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BIRDING DIARY
Trip reports and latest news from Oriole Birding tours
Date: 2018-09-20

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Watford RSPB September Tour 2018 [JM]

 

 

Wednesday 19th September – Burnham Norton and Titchwell

Overcast with sunny spells, strong SW, 20C

 

With Storm Ali currently battering the UK west coast, there are certainly many parts of the country which are suffering far worse conditions than we are now. However, that being said, today was really quite windy for Norfolk, and made for difficult conditions for birding at times! Regardless, we had a decent day, starting with the back lanes around Burnham Market. In route we noted a couple of Red Kites, while taking a side road behind the town, we encountered our first big flock of Pink-footed Geese of the year in a stubble field. The birds were close to the road, so we stayed in the van to let them get used to our presence. After a short while, I got out and set up a scope, which the birds were ok with, so everyone else exited the van and enjoyed brilliant views of the flock, numbering over 500 birds. There appeared to be a healthy number of young birds in the flock, possibly indicating a reasonable breeding season for the species in Iceland or Svalbard. At least 100 Lapwing were present in the neighbouring fields here also. Moving onwards, we decided to have a walk along the public footpath at Burnham Norton. Parking up, a small number of Pink-footed Geese were seen flying around over the marshes, while at least 5 Kestrels were ever present. A highlight during the walk out was an impressive flock of 37 Spoonbills which flushed from Deepdale marsh along with a couple hundred Greylags. These, plus the birds at Stiffkey, mean that we had seen by far the majority of Norfolk’s Spoonbill population over the last 2 days! Both Bearded Tit and Cetti’s Warbler were heard but not seen, while a small number of Black-tailed Godwits were noted. While walking back to the van, things took an exotic turn, first with a group of Bar-headed Geese sitting closely associated with the feral Greylags, while following that a very smart looking Cape Shelduck was noted amongst the Egyptian Geese! Possibly an indication of how quiet the area was in the strong winds that these birds were so appealing!

 

From here, we tracked along the coast west to Titchwell. Once we had devoured our sandwiches in the car park we made our way onto the reserve, heading first to Patsy’s Pool. A quick check of the bushes lining the horse paddock revealed one of our first target birds; a single Turtle Dove preening and showing quite well. Always a great species, and always popular, our group enjoyed directing various passing birders towards the dove (it was well hidden in the wind, with many missing it) all of which were appreciative of the help! Patsy’s Pool held a nice variety of ducks including 2 female Red-crested Pochards and several Pochard and Tufted Ducks. A large number of Black-headed Gulls were roosting on the water, and an adult and 1st winter Mediterranean Gull were amongst the flock. A couple of Marsh Harriers were floating around nearby, making for quite an entertaining area to watch. Moving from here, we headed more or less straight out the Island Hide, as the wind was really gusting now. From the hide we immediately noted 2 juvenile Curlew Sandpipers on the mud, while a mobile flock of about 15 Dunlin were constantly on the move; the sandpipers associated with them. Ruff were present in good number, while wildfowl were highlighted by a single female-type Garganey which we were able to watch towards the back of the marsh, its strong head pattern and lack of white tail edge standing it out from the crowd. The godwit flock consisted of a mix of Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, with Knot interspersed. Moving along to the Parrinder Hide, we enjoyed close views of many of the aforementioned species, while a nice flock of Linnet came to bathe below the viewing screens. By now time had flown by, so we made our way back to the van, enjoying close views of Dunlin and Curlew Sandpiper once more before jumping into the van and heading back to Ryburgh, where we concluded a nice couple of days birding, apart from the weather!

 

 

Our first big group of Pink-footed Geese of the year, and a 1st year Mediterranean Gull on Patsy's Pool at Titchwell

 

Tuesday 18th September – Wells, Stiffkey and Cley

Overcast with sunny spells, moderate to strong SW, 20C

 

Setting out from the Blue Boar with the Watford RSPB gang, we had a full days birding planned in the Wells, Stiffkey and Cley areas of the North Norfolk coast, giving a fairly broad spectrum of habitats to work with on a rather blustery day. Heading into Wells, we had a quick stop to check the church for the regular Peregrine Falcon, but there was no sign of it on the visible faces, though these were facing into the wind, so no surprise there. From here we made for the coast road, pausing at some newly created scrapes just off the A149. These held a pair of Green Sandpiper, a Ruff, 3 Black-tailed Godwits and 2 hunting Marsh Harriers, while Blackcap was noted in the bushes. A glance back towards the town revealed the Peregrine perched on the north-facing side of the church; the side we couldn’t see from the road. A Red Kite was also noted over the town. Moving on, we headed into the wetlands east of Stiffkey village. First, after a hot drink, we took a look at the flood, noting 10 each of Ruff and Pintail, along with a number of Teal and Mallards amongst the Greylags. Then we walked over to the Fen. A flock of 10 Pink-footed Geese crossing the area were a treat here. The walk out to the fen revealed several calling Chiffchaffs, though the wind was keeping most small birds low, with only Reed Buntings being particularly evident in the area. The Fen itself was excellent, with lots of birds including an impressive 39 Spoonbills roosting, 23 Greenshank, 3 Green Sandpipers, about 150 Black-tailed Godwits, at least 20 Ruff and a single Water Rail, along with many Wigeon and Teal and several Shoveler and Pintail. Blakeney Harbour revealed a few nice birds, including 2 late Little Terns fishing in a narrow channel along with a couple of Sandwich and Common Terns. The number of Grey Plovers here was impressive, with at least 100 scattered across the mud along with several Turnstone and Ringed Plovers. Walking back to the fen, we enjoyed further views of the Spoonbills and Greenshank, and while watching a close Barn Owl surprised us all as it swept in from behind a hedge and then continued out of view, giving brief but super views. A couple of Goldcrests were calling from the conifers by the roadside as we returned to the van.

 

Heading on, we made our wat to Cley, collecting our permits before having lunch at the beach car park. Finishing our sandwiches, and having noted a few close Gannets passing offshore, we though it might be worth taking a look at the sea for a short while. Hopes weren’t high with the strong offshore winds, but we did alright considering, noting 4 Common Scoter (3 males and a female), a Arctic Skua chasing terns distantly, a close juvenile Great Skua which flew east and a juvenile Shag on the sea close in. Add to these a steady procession of Common and Sandwich Terns and over 100 Cormorants heading west, and it was actually quite entertaining! Moving on, we walked over to the North Scrape screen. Two Wheatears were present along the shingle bank, while on the scrape itself we had close views of a juvenile Spotted Redshank and about 10 each of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, along with a couple of Snipe at the back. Returning to the van, we drove round then to Walsey Hills. Parking up, we took a look at Snipe’s Marsh. The water habitat here is much better than what it was several years ago, and its consistently held onto a few nice birds this summer. Today it held 4 showy Green Sandpipers and about half a dozen Snipe, along with Tufted Duck, several Little Grebes, a number of Teal and singles of Grey Heron and Little Egret. The bushes here were quiet, but Lesser Whitethroat was noted by one in the group, and several Chiffchaffs were heard. Our final stop of the day was the hides overlooking Simmonds and Pats Pool. These scrapes hosted a nice number of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits, along with about 10 Dunlin, 5 Green Sandpipers and a single juvenile Yellow-legged Gull roosting on Pats Pool, along with a reasonable number of Wigeon, Teal and Mallards. The Marsh Harriers were entertaining to watch here, with an adult female flying through and sitting on the main island on Pats Pool, allowing prolonged scope views, while a juvenile was playing in the wind over the reedbeds on Simmond’s. However, before long it was time for us to head off, pretty pleased with what the day had produced.   

 

 

Green Sandpiper and Marsh Harrier at Cley

 


 

Norfolk Autumn Migration Weekend September 2018 [JM]

 

Sunday 16th September 2018Bright and sunny, fine all day, light SW, strengthening PM, 23C

 

Our last day of this Norfolk tour dawned another nice one, with clear skies and a light south-westerly wind. Before heading out to the coast we took a walk over to the River Wensum to scan the surrounding marsh, noting both Grey Heron and a Common Buzzard on the ground in some recently cut grass bordering the river. Presumably they were both feeding, perhaps on small frogs or toads that would have been abundant in the wet grassland; unusual behaviour, particularly for the Buzzard! The resident Stock Doves were also noted in the nearby old barn. From here we got in the van and headed out to Stiffkey. Nearing the south of the village, we came across our first grounded Pink-footed Goose flock, numbering around 150 birds, in a stubble field. It was nice to park the van and watch these wonderful geese at close quarters, and gave a nice taster for our upcoming winter tours! Moving on we parked up at Stiffkey Campsite car park, from where we would walk out to Warham Greens. Linnets were abundant throughout the walk, while bird of prey interest out on the saltmarsh included 2 Red Kites and 2 Marsh Harriers hunting the creeks. Our hope was that we might encounter some migrants in this productive stretch of coastline, and we didn’t fair too badly considering the weather, with a Whinchat being the highlight, along with 4 Blackcaps, 2 Common Whitethroats and a single Lesser Whitethroat in the pit beyond the Whirligig. A further highlight was a flock of about 400 Golden Plover which were initially in a potato field, before flying low over head and settling on the saltmarsh. We also heard Bullfinch on this walk, but were unable to spot them.

