, we found the Hawfinch feeding briefly on the track in the open, before it flew again and disappeared behind the kirk. Back on the road, we met with some of the obs staff, who had just ringed and released a Common Redpoll – the bird was preening in a rose bush by the road where it remained for the next ten minutes or so giving great views. We now took a circular walk around the central part of the island, not noting anything too much other than the local breeding waders and Arctic Terns, but enjoying the views north to the lighthouse as the mist slowly began to roll back and sunshine took over. By the time we reached the doctors garden, we were stripping off! Back at Holland House, the Bee-eater flew low across the field in front of us and began hawking above the sycamores as we sat in the sun. It ended up back on the wires where it had started, but then flew again, this time passing right over our heads calling. We were already on a high as we wandered back downs towards Nousta bay just below the obs. There were several Sanderling and Bar-tailed Godwits on the shore, but it was the bay itself which held the most interest. First we found a redhead Goosander close inshore, an island year tick and a bird which is barely annual here. Unfortunately it took flight and headed out across the bay where it was lost to view. Further scanning revealed a superb summer plumaged Great Northern Diver, and then further out a large dark bird on the water which required closer scrutiny with the scope. We were shocked and delighted in equal measure to see a near full summer White-billed Diver! This spectacular looking bird was pretty distant, but the light was good and even through binoculars it was possible to see its ivory-white bill gleaming in the weak sunshine. Obs staff and visitors managed to head down to the bay and see the bird before it dived and headed further out towards the open sea. We hoped that it might drift back in on the tide in the morning. An afternoon that would take some beating!



MONDAY 28TH MAYCalm and fine but with a sea fog in a light east breeze, 15C


In a change to last years itinerary, we had scheduled to visit the island of Sanday today. This involved return ferry crossings from Kirkwall, and so with a slightly later breakfast after yesterdays exertions, we set off around 9am. Echna Loch and bay is only two minutes from our hotel, and we had twenty minutes or so to spare to stop and bird here. Arctic Terns along the beach were a highlight, and we also saw our first Common Ravens, Sand Martins and both Turnstone and Ringed Plover along the shore. Continuing to Kirkwall, we met the ferry for the 1035 sailing across to Sanday, which took us out through the sound between several islands and we enjoyed some super views when the fog wasn’t enveloped around us! Thankfully it only came and went throughout the day, and while there were times when the visibility was very poor, it was mainly OK. On the water, we saw squadrons of Common Guillemots commuting to and from colonies around the islands, a single Razorbill and two Puffins. Great Skuas were also a frequent sight, and a fine Red-throated Diver was also seen. Arriving on Sanday, news reached us that a Bee-eater had just been seen at the north end of the island, so we now knew exactly which way we would head first. A quick stop in the shop proved fruitful, as the guy behind the checkout was able to tell us exactly where the Bee-eater had been sighted! Knowing how mobile they are, we knew it was a long shot that it would stick around, but we headed straight there. We searched the area, checking fences and wires, but we couldn’t see it. A Spotted Flycatcher was in one of the gardens, and a ‘Scooty Allen’ – or Arctic Skua as we know it – came belting across the dunes flushing fifty Ringed Plovers into the air. Unfortunately we then learned that the Bee-eater flew high north half an hour before we arrived, and was now on North Ronaldsay!



Arctic Skua & Turnstone, Sanday 28th May


Next we headed up to Start Point, with a view to walking out to the lighthouse. The tiny parking spot was full, so we opted instead to pull up and have lunch on the low cliff top in the sunshine. This was a stunning location, and we ate our sandwiches with Bonxies cruising by and Sanderlings along the shore. We were then able to get a parking space once some other people had departed, and take a walk out to the lighthouse. Along the top of the beach here, a bank of rotting kelp was proving attractive to a number of Turnstone and Sanderling, both in full breeding finery. A colony of Sand Martins were nesting in the soft sand cliff and the air was full of Skylark song and the drumming of Common Snipe. At the start of the lighthouse spit, a small bay held a stonking Great Northern Diver in full breeding plumage, which we watched fishing close inshore for some time through the scope – we could see its red eye! A couple of Northern Wheatear were also around here, and another distant kelp bank was covered in Sanderlings, busily feeding among a number of large gulls. Another Great Skua flew close past us as we wandered back along the shore to the parking area – it was now 3pm and we needed to crack on!


Making our way back down the isle, we headed out to the west side next and up to a beautiful sandy bay where the visibility had cleared enough for us to be able to see the bird observatory and Holland House on North Ronaldsay, where we would be heading tomorrow. There was an immature Great Northern Diver offshore, but the highlight was a cracking dark phase adult Arctic Skua harassing Common Gulls along the beach. In between bouts of chasing, the bird would drift in and land on the sand right in front of us, much to the annoyance of the gull it had just robbed which would then come over to mob it noisily! The skuas was not bothered, and had several small fish out of the Common Gulls before it got bored and headed off along the shore. After chatting to the island ranger here, we got some gen about a calling Corncrake nearby so we went to the spot to check it out. Five Common Redpolls were seen here, and two Sedge Warblers were nest building in a bank of nettles by a stone dyke. Eventually the Corncrake gave us a load bout of crekking, but the irises and nettles were very tall and despite giving it some time, we weren’t lucky with a sighting. It was now time to start making our way towards the ferry again, but a roadside flock of gulls in a ploughed field prompted us to pull over and have a quick scan. There among them was a beautiful white second calendar year Iceland Gull, looking very bleached and pale and standing out like a sore thumb! We found a gateway a bit further on where we could pull off the road and get a scope out, so everyone could have a good look. A really nice bird!  In a real flurry at the finish, just a mile further along the road a Short-eared Owl flew up in fantastic light and began hunting right alongside our vehicle. We continued to the end of the road at Stove and parked, enjoying the owl again floating over the boggy fields – at one point it flew right over our heads! The wonderful looking garden here held another pair of Common Redpolls, but sadly no interesting migrants today. From here it was five minutes to the pier, where another superb Great Northern Diver greeted us asleep on the water and two more Arctic Skuas cruised into the bay scattering the Kittiwakes. The ferry journey back was marred by frequent banks of fog, so we didn’t see too much. Then it was straight down to Burray from Kirkwall and in for dinner – a long and tiring but really enjoyable day.