 

From The campsite, we then drove round to the layby from where we could take a look at both Stiffkey Flood and Stiffkey Fen. The former produced 4 Ruff and a single Green Sandpiper, along with a small number of Teal. Backtracking, we had lunch at the van, enjoying a single male Marsh Harrier quartering the nearby fields as we ate. Then we continued on to the Fen. Bullfinches were again heard but not seen, while as we walked out a flock of 31 Spoonbills were noted in flight over the fen, apparently disturbed from their roost. Gaining a view of the flock, 21 Spoonbills remained, this being the best site in Norfolk at the moment for this species! Several Greenshank could also be seen out on the fen, as well as a good number of Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff, a single Green Sandpiper, about 100 Redshank, about 10 Pintail and over 100 Wigeon; a really rich site for birds at the moment! A look out into Blakeney harbour revealed a number of Grey Plovers and nice views of Little Egrets, while some nice flights of Wigeon came over in great light. By now, it was already time to depart, with a run to King’s Lynn station in order, but we had one last treat before we headed off. Back at the van, a Hobby hove into view over the fields, picked up pace and bombed over towards the fen, where is shot back and forth in pursuit of an unseen prey. What a fantastic raptor, and a  nice end to the weekend.  

 

 

Saturday 15th September 2018Frampton RSPB and Wells

Overcast with sunny spells, fine all day, light SW, 17C

 

Our second full day in the field was another one of fine weather, but another with unfavourable south-westerly winds! With little prospect of any significant migrant arrivals on the coast, and certainly no conditions for seawatching, our days itinerary was fairly open. With that, and the knowledge that a few good birds had been present of late, we decided to make the journey across to one of our favourite reserves; Frampton RSPB. Setting off, we arrived at around 10am, just before the tide was at its highest. This meant that the scrapes were rich with waders escaping the high tide. Over 1000 Black-tailed Godwits, 100s of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers and dozens of Ruff were present on the islands, along with at least 4 Curlew Sandpipers amongst them. Walking along the main path a flock of about 20 Pochard came overhead, while wildfowl were represented by many Wigeon, Teal and Shovelers. Making our way towards the sea wall, we were hopeful that we would be able to find our main target here; the long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher. However, as we approached its favoured area, those present already reported that it hadn’t been seen in a few hours. Common Snipe gave good views in some of the wet channels along with several Teal and a Black-tailed Godwit, but little else so we made our way up onto the sea wall for a different angle. From up here we enjoyed the sight of a tight group of 24 Spotted Redshank all roosting on one of the pools, including 2 dusky juveniles. Checking every possible corner of the dowitchers favoured channel, we eventually managed to pick it up as it began feeding along the sedge-covered fringes of the dyke. Rapidly entering winter plumage, the birds overall grey colouration combined with bold white supercilium, yellow legs and sewing machine-like feeding action made for a fairly distinctive jizz, though we were rather too distant to pick up further details. Suddenly about 20 Snipe flew through, flushing the dowitcher with them. However, we were able to follow the dowitcher in flight owing to the cigar-shaped slither of white trailing down the back, seeing it land on the edge of the main channel. With that we headed down and got good views of it for a short while before it disappeared into dense cover again. A great bird! Leaving it behind, we headed round towards the 360 hide, where a flock of at least 20 Yellow Wagtails greeted us amongst some cattle. On the scrapes behind us the large numbers of waders were still pleasing to watch, especially as they became more agitated, their innate sense that the tide was dropping urging them to slowly peel off and head for the wash. A single Common Sandpiper, 3 Greenshank and a good flock of about 12 Pintail were of note here. Walking back to the visitor centre, a surprise came in the form of a single adult Whooper Swan; surely too early for a winter arrival? A quick enquiry in the visitor centre revealed that it had been there for at least 2 years. From here, after a hot drink, we took a short drive around the corner to the nearby reservoir, where a fine variety of wildfowl and Little Grebes also played host to a single Black-necked Grebe. Apparently, an adult entering winter plumage, the shadow of its ear covert plumes could just be seen. A single Green Sandpiper and several Ruff also added to the interest here.

 

 

Long-billed Dowitcher and part of the Spotted Redshank Flock; all part of the Frampton wader fest!

 

From here, we made the journey back to Norfolk. With a couple of hours remaining for birding, we decided that, as the week had so far been rather light on passerine interest, we should give the areas around Wells woods a try, though this was always going to be either boom or bust, bird-wise, with the wind in such an uninspiring direction! However, we gave it a go, and it started with some promise. A tit flock greeted us as we entered the woods, hosting at least 6 Chiffchaffs along with the commoner species, while a couple of Siskins were heard calling overhead. This flock moved through rather quickly however and we weren’t able to follow it further. Walking the woods further for the next hour failed to yield another flock and, bar a few Coal Tits and a Treecreeper, unfortunately was very quiet on the bird front in general! However, a pleasant ending to the afternoon met us as we began to walk back to the van, with a couple of small skeins of Pink-footed Geese dropping into the marshes towards Holkham, ‘winking’ as they went.    

 

Friday 14th September 2018 - Snettisham and Titchwell

Overcast with sunny spells, showers late afternoon, 17C

 

Our first full day in the field on this trip demanded an early start. With a high tide of 7.5 meters at 09:50 at Snettisham, the morning promised a fantastic wader spectacle, and it’s always good to arrive here a couple of hours before the top of the tide. With that, we left the Blue Boar with packed bacon sarnies at 7am, arriving at Snettisham at about 07:40. After a hot drink we set off for the main sea wall, noting Reed Buntings and Chiffchaffs in the scrub. Common Terns were still carrying food over the pits, and the first swirling flock of Knot was seen far over the Wash. Reaching the estuary side, we began scanning through the closer waders on the shore, noting Sanderling, Dunlin and Ringed Plovers in small numbers. Further out on the mudflats vast numbers of Oystercatchers were already packed together ahead of the tide. A small commotion from the nearer waders alerted us to a flyby juvenile Peregrine which headed north up the coast, while a quick look at the pits behind us revealed 3 Greenshank roosting along with several Little Egrets. The seaward side also hosted a single juvenile Spoonbill feeding in one of the muddy creeks. Moving further along, we were able to keep ahead of the incoming tide, reaching the upper reaches of the estuary to watch as the big flocks of Knot, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers all jostled for position as the water quickly encroached. The flights of knot were at times spectacular, even though their number was lower than what it will be during the winter. A single Pink-footed Goose, our first of the autumn, looked lost amongst the flocks of waders. All the time we watched, groups of waders were peeling off from the throngs, many heading inland to roost or feed on fields, though many had packed in onto the islands in the pit behind us. This was arguably the most spectacular area today, with every inch of space on the small islands taken up by packed flocks of Knot (including some superb summer plumaged birds), Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Oystercatchers. The activity was mesmerising, and the opportunities to learn about the identification and ageing of the species present were excellent. A group of 8 Spotted Redshank were roosting further over near the far bank of the pool, and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper put in a brief appearance amongst the jostling Dunlin in front of the Shore Hide before disappearing amongst the throngs. At times the big flocks of Knot would get up and fly around the pit, their murmuration-type formations utterly spellbinding to watch, and the sound of their mass of wings just superb. Leaving the hide (reluctantly!) a number of birds began to return to the estuary, flying low over our heads and stopping us dead in our tracks just to stare! The walk back was punctuated by a flock of Pintail headed inland, while the hawthorn patches held a surprisingly showy Cetti’s Warbler and both Common and Lesser Whitethroat. All in all, a superbly productive morning!