SUNDAY 27TH MAY – Fine sunny day in light east winds, sea fog, 13C


Today we travelled to Aberdeen for the start of our Orkney tour, catching the 1700 Northlink ferry to Kirkwall. Those of us travelling up from our overnight stop in Carlisle had a couple of hours to spare before our rendezvous time, so we continued past Aberdeen to Newburgh to check out the Ythan Estuary. The tide was high, and just starting to ebb, and from our chosen viewpoint at the edge of the village we could see hundreds of Common Eiders out on the distant dunes. The drake King Eider had been seen again recently, so we were keen to have a good look through them! Little Terns were seen fishing in the creek, where we also saw a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Common Sandpiper. Further out over the main estuary, we could see many Arctic Terns, and the beaches in the distance were thronged with them from the adjacent breeding colony. Try as we might, we could not find the King Eider, but the birds were the best part of a mile distant and in a heat haze, so it wasn’t easy. Sandwich Tern, Dunlin and Ringed Plover were also noted, so a nice bonus start to the trip. From here we returned to Aberdeen, meeting our final two passengers on the harbour front, and boarded the ferry promptly. A sea fog had rolled in along the coast, so the first part of the sail out through the breakwater was in pretty poor visibility. We saw a drake Goosander though, and large numbers of Kittiwakes. The visibility eventually improved as we left the coast behind, and we saw lots of Common Guillemots, the odd Razorbill and a few Puffins. Gannets and Fulmars were of course very numerous, and were present alongside the ferry throughout the rest of the trip. We arrived into Kirkwall at 2300, and from here we had a twenty minute drive south to the island of Burray where we would be staying for the next two nights. Everyone was ready for bed!




THURSDAY 24TH MAYFine sunny day with light North-easterly winds


A fantastic days birding to end the tour today, with a sea fret and easterly element to the wind bringing more new rare bird arrivals and some warm sunshine allowing us to mop up our remaining targets! A message early morning from a local birder alerted us to the presence of a singing Greenish Warbler at Titchwell, but we decided to leave that on the back burner until later and use the critical early morning period to try and connect with one or two key birds missing from our trip list. The first was Firecrest, which was had only heard so far, and this took us onto the Cromer-Holt ridge to a site where we knew a pair were on territory. It didn’t take long to locate the singing male, and almost right away we saw him flitting around in the canopy of an Oak, clearly foraging for insects which he was ferrying into a nearby ivy covered tree to either a nest or fledged young. We found a position where we could watch both his foraging area, and the nest tree, and over the next half hour we had some lovely views. The bird would follow a similar circuit each time, and perch on the same branches both before and after delivering food to the young. Occasionally, he would pause to sing too, and on one occasion the female appeared and he chased her around a small hawthorn with crest erect. We guessed that she was perhaps already laying a second clutch, and that the young he was feeding were already out of the nest – fantastic views of these little forest gems!


Moving onto the heaths, we wanted to try and locate the local Dartford Warblers and so headed to a spot where we often find them reliably at this time of year. As soon as we approached the main area of mature gorse, we saw the male Dartford Warbler in song flight above the vegetation! We knew that better views would require patience though, and so again found a spot where we could stand quietly and watch. After ten minutes or so, the male appeared briefly again, and then soon after the female appeared, and both bird began foraging together among small clumps of gorse and birch right in front of us in perfect light. The male in particular would often perch right on top for a few moments before continuing his duties. Twice more, we also saw him perform a song flight, and we had both birds perched up long enough for everyone to have a look in the scope. A really great result, and it was not even 11 o’clock! After coffee back at the van, we now needed to head back to Ryburgh and collect luggage and cars, before heading to Ticthwell and trying for the Greenish Warbler which was still singing by the meadow trail.


Arriving at TItchwell, we were surprised to find spaces in the main car park. We were even more surprised to find only half a dozen people looking for the Greenish Warbler! Almost as soon as we joined the small group on the Meadow Trail boardwalk, we could hear the bird signing – a series of high pitched notes delivered in a rather random and bumbling rhythm. Seeing the bird was more difficult though, and it took half an hour for us to even get the briefest of glimpses. Then the bird suddenly moved closer though, and it was now signing only a few metres in front of us, at eye level in the willows. It popped out on an open branch, catching the sun, and we had some really super views. Its mossy green upperparts, silky white belly and long pale supercilium joining above the bill could be clearly seen, As is typical for spring individuals though, the wing bar was really difficult to see – in fact it only appeared to show pale tips to the outermost two or three greater coverts, visibly only at the correct angle. A lovely bird, and great way to end a good week!


WEDNESDAY 23RD MAYOvercast with a cold north-easterly wind, 13C


A decent day today despite the cool wind and winter temperatures! We started our day by checking some wetland spots around Wells, as a White-winged Black Tern had been belatedly reported from Burnham Overy but seemingly gone missing and could have been floating around somewhere. We checked the new flashes east of Wells without any joy, and then headed down to Wells beach car park. We wandered through the birches, but there was nothing around on the passerine front, so we continued to Quarles marsh west of the caravan park. Here we didn’t find the tern, but instead a beautiful summer plumaged Wood Sandpiper which alerted us to its presence with a couple of ‘chiff-iff-iff’ calls. The bird was picking around among the wet grassland right in front of us and we enjoyed some really great prolonged scope views. A Greenshank dropped in briefly too, but we couldn’t see anything else of note on the flashes and so we made our way back to the car park. Heading east to Burnham Norton, we stopped briefly at overy and scanned the main pool out on the marsh distantly from the coast road – still no sign of the tern, so it had seemingly moved on. Arriving at Norton, we headed out along the path across the grazing marsh. A Spoonbill flew low over the track, and despite the cold wind the Skylarks and Reed Warblers had not given up singing! On the seawall, we saw a Little Tern over the channel, but the stiff wind was making it tricky to see much at all out in that direction. We concentrated on the pools on the grazing marsh instead, but it was slim pickings – just two Black-tailed Godwits, and a brace of Spoonbills flying over. We gave up, and headed back along the track – but we only got halfway back when the phone rang. It was a local birder, and he was watching a first-summer Montagu’s Harrier over the saltmarsh! Damn! We raced back, but by the time we got there, the bird had dropped out of view. We waited half an hour, but it didn’t fly up again. Three Spoonbills tried to offer compensation, as they flew in and began feeding in the open right in front of us, and a small flock of Brent Geese were also on the marsh. We had to leave it on the harrier though, which was a shame. Lunch was had back at the car park, where two fine male Marsh Harriers were seen, and another phone call to say the Montagu’s Harrier was back on the wing briefly produced a brief two second glimpse of it up over the seawall, but only as a silhouette and a long, long way off.



Heading east, we planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell, but we only got as far as Brancaster when another call came in! This time it was to tell us that the White-winged Black Tern had reappeared and it was currently over the pool on overy marsh which we had checked earlier!! A quick u-turn and ten minutes later we were watching a superb White-winged Black Tern, dancing over the water on the main reedbed pool. We were viewing from the coast road, so it was distant, but the light was excellent and the views were actually pretty good. Given how much walking we had already done, and that we definitely wanted to visit Titchwell, we opted to accept these views and not yomp out across the marsh to see it closer! This was the first Norfolk one we had seen on tour since 2004, so a really nice bonus. A Red Kite drifted low past our viewpoint as we loaded our gear back into the van and continued on our way to Ticthwell.



With the day wearing on, we concentrated our efforts on the freshmarsh starting at Island Hide. A drake Red Crested Pochard was seen on the reedbed pool and the Marsh Harriers were really busy – a pair performing a food pass being a highlight. From the hide, we could see large numbers of Common Swifts feeding low over the pool – this had been a feature of the day, with insects clearly driven down low in the cold winds. It was great to see so many swopping low over the water, as it has not been a great spring for them so far. The other aerial feeder here were four Little Gulls, all in first-summer plumage. They were showing amazingly well, and at one point ended up feeding right outside the hide. 11 Tundra Ringed Plovers included some stunningly marked [presumably] males, and a single Dunlin. Two Turnstone were also noted, and a fine drake Garganey gave much better views than yesterday. The plovers flew and landed on the closest island to the hide, and were joined by two Little-ringed Plovers – an excellent comparison. From Parrinder, we enjoyed great views of the many Mediterranean Gulls nesting on the island, plus more views of a similar selection of waders and wildfowl, and a lovely fly by Spoonbill. From here it was back to base – it had been another busy day!


TUESDAY 22ND MAYSunny spells in fresh North-easterly winds, 15C


Today was our East Norfolk day, starting at Hickling Broad where we had planned a bespoke boat trip with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Taking the new Northern Distributor road around Norwich shaved ten minutes off the journey time from Ryburgh to Hickling, but we lost fifteen minutes once we got there due to Anglian Water digging up the road! After negotiating the lengthy diversion, we were soon at the reserve centre ready to head down to the jetty to meet our boatman Rob. The walk produced a brief flight of a Bittern for one lucky member of the group, while for the rest of us there were lots of odonata to see – Large Red Damselfly, Hairy Dragonfly, Four-spotted Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer. Once out on the water, we could sit back and relax and enjoy the broads in the best way possible, by boat! Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tits, Common Terns and Great Crested Grebes were all seen as we sailed out past Miss Turner’s Island and on to Swim Coots. The hide here, only accessible by water, afforded great views across the oozing mud which was attractive to a number of waders. Four Common Sandpipers were here, and ended up all congregated together on a small island outside the hide. 55 Black-tailed Godwits included the full range of plumages from full non-breeding to stunning brick red summer dress, and a single Bar-tailed Godwit was picked out amongst them. Continuing across the open water to Rush Hills, we were greeted with nice looking water levels with plenty of mud, but sadly very few birds. Another Common Sandpiper was noted, but that was about it. Next was the tree tower, where we moored up by the Weaver’s Way and headed up the 60ft tower to scan across the treetops and over the reserve. Up to four Hobbies could be seen, with one bird swooping low right overhead and the others hawking distantly out over the reedbed. We saw a pair of Marsh Harriers perform a food pass, and enjoyed the views out to Happisburgh lighthouse and Horsey windpump. We then headed back to the boat, and across the broad back to the jetty. Lunch was taken in the sunshine on the picnic tables outside the centre – we had been very lucky with outdoor picnics every day this week!



To avoid the road closure again, we decided to take the long route around by Waxham and Horsey, which would also give us the chance to check the roadside fields for Cranes. We didn’t find any, and so continued around to Potter Heigham where we would spend the remainder of the afternoon birding the marshes there. Along the entrance track, we stopped to scan the pools and could immediately see a drake Garganey feeding in the open water at the back. We set the scopes up for a better view, and found two more, all drakes! A Common Greenshank was also here, feeding frantically with its typically lanky, jerky feeding motion. Parking in the fisherman’s car park, we set off along the River Thurne bank, immediately picking up two Common Cranes flying in low overhead from the direction of Potter Heigham. The birds drifted slowly over, and dropped down somewhere on Heigham Holmes – excellent views! Walking around to view the furthest pools, we saw five Ringed Plovers, four Common Sandpipers, a Grey Plover flying around calling and a good selection of common wildfowl. It was really cold here though, in the stiffening north-east wind! We rounded off the day with another stop along the entrance track, where the earlier flock of godwits from Swim Coots had now flown in, the Bar-tailed Godwit still in tow but also two female Ruff. The Grey Plover showed nicely too, bathing in the main pool. A pleasant day all round.