 

 

Packed flocks of Knot and Godwits at Snettisham, and a Curlew Sandpiper at Titchwell

 

From here we made our way to Titchwell, where we would spend the rest of the afternoon. After lunch and hot drinks in the car park, we headed onto the reserve, noting Pochard on the Reedbed Pool. Reaching the Freshmarsh, one of the first birds noted was a very smart juvenile Curlew Sandpiper keeping company with 2 Dunlin. Its very neatly scalloped upperparts and peachy wash to the breast made for a particularly smart-looking bird. The marsh also held numerous Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits, while Marsh Harriers were noted circling on many occasions. On the volunteer marsh, several Grey Plovers still possessed their summer plumage and looking pretty dapper. Walking out to the shore, we stopped to have a scan of the sea. Small numbers of Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore, while Bar-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and Sanderling littered the exposed oysterbeds. A scan of the sea picked up a single Common Scoter and, pleasingly, a juvenile Red-necked Grebe, its contrasting dark crown and white cheek, along with its rufous neck and breast making its rather stand out. Another highlight here was a single juvenile Arctic Skua which dashed past close inshore, while a single immature Gannet passed distantly. Towards the horizon several skeins of Pink-footed Geese could be seen approaching the coast to our east, numbering about 180 birds all in all; a fantastic thing to see to herald the coming autumn. Further up the beach a couple of groups came in close enough for us to see and hear them; a real feeling of autumn. A walk out to Thornham point provided us with a single Wheatear and Willow Warbler, though the highlight here was arguably a sulphur yellow Budgie in the dunes! Back to the main reserve, we enjoyed further views of the Curlew Sandpiper, while a low-flying ‘v’ of calling Pink-footed Geese coming down onto the saltmarsh was appreciated by all. A male and female Bearded Tit showed well briefly in the reedbed, while a single vocal Spotted Redshank flew over towards Thornham. Reaching the Meadow Trail, we made for one last part of the reserve before calling it a day, heading to Patsy’s Pool. Looking along the track which neighbours the horse paddocks here, we soon picked up a single Turtle Dove which offered good scope views and was appreciated by all. Finally, Patsy’s itself held a nice array of diving ducks including 2 Red-crested Pochard and several Common Pochard, along with the more usual fare. From here we returned back to the van, tired but happy after a top day of Norfolk birding.

 

 

 

Thursday 13th September 2018 - Cley Marshes

Bright and sunny, light SW wind, 18C

 

At this time of year, we all know that the weather can be unpredictable, with the summer coming to an end rapidly. With this in mind, we felt that we should make the most of what was today a pretty superb day of pleasant weather, and get out and do some birding! And so we met our group at the Blue Boar (following pickups from King’s Lynn train station) and headed out to the NWT Cley Marshes. After collecting our permits, we headed round to the Babcock Hide to check some of the open water in that area. Walking along the Iron Road, we were escorted most of the way along the track by a Common Whitethroat and Reed Bunting, while the first of several Marsh Harriers was quartering the nearby marshes. The pool and flood here was rather quiet, with small numbers of Teal the sole representative of wild wildfowl (the rest being made up of the usual Greylags, Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese!). from here we walked over to the Babcock Hide overlooking Watling Water. A small number of Black-tailed Godwits were noted in flight over the area here, but this scrape was also devoid of any waders or much wildfowl. The area had presumably been disturbed shortly before we arrived. Walking back to the van, a small flock of House Sparrows contained a surprise juvenile Tree Sparrow in the brambles here; a very scarce breeding species on the coast. Getting into the van, we headed towards the visitor centre, stopping first for a quick look at Snipes Marsh. This body of water held 2 Green Sandpipers and a number of Common Snipe, along with a single Tufted Duck, several Little Grebes and a few Teal. A corvid was noted mobbing a small bird of prey over the back trees, which transpired to be an adult Hobby. This agile falcon was noted taking one of the many treetop dragonflies and devouring it in flight, before drifting out of view. From here we parked the van up near the visitor centre and walked out to the main hide overlooking Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape. The pools held a few hundred Black-tailed Godwits, several Avocets and a good number of Ruff, the latter being represented by a mixture of ages and sexes, giving a good comparison in excellent evening light. Eight Dunlin were also present feeding in the shallow water at the far end of Simmond’s Scrape. Wildfowl here were represented by small numbers of Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal. As the evening progressed, the number of gulls coming from inland to roost here increased, numbering around 400 Black-headed Gulls, these hosting 8 Mediterranean Gulls of all ages. Later still a 2nd calendar year Yellow-legged Gull dropped in onto Pat’s Pool; one of very few large gulls present tonight. By now it was time to head back, with many of the group having travelled a fair distance to get here today, so we made our way back to Great Ryburgh.

 

 

Juvenile Tree Sparrow on the Iron Road and a Stock Dove on Pat's Pool

 


 

BATUMI GEORGIA FAM TRIP - SEPTEMBER 2018 [JM]

 

Saturday 8th September - Sakhalvasho raptor watchpoint

Cooler with brief rainstorm, patchy cloud, 28C

 

Our last day with the Batumi group here in Georgia saw us attend an organised ringing session at the base of the Sakhalvasho watchpoint at dawn. Arriving at the site, we noted Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail calling overhead. The ringing session itself was very quiet. In fact, in two hours, we only caught three birds! However, it was very much quality over quantity! The first two birds which came out for ringing were a Spotted Flycaycher and a nice juvenile Thrush Nightingale, its identity clear from its blotchily streaked breast, and also in the hand by its very short 1st primary. The third bird was a real treat. Coming back from the nets, the bird was handed over to the ringer as ‘just something small, you’ll see what it is’. The ringer brought it out of the bag carefully, revealing a bright yellow supercilium and underparts and a bold white wing bar; a GREEN WARBLER! A real Georgian specialty, and one we had really hoped to see. It was a really vivid juvenile bird, and an absolute star to see. I was even fortunate enough to take it for release, getting to see it uniquely close-up before seeing it fly out back into the hillside cover.

 

From here, we knew that rain was forecast for some time after lunch, so we felt that we wanted to get to the raptor watchpoint as soon as possible to see what affect the weather might have on the migration. The thing with the Batumi raptor passage is that it can be very unpredictable. However, often a weather front crossing the bottleneck can have the effect of bringing large numbers of birds down to low altitude. And so, it proved! Although today wasn’t as strong a passage as yesterday, the movement was arguably more spectacular, as birds really appeared to come out of nowhere from the passing storm, and really close. On arrival we could see the black storm clouds building offshore, with some rumbles of thunder in the distance. The raptor passage was good at this point, but steady. The dark clouds scudded ever closer, and crossed over the land and through the watchpoint, followed by a spell of very heavy rain. However, this was when things really kicked off. Honey Buzzards started appearing low over the watchpoint in really large numbers, with several good pulses of Black Kites interspersed. The sudden appearance of large numbers of very low flying raptors was spectacular, and great for photographic opportunities. Both Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers were passing at a steady pace, and Levant’s Sparrowhawks were numerous today, with over 50 noted, along with small numbers of Eurasian Sparrowhawk. Our first eagle of the morning was almost certainly a Lesser Spotted Eagle, but views weren’t quite good enough to nail it. However as the afternoon progressed another pair of Lesser Spotted Eagles passed through to the east, offering good views. Additionally, we had nice views of 3 south-bound Short-toed Eagles in the afternoon. Booted Eagles in a good performance today also, with over 30 seen, while several Hobbies were checked carefully for a hoped-for Red-footed Falcon, though that wasn’t to be. A brief distraction from the watch was a rather shrill woodpecker call coming from the hillside below us. A quick investigation revealed a Middle-spotted Woodpecker in the trees below the station! A nice surprise here. However again, the sheer volume and intensity of the raptor migration simply wowed us. A total of 18,000 Honey Buzzards were noted today, and we were there during the most intensive passage, which was a real privilege.

 

 

 

One of many super close Honey Buzzards, and a Lesser Spotted Eagle

 

Finishing up, we made our way to the hotel where we attended some official speeches and presentations from the tourist board of Georgia, a fantastic meal and traditional Georgian music and dance by the beach, and a nice opportunity to thank everyone for what had been a very successful and enjoyable familiarisation trip to Batumi. The team have done a superb job, and we hope that we may return in the near future!   