MONDAY 21ST MAYFine and sunny in moderate North-easterly winds, 19C


It looked as though the weather was set fair for the whole of the tour, but with a lack of rain [!] comes few grounded migrants or rarities at the coast, and so we were spreading our net far and wide in order to accumulate the best possible range of species and habitats. This took us west today, starting at Snettisham Coastal Park with a walk out along the seawall. With many of Norfolk’s once iconic rare breeding species now extinct in the county, there is a change in focus for the desirable species for visiting birders at this time of year, and sadly the once common Turtle Dove has been elevated to near speciality status! They do seem to be doing a little better in the last couple of years locally at least, though confined largely to tracts of coastal scrub containing plenty of Hawthorn, for which Snettisham fits the bill. On the first part of our walk, we heard and saw many summer migrant warblers, such as Sedge and Reed Warblers, Common Whitethroat and Willow Warbler, and picked up a trickle of Common Swifts moving north – they do seem to be still arriving, rather late this year! While scanning the bushes, our main quarry flew into view, as a fine Turtle Dove zipped over the hawthorns and dropped out of view. Soon though, we could hear it purring, and by climbing up the bank for a better view found it perched up in distant bushes. After a bit of song, the bird launched itself into display flight with white-tipped tail fanned out, before diving back down into the bushes on the far dunes. Meanwhile, a Grasshopper Warbler gave a few short notes from the reeds, but wasn’t seen, and a lovely male Marsh Harrier drifted by. Turning back, we heard more purring, and this time found the Turtle Dove perched in an open tree in full view. Great scope views this time, and another display flight to boot.



After a coffee break, we made the one hour drive around The Wash into Lincolnshire where we would spend the rest of the day at the excellent Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve. Visiting just after high water, we had high hopes for seeing plenty of waders and while it wasn’t perhaps as bustling as we expected, it was still decent! Starting at the wet grassland down by the seawall, we found two first-summer Little Gulls resting on a pool by the roadside, and scanning out through all the breeding Redshanks and Lapwings, we could pick out several smart male Ruffs. A pale ginger one was quite close to the track, and looked fabulous in its full regalia! On the north side of the track, a congregation of Arctic-bound Tundra Ringed Plovers were bustling about, and there were two Dunlin with them. The odd Brent Goose and Wigeon were also noted, and a Little-ringed Plover sitting tight on a nest scrape gave brilliant views. We climbed the bank, and with the light behind us had super views back across the reserve. We couldn’t add anything new, but enjoyed more views of the same selection before dropping back down to the car park for lunch. A new, rufous male Ruff had now appeared, and was feeding right by the van – what a stunning bird! After lunch, we wandered back along the road a short way with the scopes, to get some better views of the two Little Gulls, which were still present on the same pool. A Common Sandpiper was located, and a few Black-tailed Godwits flew in.


Returning to the visitor centre, we wandered out past 360 hide [where the main scrape is currently drained dry as part of the management cycle] and had a scan across from the second hide. Several Stock Doves were making the most of the dry ground, and a male Sparrowhawk flew in and scattered them, perching proud out in the middle of the dry scrape! On the other side, there was much water and lots of noisy nesting Black-headed Gulls. Two Barnacle Geese swam right by the hide, though they were no doubt of suspect origin! We didn’t see much else from here, so decided to take the loop trail around the north side of the reserve and back to the visitor centre, hoping to see Corn Bunting. As we reached the junction of the paths, three Corn Buntings flew over and then another two popped up on a bush right in front of us. These lingered for scope views, before they took flight and turned into five birds – eight in total! We couldn’t find any Yellow Wagtails today though, so returned to the car park for afternoon tea before driving back round into Norfolk. Breaking the journey on the way back, we called in at Abbey Farm Flitcham, but couldn’t see the Little Owl today. Grey Partridge and Stock Dove were about the highlight here.


This evening, we had planned to take our evening excursion to West Norfolk to look for Nightjar and Woodcock, and so dinner was a bit earlier than usual so that we could set off around 2015. It was a beautiful sunset as we headed west, and a lovely still evening to boot – perfect for our target birds. Reaching our favoured locality, we had a male Siskin display flighting overhead as we parked up, our first sighting of the week. We didn’t have to wait long for our first Woodcock of the night, as a roding bird flew low over the track ‘squeaking’ – the first of at least four seen and some really superb close views to boot. Jupiter was just rising in the east and through the scope we could see the red eye and some of its moons. Dusk fell slowly, and soon the familiar ‘coo-ick!’ flight call of a Nightjar was heard. This was followed by some persistent churring, and then a superb close fly by from a male bird, cruising by against the bright sky on raised wings with tail fanned. He settled in a silver birch in full view, and here he remained for about ten minutes, churring continuously. The scope views were excellent, as there was still a bit of light, and we could see the colouration and pattern of the birds plumage. Another couple of good flight views followed, and then we left him to it, churring away – it seems that the female has not yet arrived, as there was no sign at all of her presence. A really good showing though, and well worth staying up late for!


SUNDAY 20TH MAYFine and sunny in light north-easterly winds, max 25C


With a sea fog having rolled in on the breeze this morning, we were not sure how long it might take to clear and so opted to head south into Breckland where we knew it would be infinitely warmer! We started off with one of the forest clearings, which we hoped on a fine spring morning would be resounding to the songs of some of our target species. The open clearfell is brightened by fine displays of Broom flower at this time of year, and in the sunshine and light winds the songs of Common Whitethroat and Yellowhammer could be heard from all around. The overgrown stacks, created by the uprooted trunks of felled trees which are piled into rows to allow natural rotting down, are superb places for both these species to breed, being rich in insect life. Tree Pipits take advantage of the same habitat when they arrive from Africa in April, and we found two singing males today putting on a great display. On the closer of the two birds, we were able to study the plumage up close in the scope and note the finely streaked flanks and yellow washed breast. Our other target here would be Woodlark, and as we walked slowly along the track two leapt from the grass just ahead of us. Initially they seemed to vanish, but further along they flew past us again and perched beautifully on the top of a small conifer. The female dropped to the grass to forage, while the male stood watch and quietly sang a few notes in between bouts of preening. Eventually a third flew up from the grass, presumably a fledged youngster from the first brood of the year. Willow Warbler song could be heard in the same locality, but also a bubbling warble coming from the young conifers – it was a Garden Warbler. This was the first time we had ever recorded one in conifers, though presume that again the insect rich and bramble covered stacks are the real reason for its presence there. The bird leapt right to the top of a dead bramble, where it sang in the open for several minutes allowing for rare views of this often elusive and difficult to observe species. After checking a corner of mixed oak and pine for Redstart, and not having any luck, we returned by the same route. The Woodlark pair were seen again, in even better light, and a Common Cuckoo flew across the meadow calling with a second bird replying in the distance. Not a bad haul from the first part of our morning!


Coffee break and toilets allowed us to add a Grey Wagtail and Treecreeper to the list, though a signing Firecrest remained elusive and high in the canopy out of view. Our plan for the afternoon was to visit Lakenheath, but on the way we called at Weeting Heath NWT reserve to check for Stone Curlew. Walking down to West Hide, a Spotted Flycatcher was calling and we had good views of it perched up in the pines. From the hide, we could actually see two pairs of Stone Curlew. There was a customary heat haze, but actually the views were quite good as the birds were not too far away. The lack of rabbits at this site is now a big problem though, as the grass is becoming very long! Moving on to Lakenheath, we had lunch in the very busy car park, before setting out for a three hour exploration of the reserve. It was really warm here out of the breeze, and as such the place was buzzing with odonata – Common Blue, Azure and Red-eyed Damselfly, Hairy Dragonfly and Four-spotted Chaser were all noted. This also meant it was excellent for one of our target birds – Hobby! We had some distant views of them from New Fen viewpoint, but as we walked up past West Wood we had amazing views of about seven together, hawking low over the poplars and zooming down low over our heads. From Joist Fen though, we could count over thirty Hobby in the air together, hawking out over the reedbed! Often the odd bird would swoop in at close range, though most of them remained fairly distant. While scanning, a Bittern leapt up from the reeds and made a short flight, followed closely by a second bird. We sat here in the warm sun for half an hour or so, before making our way round onto the river bank. Here another Bittern flew up, this time making a long flight back across towards Mere Hide and giving everyone a good view. The walk back along the river was quiet, but we found a busy corner with Sedge and Reed Warblers whizzing about, and had a brief view of a Cetti’s Warbler in the open. Back at the van, we enjoyed a cup of tea and cake before making for our final stop of the day.


Mid May is not normally the best time of year for seeing Goshawk in the forest, but with an hour to spare at the end of the day we decided to set the scopes up at a favoured spot and have a scan for a bit. We soon picked up a Red Kite, and several Common Buzzards but they were all very high and distant. It was lovely and peaceful though, with no traffic around and lots of Skylark song in the air. Just as we were about to pack up, a male Goshawk circled up out of the trees and climbed into the sky with powerful wingbeats. After a couple of circles, he dropped down and landed in view in the top of a tall conifer. Here we could scope him for a few minutes, before he took to the air again and spent the next ten minutes slowly circling round in front of us! Eventually the bird decided it was time to go stratospheric and in a few circles he was a pin prick high in the sky. A great view of a powerful and impressive bird and a great way to end the day.


SATURDAY 19TH MAY – Fine and sunny in light easterly winds, 13C


A beautiful day on the North Norfolk coast today allowed us to kick off our tour with a tally of almost 90 species, and some nice quality thrown in. We parked at Burnham Overy Staithe, and made our way out along Whincover where we were soon noting our first singing Common Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers and a nice Lesser Whitethroat. A Eurasian Spoonbill flew high west over the track – the first of many we would see this morning – and likewise a Red Kite circled low over the hedge giving an excellent view, and would be the vanguard for many sightings here today. As we continued along the track, common species such as Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Common Swift, Avocet, Egyptian Goose, Gadwall, Shoveler and Redshank were seen before we reached the reedy ditch below the sea wall. Here a pair of Little Grebe were feeding four chicks, and we watched them through the scopes as they delivered dragonfly nymphs and freshwater shrimps to the waiting youngsters! A Bittern grunted a few times from the reeds nearby, and a Common Cuckoo called before perching on a dead tree in the reedbed. It was all happening around us as we climbed up onto the seawall! A pair of Grey Partridges showed really well, and a Great White Egret dropped into one of the ditches out on the grazing marsh and gave some nice views through the scope. Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler and Common Kestrel were added, with two Curlew and a few Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh. As we walked on towards the dunes, we heard the familiar ‘pinging’ call of Bearded Tits and were treated to superb views of three birds in the reeds close to the path. From the final bend in the seawall, with the tide high, we found six Grey Plovers roosting among the sea lavender, sporting full summer plumage – stunning! The grazing marsh was really busy with breeding Lapwing and Redshank, and both species combined in a noisy defence party to see off a marauding Stoat, which ran across the marsh pursued by five or six of each species! A Common Sandpiper picked around the muddy margins unperturbed by the racket, and two more Red Kites and several more Marsh Harriers were also seen.


Reaching the dunes, we headed west first to check the beach and channel off Gun Hill. A pair of Stonechats were the only birds of note in the dunes, but from the end we had nice views of Little Terns, plus Common and Sandwich Terns, fishing in the channel. Heading east now, we enjoyed the warm sunshine as we wandered through the dunes, but saw few birds other than Linnets and Meadow Pipits. At the east end though, we picked up a Hobby hawking high and distant, but fortunately it flew closer and began hunting low over the grazing marsh. A Bullfinch was in the bushes, and we noted our first Chiffchaff and Blackcap as we made our way into the pines. The Spoonbills were entertaining as always from the hide here, and we saw a party of five flying over, plus several other adults coming and going from the colony. We could see two young in a nest begging for food from one of the adults, probably not that long away from fledging. A Goldcrest was flitting around at eye level behind the hide, and the Hobby gave a lovely low pass overhead as we began making our way towards Meal’s House. The rest of the walk was pretty quiet, but we did have excellent views of Marsh Harrier from Washington Hide, plus a Great Crested Grebe and more flyover Spoonbills. After getting a lift back for the van, we lunched at Lady Anne’s Drive in the sunshine – more Spoonbills and Little Egrets flying over as we ate our sandwiches!