 

 

Friday 7th September - Kolkheti Wetland and Sakhalvasho raptor watchpoint

Cooler with storms to north and south, dry, 28C

 

Fridays had a weather forecast which suggested a very wet day, with thunderstorms at least in the afternoon, which to start with suggested that we would need to consider todays itinerary carefully! However, we needn’t have worried, as although the bad weather did occur, it did so closer to the mountains to the south and north, so we stayed dry, but benefitted from the changing weather, with todays raptor migration being the strongest of the year so far. In fact, birds were streaming through the area almost continuously, even at the coast! Our morning destination was the Kolkheti Wetland to the north of Batumi, a large basin of marsh and estuary between more mountainous zones to the north and south. On getting out of the van, our scopes were quickly deployed to get onto a medium sized plover on the sand. With a bold and long buff supercilium, dark complete breast band and very leggy structure, it was clearly a Caspian Plover! A superb juvenile, with neat, fine scalloping to the crown and mantle, this may prove to be a first for Georgia, or at least the first in 15 years; we are still waiting to find out! A great way to start the day. Whilst watching the plover, it was clear that a large migration of raptors was occurring overhead, with Honey Buzzards and Black Kites forming large kettles to the north of us, and streaming along the coast over our heads. In total we noted several 1000 birds moving through the morning, along with 2 White Tailed Eagles (probably a resident pair on the marsh), Steppe Buzzards, Montagu’s Harrier, several Eurasian Sparrowhawks and a Hobby amongst the movement. Around the fringes of the lagoon we noted around 10 Little Gulls and 2 very smart juvenile Broad-billed Sandpipers in the company of 2 Dunlin, 2 Little Stints and several Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, while a 60-strong winter plumaged flock of Little Terns contained smaller numbers of Common Terns and 2 White-winged Black Terns (an adult and a juvenile). A small flock of Yellow-legged Gulls contained amongst them a 3rd calendar year Lesser Black-backed Gull of the subspecies Heulguini, a pale mantled subspecies with an eastern distribution. Walking back to the van a small flock of Short-toed Larks flew past; a frequent site so far on this trip. From here we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, the location being surrounded by trees and on the edge of the Kolkheti National Park. A couple of Willow Warblers, a Garden Warbler and several Long-tailed Tits were noted in a quick scan.

 

 

From here we were keen to head to the Sakhalvasho watchpoint, seeing that the raptor migration was clearly a big one today! Throughout the drive we could see Honey Buzzards and Black Kites streaming through, often through the sun roof of the vehicle! Really amazing. Making it up to the watch, the low cloud meant that many of the passing birds of prey were forced lower into the valley, giving some really excellent views. The sheer number of birds on show was a real spectacle, with an astonishing 60,000 Honey Buzzards counted by the official Batumi Raptor Count team (they all deserve a pint after that!), along with good numbers of Black Kites, Steppe Buzzards and Marsh Harriers, while we also noted at least 40 Booted Eagles, 4 Short-toed Eagles, at least 1 Lesser Spotted Eagle and one unidentified eagle sp; an eagle fest! In addition to these highlights, several Levant’s Sparrowhawks gave some nice close flybys, as did a juvenile Pallid Harrier and a couple of Montagu’s Harriers. Such a unique and memorable experience, and one to look forward to again!

 

 

Caspian Plover and Broad-billed Sandpiper were both very confiding at Kolkheti Wetland

 

 

Thursday 6th September - Chorokhi Delta and Shuamta raptor watchpoint

Sunny all day, very little cloud, still hot and humid, 30C

 

Day three saw our fantastic familiarisation trip organisers set us up with an early morning visit to the Chorokhi Delta, were we would hopefully encounter any early morning passerine arrivals, as well as the birdlife of the main delta. With a packed breakfast arranged ahead of us, we made our way towards the shingle beach area. Small numbers of Black Kites and Marsh Harriers were ever present inland over the marshes, while good views of both Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers were had. Reed and Great Reed Warblers were calling constantly from the marginal vegetation, and small parties of Yellow Wagtails moved through frequently. Two small crakes; either Little or Baillon’s Crakes flew up briefly, but unfortunately didn’t show for identification, while Red-backed Shrikes were noted in the tops of the nearby bushes. The first large pool contained a nice pair of Ferruginous Ducks along with a number of Garganey, Shoveler, Pochards and Little Grebes. Offshore, a flock of Little Terns were feeding in a tight group. Whilst watching these, Yelkouan Shearwaters were noticed distantly towards the horizon, though they were only just visible in the scope, so not the best views! Overlooking the final pools, small numbers of waders included our first Marsh Sandpipers of the trip, along with several Dunlin, Turnstone and a single Oystercatcher. A Slender-billed Gull was also noted briefly amongst the Black-headed Gulls, while a large flock of Yellow-legged Gulls included several Caspian Gulls. Walking through the thin line of scrub between the beach and the marshes was also productive, producing some nice species migrating through the area. A few Whinchat and Northern Wheatear were noted, shortly followed by a nice Booted Warbler which showed well in the low bushes close to the ground. The larger bushes held some nice species also, with Icterine Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and Savi’s Warbler all noted within a frantic few minutes! Making our way back to the main track, we had a final quick scan of the marshes, and picked up a species we hoped we would see, but which Johannes had feared might be lost from the site; a Western Swamphen feeding close to the reed edge. A rare bird in Georgia, this is the only known site, with the closest breeding birds being in Turkey. A superb site with loads of potential.

 

Leaving here, the group visited a local restaurant for lunch and then spent the afternoon either visiting local guesthouses or raptor watching from Shuamta. The raptor migration was slower today, though still fantastic to see. Over the course of the afternoon only 2000 Honey Buzzards passed (by no means to bad for us from the UK!), along with small numbers of Black Kites, a couple of Booted Eagles, Montagu’s Harrier and several Steppe Buzzards. Bee-eaters  soaring overhead in large flocks will never get boring!

 

 

This Booted Warbler showed well in the morning, as did this Marsh Harrier.

 

 

Wednesday 5th September - Shuamta raptor watchpoint

Sunny all day, very little cloud, hot and humid, 31C

 

Today saw us spend the entire day up at the Shuamta watchpoint, where we were keen to see the commencement of the raptor migration, and also hoped that, with a positive weather forecast, we would see a good movement of birds. However, there was still time for a pre-breakfast walk around the hotel grounds and neighbouring scrubland. The walk out of the hotel was greeted with a surprise in the form of a male Nightjar which flushed from ornamental trees, collided with a window (though was unharmed) and flew off to another area of the complex. Very unexpected! Out towards the beach, a single immature Gull-billed Tern flew south, followed by 3 Sandwich Terns and then another 4 Gull-billed Terns. Arriving at the more scrubby area at the end of the beach, it was clear that many of the migrants from the day before had departed, though a group of 10 Short-toed Larks and at least 5 Yellow Wagtails remained. However, a very showy Wryneck was new for the area, often perching prominently and allowing close approach whilst feeding, which it did briefly amongst the Short-toed Lark flock! A vocal Kingfisher was seen well along the river, whilst the walk back for breakfast was enlivened by at couple of small groups of Bottlenose Dolphins surfacing close to the shore. This subspecies, Tursiops trunctus ponticus is endemic to the Black Sea, and is classified as globally endangered, so was a treat to see. Arriving back at the hotel, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and then packed the van, to make our way to the raptor watchpoint.

 

 Pulling up to the watchpoint, some of us opted to walk to the top, whilst others took the option of 4x4 vehicle to the top. In this first few minutes of arriving, a single large eagle passed through, which was een both by the walking group and those at the top. The bird split opinion amongst most of the observers, but study of the images seemed to suggest that the bird was a dark adult Steppe Eagle! Our first of the trip, though a less controversial one would be appreciated! The benefit of an early morning arrival at the watchpoint was that, though numbers of birds were initially low, many of them were watched at low altitude and in good light, including Black Kites, Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards, Levant’s Sparrowhawks and Booted Eagles. As the day warmed up, the migration really kicked up a gear, with large numbers of Black Kites and Honey Buzzards on constant view and often forming spectacular circling flocks over the surrounding hillsides. Within the movement, both Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers were noted, with some nice views on offer, while a single Short-toed Eagle was one of the highlights. Lunch was provided for us at the watchpoint café, which allowed us to take a short break from the raptor watching, though we could still enjoy watching 100s of Honey Buzzards passing through and 100s of swirling Bee-eaters from our dining table! An additional bonus for some during lunch was an overhead Osprey. We were soon back at it afterwards, soaking in the fantastic spectacle. Whilst watching, a distinct, piercing, high-pitched call with a slight down-slur caught our ear, which on investigation proved to be that of the Mountain Chiffchaff; a speciality of Georgia and the neighbouring countries. The call was very distinctive, and brief views revealed a distinctly uniform brown chiffchaff, though we didn’t expect the species to be at such low altitudes at this time of year, so a bit of a surprise. By around 4pm, the raptor migration had eased significantly, so we packed up, having enjoyed an other fantastic day at the watchpoint.