White Wagtail and Avocet with chick at Cley this afternoon


The afternoon would be spent at Cley, where after a quick stop at the visitor centre, we parked at the triangle and made our way out towards the central hides. It was surprisingly chilly here, with the north-east breeze now blowing straight in off the sea and in through the flaps! Pat’s Pool hosted a pair of Little-ringed Plovers, a superb male Ruff and a drake Eurasian Wigeon. There were two more Common Sandpipers right over the back too, and lots of Sand Martins feeding low over the reeds in the cool wind. Common Pochard is a fairly scarce breeding bird in the county, so it was nice to see a female outside the hide with a single chick – she would have to keep a close eye on it as the local Marsh Harriers were regularly passing low overhead, flushing everything on the scrapes! On Simmond’s Scrape, there were some superb Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits feeding busily, though a dearth of other waders apart from a single Ringed Plover, probably of the race tundrae and bound for more northerly climes. Two more Little-ringed Plovers showed really well, and a fine White Wagtail was perched on the fence outside the hide. We enjoyed watching the antics of the Avocets too, as a nest close to the hide had just hatched and the adults were brooding two very small chicks. A very pleasant and relaxing way to end the day, after our long walk this morning!





MONDAY 21ST MayRain all morning, dry and bright later on, light NE wind, 10C


Another brilliant day today, made all the better by the fact that, with a dire forecast of heavy rain all day, the weather actually turned our vastly more pleasant than anticipated. While the morning was certainly not dry, the wind was light, and the rain stopped earlier than expected, leaving a superb afternoon. Our plan for this morning was to head out to the west coast of Benbecula, checking the lochs and bays in the area, and trying to stay relatively dry in the process! A scan of the first few lochs produced a highlight of a pair of summer plumaged Ruff which were clearly in lek-mode, with ruffs and ear tufts raised, flicking wings and posturing to each other. It’s so great to see this species in this condition! Arctic Terns were also present here. Crossing to Stinky Bay, the seaweed covered beach was alive with waders and gulls, while the sea held dozens of Eider and 3 Great Northern Divers. The waders consisted of a single Bar-tailed Godwit in winter plumage, 100s of summer plumaged Dunlin, Sanderling and Turnstones and a single summer plumaged Knot. A brief shock came in the form of a leucistic Common Gull, which initially looked extremely Iceland Gull-like! Shockingly white all over, the give-away was its bright yellow legs and bill; clearly a summer plumaged Common Gull. Whilst scanning the near shore a small very dark wader fluttered into view and landed amongst the throngs – a completely unexpected female Red-necked Phalarope! She fed amongst the rotting seaweed as with any of the other birds here, picking from the surface of the weed and also taking some flies with darting feeding motions. The birds all flew at one stage, but swung round, and the Red-necked Phalarope returned to the same pool again, allowing excellent viewing and photographic opportunities. From here, following a short comfort break in Balivanich, we took a turning to Aird, where a Turtle Dove had been reported the day before. A scan of some likely looking tilled fields here produced the bird, feeding alongside a Rock Dove; a nice bonus bird for Benbecula! From here we made our way north to Balranald. We made our way straight towards Aird an Runair as, although the weather was far from ideal (a lack of westerly wind, not to mention lack of strength), this was our last opportunity to see skuas on the islands. Walking out towards the point we scanned the wader-covered beaches, where what must have been around 600 waders were feeding on the seaweed, forming an ever-moving carpet of birds. Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone formed the main bulk of the birds, but highlights included two Curlew Sandpipers just coming into some breeding plumage, two Little Stints in their flaming orange finery and a single Black-tailed Godwit. Making our way to the furthest headland we set up our scopes, but in reality, we knew that this afternoon would not be particularly productive for seawatching. However, the backdrop of breeding Arctic Terns, Purple Sandpipers on the rocks, Great Northern Divers and passing Kittiwakes made for a very pleasant experience. Walking back to the van a cloud of waders had come up from the bays, and a scan revealed a Bonxie as the culprit, powering off south. Second helpings of both the Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints were had on our way back, while Corn Buntings were seen and heard in the area. If Balranald hadn’t provided us with enough excitement by now, it played us another good hand, as a quick loo stop at the centre provided us with more wonderful views of singing Corncrake in the surrounding fields; this species really has been fantastic this week!


Now it was time to roll south, but on route we took a short detour along a minor moorland road to the east coast of South Uist. On the journey there, a ringtail Hen Harrier was noted along the roadside. Taking the eastern track, we noted a number of Red-breasted Mergansers on trackside lochs, and a Cuckoo flew from telegraph wires. Reaching the end of the track we were greeted by a beautiful vista of sea loch and mountains, so perfect for a tea break! A quick scan then soon picked up a stunning adult White-tailed Eagle circling distantly over the sea being mobbed by a Hooded Crow. It then turned and started heading straight for us, drifting directly over our heads! Fantastic. After coffees and teas, we then picked up the White-tailed Eagle again, this time being mobbed by two Peregrines! Another new bird for the week, and what a week its been!