 

  

An adult male Honey Buzzard and a juvenile Levant's Sparrowhawk giving close fly-bys.

 

 

Tuesday 4th September - Chorokhi Delta and Shuamta raptor watchpoint

Sunny most of the day, with some cloud, humid, 30C

 

Day two in Batumi was an absolute blast, with a fantastic array of species seen, and real evidence of heavy migration both of land and soaring birds. The day started with a walk close to the hotel complex before breakfast. A Marsh Warbler was skulking in the well-manicured gardens of the hotel courtyard, but otherwise the trees and bushes here were quiet. However herons were already migrating at this early hour, with 32 Purple Herons and 3 Grey herons flying south. We walked then to the shore and made our way south towards an area of scrubby land bordering the beach. Yellow Wagtails were noted in the short weedy areas, with most birds appearing to be of the Blue-headed Wagtail subspecies, totalling about 20 in all. A juvenile Levant’s Sparrowhawk flew over the beach and out to sea, agitating the aforementioned Yellow Wagtail flock, while a Black Kite was also noted. A group of 4 Wheatears on the shingle included a single Isabelline Wheatear, its broad black tail band noted well in flight along with its uniform wing and overall sandy colouration. Reaching the end of the beach, where it met a small river entering the sea, things began to get rather lively. A flock of about 25 Short-toed Larks were feeding quietly in the area and occasionally flying up giving their distinctive chirruping ‘drit’ call. A single isolated clump of bramble held an entertaining selection of migrant birds, with around 5 Whinchat, an impressive 9 Red-backed Shrikes (all juveniles except for one adult male), 2 Barred Warblers and a pale juvenile Rose-coloured Starling all sharing the same berry-laden bush! Absolutely superb. Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and a brief calling Quail were also noted here, making for a very entertaining set of birds before our first coffee of the day!

 

After breakfast we made our way to the Chorokhi Delta area to the south of the city. On arriving we stopped briefly to purchase some water, noting a single high-flying Peregrine overhead. Entering the delta, it was clear that part of it was being used as an active military base, with signs warning of mines lining the track! However, we had permission to enter with our local guide Johanne Jansen, and so on we pressed. This large area of wet scrubby grassland was a paradise for birds, and we saw some really good stuff here. One of the first birds noted was a Lesser Grey Shrike standing sentinel on some low scrub close to where we parked the van, one of two or three in the area. This was one of those places where you end up scanning around for 30 minutes and realise you haven’t moved an all, as there are so many birds on show! A superb 2nd calendar year Pallid Harrier hunted behind us, while a low flying dark eagle perched up in some trees proved to be our first Lesser Spotted Eagle of the trip, remaining in these trees for the morning. Black Kites, Montagu’s Harriers, Booted Eagle and Levant’s Sparrowhawk were also noted, while the next raptor highlight came in the form of a close low-flying Short-toed Eagle. Scanning the bushes here revealed a single Eurasian Sparrowhawk, a Cuckoo, Barred Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Whinchat, as well as a Great Reed Warbler sunning itself in the company of one of the shrikes. At least 6 Rollers were ever present in the far treeline, occasionally making short flights between trees on both sides of the track. A good flock of Yellow Wagtails were mobile across the area, and for a short while came to feed near trackside puddles, revealing one of the highlights of the area; an extremely smart female Citrine Wagtail; its broad sulphur yellow supercilium and ear covert surround really striking against its grey mantle, while the broad white wing-bars were very evident. A closer exploration of the wagtail flock once they settled later revealed at least 5 Citrine Wagtails of varying plumages and ages, while the same wet marshy area also held 2 Wood Sandpipers, a single Ruff, several Lapwings, a Glossy Ibis and a couple of Little Egrets for good measure. A fantastic array of birds. Reaching the beach, a scan of the sea revealed a fishing Osprey and single Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, while the beach hosted a single Northern and Isabelline Wheatear. A really brilliant mornings birding. From here we made our way back inland, to where we would spend the rest of the day in the mountains at the Shuamta raptor watchpoint.

 

 

A tiny fraction of the 1000's of Honey Buzzards and Black Kites seen today, and one of the Bee-eaters.

 

Arriving at the base of the walk up to the watchpoint, just one look up showed that the Honey Buzzard migration was looking like it would be a special one today, with 100s of birds streaming south in a long line, filling the sky between the trees we were stood under. The walk up to the watchpoint revealed a single Rock Bunting for some of the group, and as we got to the top, we set up scopes and made ourselves comfortable for watching the show. The counts from today were impressive, but just the sight of an endless stream of soaring birds stretching across as far as the eye could see was just breath-taking. Honey Buzzards were the most numerous species by far today, with birds passing for the entirety of the 4 hours were at the watchpoint, and an official count of over 21,000 birds through the day. Black Kites were interspersed throughout the flocks, with well over 1000 noted by ourselves. Variety was provided by a single Lesser Spotted Eagle, several Booted Eagles, good numbers of Steppe Buzzards (exceptional for the time of year, with an official count of 273 by the raptor watch team), both Pallid and Montagu’s Harrier and both Eurasian and Levant’s Sparrowhawks. None raptor species were represented by 3 Black Storks soaring majestically amongst the Honey Buzzards flocks, and a constant procession of bubbling Bee-eaters cruising low overhead, totalling several 100 during our watch. Just magical! At around 17:30 we made to pack up and walk back down the hill to the minibus, having enjoyed what must be one of nature’s greatest spectacles, and already looking forward to our next session!

 

Monday 3rd September - Batumi and Sakhalvasho raptor watchpoint

Overcast with sunny spells, humid, 30C

 

Having been contacted earlier in the year by the team at the Department of Tourism in Batumi, we are privileged to have been invited to attend the annual Batumi Migration Festival in Georgia. An up-and-coming birding location, it is already famous as being one of the most intense raptor migration sites in the world, with more than one million birds passing each autumn. In addition, the country hosts a mouth-watering array of both resident and migrant species. This week will hopefully give us a taste of what the country has to offer!

 

Being in Spain at the time, I flew out from Barcelona airport with Turkish Airlines, stopping over briefly in Istanbul airport, before catching an early morning flight to Batumi, arriving at about 10:00. Collecting the luggage, myself and other festival attendees met with our driver for the day who took us to the Oasis Hotel in Chakvi, noting Laughing Dove and Hooded Crows on route. Settling into our luxurious hotel, there was a little time for birding before lunch, and the surrounds of the hotel held several migrant Spotted Flycatchers and a single Reed Warbler, all migrants following a spell of morning rain. Meeting the rest of our group (who had arrived a day earlier, and so had a mornings birding to enjoy such delights as Kruper’s Nuthatch, Middle-spotted Woodpecker and a flock of around 20 Golden Orioles in the nearby Botanical Gardens), we then headed out to a local guesthouse where we were invited to have lunch, enjoying an impressive spread of authentic Georgian cuisine and delicious home-made wine. From here we noted our first European Bee-eater flock; a species which would prove to be migrating in impressive numbers throughout the afternoon, totalling a conservative 600 moving south over the hills, coming low at times. From here we headed up the hill to the main Sakhalvasho raptor watchpoint, where the fun really began. On our way up, we noted our first Levant’s Sparrowhawk, a juvenile cruising along the hillside. Arriving at the top of the hill we were instantly greeted by a large kettle of raptors over the far hills, comprising of around 100 Honey Buzzards and smaller numbers of Black Kites all heading south at a steady pace. These would comprise the bulk of what was a more-or-less constant passage for the next 3 hours (though things quietened down later on). Our estimate for the period we watched was of around 2000 Honey Buzzards and around 400 Black Kites, most of which followed the main ridgeline to the east of us. This was only a small part of a day’s count total of around 12,000 Honey Buzzards! Further to these numbers, the southerly passage also featured a coupe of Booted Eagles, two male Pallid Harriers, at least 8 Montagu’s Harriers, 3 Marsh Harriers, about 17 Levant’s Sparrowhawks, 3 Hobby and a Common Kestrel. Quite a raptor fest! Further features of the soaring migration were a couple of Black Storks up with the Honey Buzzards early on and 4 White Storks later. All the interest wasn’t just up in the air however, as a very confiding (and probably tired) Short-toed Lark kept us company for most of our watch, at times walking up to and amongst our tripod legs! Additionally, a Black Woodpecker called from the hillside below us and gave a brief flight view across the valley. A superb selection of birds! At around 6 however it was time for us to make our way back down the hill and back to the hotel. Following a varied buffet-style dinner and an enjoyable selection of talks welcoming us to the Migration Festival and explaining the overall background and purpose of the Batumi Raptor Count, we retired to bed, looking forward to what the following day would bring.