Some brilliant birds to finish the week on the Outer Hebs - Red-necked Phalarope and White-tailed Eagle 



SUNDAY 20TH MayRain all day, strong south-westerly morning, easing pm. 13C


Based on the forecast, today was clearly going to be on the wet side of soggy, and it would likely be quite heavily orientated around being as close to the van as possible! However, we had a fair run at it regardless, covering a few sites on South Uist, and then taking the ferry to Barra for the afternoon. Our first site was North Locheynort. Riding along the banks of the lock we noted a few Red-breasted Mergansers on the water, while a Greenshank which flushed from the bank was new for the week. At the end of the road we went for a short walk through the well wooded hillside here, which was very sheltered and rather pleasant. Here we saw Goldcrest and Robin, and heard Willow Warbler on a coupe of occasions, so nice to get a few of the islands less conspicuous species. From here our next stop was Ardvule. Good numbers of waders covered the Machair including Dunlin, Ringed Plovers, a single Sanderling and two Whimbrel. Reaching the sea loch, a large amount of activity was evidently being stirred up by something, and the culprit soon made itself clear, with a Bonxie heaving its way through the gulls and waders, scattering everything. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was caught up in the pandemonium also. Parking up on the edge of the beach, we managed to carefully position the van to provide some shelter for viewing the wader and large gull-covered beach, enjoying good mixed wader flocks here, while the back of the seaward pool held 4 Whooper Swans. From here we then went to South Glendale, having a run through the crofts before our ferry departed for Barra at 13:00. A Cuckoo was singing and showed well in the gardens, but there was little else on offer in the wet and windy conditions.


By now it as time to head over to the mighty Barra. Boarding the boat, we headed up to the side decks and spent the crossing scanning the sea. The visibility was fairly poor, probably no more than 500 meters and very choppy, but we did note a number of Great Northern Divers and a single Black-throated Diver on the sea, along with several Black and Common Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Arctic Terns. Landing on Barra, we took an anticlockwise direction around the island, first stopping at Loch an Duin. Although the hoped for Red-throated Divers were absent, a female-type duck in the western corner transpired to be a Greater Scaup, and was watched over an extended period of time feeding, apparently successfully gleaning various items from the loch bottom. Common Sandpipers were also vocal here. The drive round the island was rather spectacular, despite the weather, with impressive bays and sandy beaches. Allasdale Bay came up trumps, with four close Long-tailed Ducks close inshore, and in really quite splendid summer plumage. A later bay contained a number of feeding Gannets at its mouth, as well as several Kittiwakes on the sea, while a single Fulmar was noted distantly. Continuing round, we stopped at the impressively well vegetated valley at Brevig. This walk was very different to the other locations we had visited this week, feeling more like a Cornish valley that an Outer Hebrides one! It provided us with another nice selection of Hebrides warblers including our first views of Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler and Blackcap, along with Willow Warbler and Cuckoo. Completing our circuit, we returned back to the ferry for the 17:30 sailing. The weather had improved somewhat by now, with lighter winds and better visibility, and it was felt with the improved counts of seabirds. At least 3 Black-throated and 8 Great Northern Divers were seen during the route, along with much larger numbers of Black Guillemots and Kittiwakes. Arriving back on Eriskay, further views of Black-throated Divers were had through the scope from the harbour, while several more Great Northern Divers were seen on route back to the Lochboisdale Hotel. All in all, we managed to eek out a decent day of the challenging weather. We just hope we can achieve as much tomorrow, with an even worse forecast!



SATURDAY 19TH MayOvercast and dry, with strengthening S wind, 12C


Day three on these magic isles was a day of two halves, with a morning which proved rather quiet for our wader targets followed by an excellent afternoon for raptors. Sandwiched in the middle were a couple of good island birds, making it an excellent day overall! A short pre-breakfast wander allowed us to enjoy nice views of the local Twite as well as a few Goldfinches and a singing Willow Warbler and Hebridean Wren. Back at the hotel we were treated by a superb fly-by White-tailed Eagle, complete with fish in talons, which flew over Ben Ruigh Choinnich and away. From here we collected in the minibus and headed for Loch Bi and the Range. Loch Bi held a flock of around 70 Bar-tailed Godwits; our first of the week, all still in grey winter plumage, while Dunlin and Snipe were also seen well. Moving on, we took a drive around the inactive military firing range, where the short grass and Machair can be attractive for Golden Plover and occasional Dotterel. Breeding Lapwings and Oystercatchers were abundant, and two partially summer plumaged Golden Plover were located. However, the area in general was rather quiet. Coming to the end overlooking a fine shingly beach, around 300 mixed Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone were watched on the seaweed as the tide dropped, along with around a dozen Ravens also taking advantage of the abundant food. The flocks here were mobile and moved on quite quickly, and so on we went, to overlook the bay by Hebridean Jewellery. Here we enjoyed our first 18 summer plumaged Grey Plovers and around 10 Knot of the trip, while a pale phase Arctic Skua flashed through the area giving a great display. From here we would be passing the lochs at the north of South Uist, where the Ring-necked Duck had been hanging around, and it seemed rude not to pay it another visit! Scanning the two lochs where the bird had previously been noted we saw no sign of it, though Common Sandpiper and Common Tern were both present. However, a check of Loch Nan Ceann came up trumps, with excellent close views of the drake Ring-necked Duck keeping company with a pair of Tufted Ducks. By now lunch was calling, so we headed on to an area of raised moorland overlooking a scenic bay. We chose this area as we knew of an active Arctic Skua territory nearby and hoped to see them. They didn’t disappoint, with a pale and dark phase pair of Arctic Skuas showing fantastically well, giving one or two fly-bys, chased off an interloping Hooded Crow and entertained us for a good 20 minutes.