 

 

Short-toed Lark and one of todays many Black Kites

 

 


 

NORFOLK SHOREBIRD SPECTACULAR – August 2018

 

Saturday 11th AugustBright and sunny most of day, very lights winds, 21C

Our last day in the field on this Norfolk Shorebirds tour saw us mixing things up a bit. Leaving Great Ryburgh we first headed up the road to take a look at one of our local Little Owl sites. Approaching the birds favoured tree, we quickly noted it sat up in the sun, staring us down intently. Watching from the van, we enjoyed prolonged views of the adult bird, which crept deeper towards the ivy-covered trunk, keeping its eyes fixed on us as we departed. From here we made our way across country, noting Yellowhammer and a good covey of about 8 Grey Partridge in the road, as we headed towards Swaffham for a quick visit to the lower Brecks to try to find one of our more terrestrial species of wader; the Stone Curlew. Pulling up to a likely site, we were quickly onto a group of birds, numbering 13. Lining the field edge, the birds were resting as they typically do, with most of their activity occurring during the hours of dusk and dawn. The field across the road held a further 30 or so Stone Curlews, making for overall impressive numbers and a treat to see.

 

Moving on, our main site to visit today was Frampton RSPB. We love visiting this fairly newly created reserve whenever we can, as it always holds a fantastic variety of species. A flock of around 50 Linnets greeted us as we arrived at the reserve entrance. After collecting our permits, we took a look at the first pools, which held at least 1500 Black-tailed Godwits and numerous Ruff (all in various plumage states), as well as the more expected wildfowl; an impressive sight! On the grazing meadows, the herds of cattle had attracted good numbers of Yellow Wagtails, with around a dozen noted and showing well at times. A quick scan of one of the main drains running across this area revealed a distant Wood Sandpiper feeding in the company of a few Snipe, though unfortunately the views weren’t particularly satisfactory given quite a bit of heat haze. A couple of partly summer-plumaged Golden Plovers also put in an appearance here. Up to the sea wall, a single Dark-bellied Brent Goose had obviously decided to spend the summer in the area, and was sporting a rather unfamiliar worn and faded plumage. From this higher vantage point we took our lunch, noting a single brief Greenshank and several Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwits and Snipe, along with Little Grebes and a single Wigeon, along with the usual Teal, Mallards and Gadwall. A pair of Common Terns were still tending a pair of medium sized chicks on one of the islands, while a quick scan of the next pool revealed a single Curlew Sandpiper, still retaining some rich summer plumage along its flank, and giving nice views from the East Hide. From here we were also able to enjoy good views of Little Ringed Plovers and Dunlin feeding in the shallow waters. Moving on, we visited the Reedbed Hide, which placed us in an excellent position to enjoy the tightly packed flock of over 1000 Black-tailed Godwits, along with the numerous Ruff and wildfowl, while the neighbouring 360 hide provided views of a single Green Sandpiper off to the left. Finishing up, we had a hot drink back at the car park and headed off, stopping at King’s Lynn train station to drop off Adam before returning to Great Ryburgh, where the tour concluded.      

 

 

Little Owl, and one of the grotties Brents we've ever seen! They will look similar in their breeding grounds now.

 

Friday 10th AugustDry first thing, heavy showers later, clearing by 4pm, light west winds, 17C

 

Day two saw us heading west, starting the day with a walk out to Burnham Norton. A walk along the edge of the gardens here revealed showy families of both Common and Lesser Whitethroats along the fence wires, obligingly sitting up for scope views. Out on the marshes we noted at least 3 different Marsh Harriers, while a Kestrel hunted along the sea wall. Reed Warblers were in evidence along the drains here, as well as at the main scrape at the end of the track. The small stands of reeds here held a couple of very vocal, but not particularly obliging Bearded Tits, which never sat still for more than 2 seconds! However, the brief views were enjoyed all the same. On the scrape, we noted around 20 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Dunlin, 20 Snipe and good number of Teal, while a Grey Plover and Greenshank on the saltmarsh were a bonus. Walking back to the van a Hobby shot into view, pursuing and nearly catching a Swift in mid-air; spectacular! Following a quick hot drink, we then made our way west to Titchwell. Arriving at the reserve we noted several Reed Warblers calling deep in the willow scrub, fledged youngsters in tow. Out on the marshes we chose to make our way out to the beach first, as the sky was looking ominously stormy. However, we did pause on several occasions, noting two Spoonbills at the far end, at least 50 Ruff, at least 3 Little-ringed Plovers, 15 Dunlin and smaller than recent numbers of Black-tailed Godwits. Out on the beach we enjoyed our sandwiches whilst watching some fantastic flocks of Sanderling and Dunlin feeding on the high-water strand lines, with numerous Ringed Plovers and Turnstones interspersed. In addition, the exposed mussel beds held many Black-tailed Godwits along with smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits and a single lost-looking Spoonbill. The sea hosted a single male Common Scoter. By the time we decided that the leaden sky looked threatening enough for us to make our way back, it was already too late, and the rain came down pretty heavy before we made it to the Parrinder hide! However, we missed the worst of it, and enjoyed watching the waders, wildfowl and gulls coping with the torrential downpour, many birds pointing their beaks to the sky, as if to offer minimal resistance to the heavy rainfall. Five Golden Plovers dropped in out of nowhere, while the broader variety of species was enjoyable to watch. Once the rain stopped we headed back to the visitor centre, noting another Hobby over the scrape, while Chiffchaff and Blackcap were noted in the car park.

 

From here, we intended to visited Snettisham for high tide at 18:30. Though the forecast of heavy rain for the rest of the afternoon was rather ominous, we chose to follow our noses as the sky looked as if the worst had passed. On our way we stopped for a quick check of the sea at Holme dunes. Several Meadow Pipits were noted on route, while Gannets and Sandwich Terns were noted offshore, though the highlight here was back at the van. Returning here, Adam noted a small dove perched in a nearby tree; a recently-fledged Turtle Dove! It transpired that two were here; our first fledglings of the summer, and a superb thing to see, considering the hard times this species is facing. Buoyed by such a great sight, we headed to Snettisham. Arriving at the car park, we walked out towards the seawall, noting Common Terns, several Mediterranean Gulls and an adult and juvenile Greenshank on one of the inner lagoons. Out on the Wash, the show had already begun, with perhaps 20,000 or more Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits were already up in the air in spectacular formation. In addition, a flock of maybe 5,000 Oystercatchers (just a guesstimate, but there were a lot!) turned the mudflats black. Numerous Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstones jostled along the shoreline, rushing to beat the fast-incoming tide. On the inner lagoon, 8 Spotted Redshank, 200 Black-tailed Godwit and numerous Knot and Redshank were all crammed on or near the small islands, while one spit hosted a number of Common and Sandwich Terns, as well as two adult and a fledged juvenile Little Tern; a pleasing sight.  Walking back, we noted a total of 10 Yellow Wagtails, while at least 5 Ringed Plover chicks were seen to be doing well along the shoreline. Hopefully they will survive to fledging. Walking back to the van, we all felt like we had covered a few miles today, but the selection of birds had been excellent.  

 

 

Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit and a pair of young Turtle Doves

 

Thursday 9th AugustOvercast with showers, heavy and persistent during afternoon, 18C

 

As the weather forecast predicted, today, and particularly this afternoon was a wet one! However, that didn’t dampen our spirits as we headed out on another tour. First stop was Cley NWT, where were headed first to the East Bank. Walking out along the track towards the sea we noted well fledged Pochards and a family of Tufted Ducks on the deeper pools, while out on the Serpentine a couple of Common Sandpipers were noted along with some Black-tailed Godwits and several Snipe. Approaching Arnold’s Marsh, a Hobby dashed through overhead, showing well as it cruised west and out of view. The marsh itself held a good number of icelandica Black-tailed Godwits as well as several Redshank (including juveniles) but little else of note. Walking back along the bank, the Hobby have another fly-past and flushing a pair of Green Sandpipers from the marshes. From here we then drove along to the beach carpark, where we had a prospective look at the sea, though with light offshore winds we weren’t expecting much. Two Wheatear were on the shingle to the east, while the short spell overlooking the sea did reveal 7 Teal and a single Wigeon west, and a Whimbrel which came in off over our heads. Three Gannets were also noted. After a hot drink we then nipped into the centre, collected our permits and walked out to Daukes hide. Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape were both typically alive with waders, including large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits (including some very smart youngsters) Ruffs (again including this year’s juveniles), 6 Green Sandpipers, a single summer plumaged Knot and Dunlin, and at least 3 Little Ringed Plovers. A good 30 or so Sand Martins were busy hawking for insects over the pools, with some perched on the nearby wire fence giving nice views. A surprise sighting was a juvenile Water Rail which dashed into view below the hide, skulking through the grasses before swimming across the dyke and out of view. Dragging ourselves away, we had our sandwiches and then nipped over to the new Babcock Hide, overlooking Watling Water. On initial appearances things were rather quiet, with 8 Snipe and a Little Ringed Plover in front of the hide, plus 2 Ruff. Bearded Tits were calling incessantly from the reeds to the left of the hide, but refused to show themselves to us. Suddenly a peculiar high-pitched call caught our ears, and a Fulvous Whistling Duck flew in to join the Egyptian Geese! While it was fully winged and unringed, it was fanciful to think this bird could be wild! A pair of Black-tailed Godwits and some Redshank had dropped in at the same time, but though things were starting to liven up, we needed to head on. The rain was getting rather heavy now, leaving us with a decision to make on what to do next.