After lunch we headed west to Loch Fada where, recalling that a drake Garganey had been noted there recently, we made to scan the area. The small loch held Shoveler, Gadwall and Mallard, and with them briefly a drake Garganey, though this then swam into thick cover and was lost from views. However, a bit of manoeuvring and some patience saw the bird return, do a few flying laps of the loch and then show very well for all. Being early afternoon now, and such a fine day, we wanted to try to build on what has already been a fantastic week for birds of prey. With this in mind a ride around on the Committee Road was in order. The highlights came thick and fast here, and really brought to the fore why the Hebrides are so special. A three-hour drive around remote moorland provided us with unforgettable sightings of three male Hen Harriers, some views being within 20 minutes and all being prolonged and exhilarating. Sightings of four different Short-eared Owls were also fantastic, with one pair hunting both sides of the road, coming close on occasion and leaving folk not knowing which way to look at times! However, the stand out exceptional sighting this afternoon goes to a Golden Eagle. Cruising slowly along a straight section of single track road, a large eagle heaved into view in front of the van, about 300 meters away at it’s closest over a hillside. Clearly a Golden Eagle, we stopped and watched it for at least 30 minutes, during which it put on a rather ridiculous show. A subadult (possibly last years young), the bird was pestering sheep on the hill, but with little effect. The eagle didn’t seem to really know what to do with its targets, getting butted away a few times, and at one point standing on the back of a ram rodeo-style! An utterly amazing spectacle, and one we will never forget. Eventually it soared majestically off into the distance, mobbed by Oystercatchers and Lapwings, the sheep none the worse for the encounter. Pressing on, we made our way homeward, though this was interrupted in dramatic fashion by a shout by Anna of a diver distantly on a nearby sea loch. Coming to a halt in a passing place, a scan revealed a pair of absolutely stunning Black-throated Divers. Diving frequently, they were seen to be catching fish successfully, and the profile views in close proximity to each other allowed us to see the subtle size and structural difference between the two, clearly a male and female pair. Always a thrilling species to see in summer plumage, and a fantastic way to cap off a fantastic day in the field.




This Golden Eagle was certainly the golden performer today, though the Ring-necked Duck showed pretty well too



FRIDAY 18TH MayOvercast with occasional light rain, moderate SW, 10C


Another superb days birding on the isles. Overcast skies and a threat of rain did little to dampen our spirits as we headed out first to Stinky Bay on the west coast of Benbecula. Pulling up alongside a nearby loch a scan revealed a number of breeding Moorhen, along with several Shoveler and Tufted Duck and a small number of hawking Sand Martins and Swallows. Parking then near the slipway down towards the stony beach here we enjoyed observing the 100s of waders making the most of the rich invertebrate life living in the (rather pungent) rotting seaweed. Sanderling were in their finest plumage, as were Turnstones and Dunlin, while two Great Northern Divers were also looking very dapper offshore. A number of Arctic Terns were floating around offshore and a Rock Pipit sang and showed well on the rocks here. Walking along the shore to the south we were caught in a rather heavy rain shower, but still enjoyed our first islandica Black-tailed Godwit of the trip, along with around 150 Sanderling and Dunlin scattered across the shore. These upped and flew south away from us, so we made our way back to the van and drove inland. Heading on, we would next attempt to see one of the rarest breeding species on the island; the enigmatic Red-necked Phalarope. These birds can be classically elusive, so we were prepared to have to give them multiple attempts during the week in order to see them. We needn’t have worried however, as while we stood overlooking the loch from the roadside, a pair of Red-necked Phalaropes splash-landed on the water! A bright female and a slightly more dowdy male, the two spent perhaps 5 minutes swimming close together before taking off and flying across the road. Amazing! A very smart ginger male Ruff with full summer plumage was also present here along with drumming Snipe, several Dunlin and the usual ducks. Moving along, a brief comfort stop at Balivanich was followed by good views of another summer plumaged Great Northern Diver in a nearby bay. On route to our next site, we were surprised as we crossed a causeway at the south end of North Uist by a massive dog Otter which ran alongside the van a short distance before disappearing down into the estuary. From here we moved onto the RSPB reserve at Balranald.


Our main target at this sight was undoubtedly the Corncrake. Driving the lane approaching the reserve we had the windows cranked open and were listening intently for the distinct song, which met our ears soon after arrival. Some re-adjustment of our position was required to pinpoint the bird’s location, and it transpired that it wasn’t in the thick cover of the irises that we expected, but sat in the open in short grass! It showed really well before scampering rodent-like up the hill into thick cover. We were happy with that for sure, though one member of the group unfortunately couldn’t get onto it, so we were on the hunt for more. Approaching the visitor centre the jangling song of a Corn Bunting caught our attention, and one was seen singing from a barbed wire fence distantly. Parking up at the centre more ‘crexing’ was coming from the irises there, but what followed was vastly beyond our expectation. The calling male Corncrake crossed the track in plain view and entered the neighbouring field where it continued to call. Shortly after a female bird appeared, its plumage being slightly darker. This pair then performed together for a while, again in full view of us all! A third male made itself heard and was also seen well. Quite astonishing really, so much more so that we had to walk away from them! Further good views of Corn Bunting were had here also. Moving on we headed out to the Aird an Runair peninsula, encountering a good number of Sand Martins hawking above the seaweed-covered beach along with 100s of summer plumaged small waders. Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling and Turnstone were abundant, while a summer plumaged Little Stint was a bonus here. Further towards the point a colony of over 100 Arctic Terns were as always thrilling to watch, while the rocks below held our first Purple Sandpipers of the trip; four nice vocal summer plumaged birds. Here we sat down for a short seawatch, though with strong SSW winds we weren’t hugely optimistic. Soon after sitting a pair of light and dark phase Arctic Skuas flew through, scattering all the terns and waders in a thrilling chase. A light passage of Kittiwakes and auks was also noted but little else, until right at the death when a pale Pomarine Skua passed close inshore; a real bonus! Walking back, we took a look at the waders again and noted another Black-tailed Godwit. From here it was time to make our ways homewards, though we paused as we went south to look at Loch Druidibeg and the surrounding moor. The loch held three drake Wigeon, while the plantation at the end produced singing Willow Warbler and a calling Cuckoo which sang from a small stand of pines and showed itself really well for a prolonged period of time, offering great scope views for everyone. By now it was time to wrap things up and head back for a sumptuous three course dinner at the Lochboisedale Hotel, after another great day.




Many good species gave themselves up today, including these Corncrakes and Arctic Tern