 

Travelling through the rain, we headed onto Wells-next-the Sea., pausing on the way at the newly created floods, though barring a couple of Avocets and an Oystercatcher, things were quiet. Passing through the town, we stopped at the church, where a Peregrine has regularly spent its time roosting and feeding. The bird was on the west face, and put on a fascinating show, moving to the corner of the stonework and lifting its wings to take on water on the underwing feathers before flying down into a nearby tree. Perched on one of the thin outer branches, it continued to shuffle its feathers to get as wet as possible, and was also observed brushing its head amongst the wet leaves, as if cleaning behind the ears! After about 5 minutes of heavy preening, it then flew purposefully inland. From here we headed to Wells Woods, where we wanted to do a circuit to finish off the day looking for migrants. This proved more productive than we really expected! Entering the woods we quickly located a bit of activity, with one of the first birds we noted being a Pied Flycatcher! In fact, it transpired that the birch tree the flycatcher was in also contained a single Lesser Whitethroat and Chiffchaff, plus two Blackcaps – not a bad haul! However, it was more or less all that the woods had to offer as far as unusual species were concerned, though Treecreeper and Goldcrest were all seen well. A final treat was in store when Ashley and Nick, who were also birding the area, discovered a roosting Tawny Owl high in some mature pines in the middle of the woods; an excellent sighting! Returning to the van, we headed back to Ryburgh feeling we had managed to make good of what was a rather wet day.

 


 

ISLES OF SCILLY PELAGIC WEEKEND – August 2018 [JM]

 

Monday 6th AugustSunny and warm, light NW, 20C

 

With no pelagic trip booked for today, everyone was at leisure to do as they pleased, with some taking the boat to Bryher and Tresco, while others took a wander to other parts of St Marys. A group of us made the most of the time on the island to visit the famous Porth Hellick pool and Holy Vale. Walking along the southern coastline of the island we noted four Wheatears and a couple of Stonechats on the coastal heath. Approaching Porth Hellick beach, a stand of pines was busy with activity, containing about 10 juvenile Willow Warblers and a couple of Goldcrests. In the bay itself a flock of 22 Oystercatchers contained 3 Ringed Plovers, while a Grey Heron stood sentinel nearby. Making our way down the hill, a group of 4 Green Sandpipers flew up from the pool calling, and flew off to the north. From here we entered the Porth Hellick nature trail, where from the first hide we enjoyed good views of 8 Greenshanks roosting on the muddy bank, in the company of a single Teal, while Reed Warblers and several hirundines were also noted. We then made to walk up the Holy Vale valley, enjoying the cover provided by the mature English Elm trees, imagining what amazing species must have been found here in t the past! Reaching Holy Vale Farmhouse, we took a left down Sandy Lane, which would return us back to Hugh Town. A short way along here we paused to investigate some small bird activity in the pine belt, noting locally bred juvenile and adult Goldcrests and a Willow Warbler. Suddenly a flash of vivid yellow and pearly white moved through the bins; a WOOD WARBLER! The bird showed well for a good 10 minutes, often high in the pines, flycatching and hovering on occasions. A great scarce species for the island and a nice surprise bonus. From here we made our way back into Hugh Town, where we enjoyed lunch and waited for the 16:30 ferry to take us back to Penzance.

 

 

The Wood Warbler near Holy Vale [images by Peter Hilton]

 

 

Boarding the ferry, we made for the top deck, determined to eke our a few more seabirds for the trip. Leaving the sheltered waters of the islands, a group of 5 Mediterranean Gulls (4 juveniles and a 1st summer) were a pleasant surprise. Entering open water, Manx Shearwaters came into evidence, with small numbers noted frequently during the duration of the journey, most of which occurring once we neared the Cornish coastline. A couple of Storm Petrels were also seen as we neared a trawler, while Common Dolphins were pretty frequent throughout, numbering at least 40 animals during the crossing. As we passed the Cornish mainland, we noted a good number of mostly juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, with at least 10 seen. Docking at Penzance harbour and collecting our luggage, we all bid our farewells, after enjoying a fantastic weekend.

 

Sunday 5th AugustOvercast most of the day, very light NW, 19C

 

A really awesome day at sea, with a steady stream of highlights keeping all entertained throughout. Following a leisurely breakfast we met at the harbour at 10:50 to join the Scilly Pelagics team on the MV Sapphire for one last voyage. Leaving the harbour, we headed out towards a fair feeding frenzy of Lesser Black-backed Gulls which contained several Black-headed Gulls and the odd Kittiwake, the latter seen to pluck a sandeel from the waters surface. Close by a couple of rafts of Manx Shearwaters numbering around 250 in total proved to be very approachable, offering some of the best views many in the group had ever had of this fantastic species on the water. From here we made our way offshore, heading for the often-productive waters at the Poll Bank, an underwater feature which results in oceanic upwellings, which in turn can mean food for marine life including seabirds. The journey out was punctuated many times by Common Dolphins, including some fantastic displays of bow-riding. In fact, today was a great day overall for the animal, with well over 100 noted. A 1st summer Common Tern visited the boat, as did a Great Skua which circled a couple of times before heading off. Arriving at the Poll Bank we dropped some bags of chum into the water and began drifting here, in conjunction with a spot of fishing in order to catch some bait, and also to try a spot of shark fishing. Around 5 European Storm Petrels had been noted up to this point, but the star seabird by far for the day was a GREAT SHEARWATER which gave simply unbeatable views for the next 30 minutes. Crossing the stern at speed, the bird banked and investigated the fishy oily slick we had created, before dropping onto the water behind the boat, apparently feeding on some fish remains. Joe manoeuvred the boat closer to the bird, and it allowed several point blank approaches, so much so that we simply had to leave it to it and move on! Amazing. The fishing proved quite productive, the crew pulling in a large Ling and a very brightly coloured Cuckoo Wrasse, while two Sunfish were seen from the boat here (plus at least two others later). However, the fish highlight today was undoubtedly the Porbeagle Shark which came up to the surface to investigate the boat. The shark tagging team on board were hopeful of catching it, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Whilst lingering in the area, a Sooty Sheareater cruised past majestically, while European Storm Petrels were a constant presence, the final day total numbering around 25 birds. A very small Minke Whale surfaced several times close to the boat here, the flat calm conditions making for easy spotting. Once we had given up on the prospect of catching a shark for the day, we began to cruise back to base, but not before one last seabird treat. As we set off, a dark shearwater crossed the wake, which proved to be a Balearic Shearwater! Our first of the trip and a welcome sight of this critically endangered seabird. The journey home was in the constant company of European Storm Petrels following our wake, while several Sandwich Terns were noted as we came in closer to the islands. Docking in Hugh Town Harbour, we thanked the crew for all their amazing hard work and bid them farewell for another year. It has certainly been a memorable few days!

 

 

More fantastic views of seabirds today, especially this Great Shearwater. Common Dolphins also performed!

 

Saturday 4th AugustOvercast most of the day, very light NW, 18C

 

Another nice day of weather, which meant that conditions would be very pleasant for being on the sea for another pelagic. Meeting at the quay in Hugh Town at 08:20, we boarded the MV Sapphire and made our way offshore, heading north-east towards the Seven Stones Reef (infamously the site of the wrecking of the Torrey Canyon in 1967), where we would spend some time in search of seabirds in this often-rich area of water. Steaming out to the site, a steady trickle of Manx Shearwaters was noted, totalling around 30 birds. On route to the area, a surprise for many was the sudden breach of a large Bluefin Tuna just off the port side of the boat, creating a huge splash. A Bonxie briefly came to investigate the boat, while a single ‘commic’ tern was also seen out here, but it was otherwise rather quiet. Moving on, a large feeding frenzy of Gannets was noted, with the numbers building all the time as more birds joined the buffet. The good feeding was probably assisted by the presence of two Harbour Porpoises feeding below, while three European Storm Petrels were noted amongst the activity. Joe was able to move the boat quite close, offering pretty close views of these fantastic birds. Not far from this location we picked up our first Sooty Shearwater of the weekend, as it flew powerfully off the port side of the boat, its larger size in direct comparison with a nearby Manx Shearwater immediately obvious. From here we decided to steam for a while, trailing some chum as we went in the hope that the trail of large gulls following the boat would attract something else from the wider seas, and so it proved. Not long into the journey the shout out from Bob of GREAT SHEARWATER had everyone wheeling round to look towards the wake, as this majestic shearwater cruised passed the back of the boat, giving a brilliant view of what was a new species for many in the group; totally thrilling! This wasn’t the last time that the excitement of a large shearwater would get us on our feet, as about half an hour later another GREAT SHEARWATER passed close past the bow of the boat, again giving itself up to everyone onboard. Doubtlessly coming in close to check out the gull activity being produced by the efforts of the vessels crew behind the boat, we have Joe and Bob and the team for their expertise in getting these birds into us! We continued to travel a while longer, heading back for the islands, but barring a couple of Kittiwakes (including the welcome site of a juvenile fledged this year) and two Manx Shearwaters things were pretty quiet overall. Coming in towards the islands, we passed close to Annett and some of the other small uninhabited skerries, noting Peregrine, numerous Shags and a good number of Grey Seals. A few more Manx Shearwaters to the better, we then made our way back to harbour.

 

 

Great and Manx Shearwater 

 

Making landfall, we thanked the boat crew and made our ways back to the hotel, where we dropped off a few things and made our way out to do a bit of exploring on land before dinner. A loop covering Lower Moors NR and Old Town bay and Churchyard yielded a selection of common breeding species including Rock Pipit, plus our first Wheatear of the autumn towards Tolman Point. Walking some of the well vegetated lanes and wooded areas left us all imagining what it might be like here on a good day of spring bird migration, or on one of those autumn days when the possibility of finding something really rare and special was in the air, but obviously, at this time of year, this is just more or less wishful thinking! However, it was a pleasant loop all the same, and worked up a nice appetite!

 

Friday 3rd August Overcast with some warm sunny spells, Low cloud over St Marys, light NW, 18C

 

Day one of our much-anticipated pelagic tour commenced in Penzance Harbour, where our group gathered to run through the broad itinerary for the weekend, before handing over our luggage and collecting our boarding cards. From the rear deck of the Scillonian III we had a fair panoramic view of the sea, so we settled into our positions, looking forward to seawatching for the duration of the crossing. Early additions to the list included a Mute Swan and Cormorants in the Harbour, while 6 Bottlenose Dolphins were seen just outside the harbour mouth. It wasn’t long before we noted our First Kittiwake, while Lesser, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls were frequent. Small numbers of Fulmars were patrolling the cliffs of the Cornish south coast, and Shags were common, while our first Common Dolphins were also noted close to shore, their more energetic swimming style, overall smaller size and smaller, sharper dorsal fins separating them from their larger cousins when the distinctive flank pattern couldn’t be seen. As we neared the waters off Land’s End Manx Shearwaters became more evident, with a steady movement passing ahead of the boat totalling at least 300 birds up until Wolf Rock, after which numbers dropped off a bit. A Great Skua put in an appearance, trailing the boat and eventually passing us, giving good views. It was around this time that we noted our first European Storm Petrel, with one noted rather distantly off the port side of the boat, fluttering in typical fashion over the waters surface. Across the whole journey we noted a further six individuals, and everyone managed to get onto at least one of them, though better views will hopefully be enjoyed in the coming pelagics! More Common Dolphins were also noted, and we ended up with a total of 30 animals seen during the duration of the crossing, while around 19 Harbour Porpoise were also noted. Coming into Hugh Town Harbour, and drifting past the islands of St Agnes, Sampson, Bryher and Tresco, we disembarked and made our ways to our respective accomodations at Mincarlo Guest House and Bell Rock Hotel. With a bit of down time to settle in, grab some lunch and snacks for later, we were looking forward to our first pelagic on the MV Sapphire later this evening! 

 

 

Yellow-legged Gull and European Storm Petrel 

 

We made our way down to the quay to board the MV Sapphire at 17:00, met by Bob Flood, Joe Pender and the rest of the team. After a brief run-down of the evenings plan, we were soon attracting a good flock of gulls to the back of the boat (helped by the steady supply of bread being thown off the back!), including two superb juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls. These stood out by being big brutes, with a very pale ground colour, whitish head and neck collar with dark mask, all dark primaries and a very white uppertail with well defined black tail band. Steaming out to about 5 miles to the south of the Scillies, we then stopped the engine and deployed the chum mix. The tactic here is to allow the boat to drift with the tide, leaving the scent of the oily slick of fish oils to waft in the breeze, and wait for the birds to come to us. It wasn’t long before we noted our first European Storm Petrels appearing from down wind of the slick. Many of the 30 or so birds which we saw this evening followed the same pattern, flying in and crossing the bow of the boat, visiting the slick and then moving off, some giving great views in the process. Several Fulmars paid a visit, while the few Manx Shearwaters which passed by showed no interest in the oily mix. Short-beaked Common Dolphins were common out here, with almost every scan with binoculars picking up animals, often with full breaching noted. Some came in really close to investigate the boat, to the delight of many! Further non-avian interest was provided by a really quite sizeable Blue Shark which spent a long time just below the surface below the boat. A really impressive beast! Numerous Compass Jellyfish were also seen out here. Back to the birds, a single storm petrel flew into view at about 300-meter range around 7pm, which caught the eye as appearing larger than the previous European Stormies, with wings held flatter and the flight being more purposeful and less fluttering. The shout soon followed; WILSON’S STORM PETREL! The bird came a little bit closer, allowing some to note that the underwing lacked the distinct white covert bar of European, but then it drifted off and, surprisingly didn’t visit our chum slick! A few people in the group missed the bird, and most weren’t able to note the most salient features, so we were feeling a little short-changed! However, we needn’t have worries, as another Wilsons Storm Petrel came in a little later and put on an incredible performance, at times coming to within 6ft of the stern of the boat, allowing all salient features to be noted by everyone. It was particularly delightful to watch the birds subtle but distinctive feeding behaviour, including the way it would ‘bounce’ from the waters surface between feeding bouts, like a coiled spring! A truly special 10 minutes in the company of this rare seabird. With amazing views, assisted by the excellent boat handling of our skipper, we then made our way back to shore, saying our farewells to the crew and looking forward to what tomorrow would bring.

 

 

A couple of shots of this evenings Wilson's Storm Petrel


 

NORFOLK DAY TOUR 3RD AUGUST 2018 [AS]

Hot and sunny in light NE winds, 27C

 

A fantastic days birding today saw us head across to The Wash coast and spend the morning enjoying a wader-fest at Snettisham RSPB. With a 6.7m tide and no wind, the mud was not going to get entirely covered, but we still enjoyed both some fantastic close views of waders roosting along the beaches, plus some spectacular swirling flocks further out over the estuary. It was baking hot here, quite unlike the cool windy conditions one normally expects at this location! We walked straight out to the seawall, where the tide was already 2/3 of the way in and thousands of birds were spread out before us. Gulls, terns, wildfowl and waders were in profusion, and we set about working through the masses. There were particularly good numbers of Dunlin, predominantly moulting adults still sporting black bellies, and there were a couple of thousand to work through for something more interesting! Large flocks began working their way towards us and gathering on the shingle beach, and here we found smart adults of both Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper. Single Sanderling, Turnstone, lots of Common Ringed Plover and a few close Knot were also seen - though there were of course thousands of the latter species further out. A Little-ringed Plover flew up from the beach calling and all the time we could hear the raucous calls of various tern species. Common Terns were really numerous, plus the odd Sandwich Tern were to be seen among them. A juvenile Black Tern flew over the track from the pits and settled on the mud, but played cat and mouse with us over the next half hour as the terns kept flushing on the rising tide and wheeling around. We had a couple of views of it settled again before it became lost in the mix. Little Terns were really noteworthy today with an impressive count of 130 made, and several Mediterranean Gulls were also noted. Passerine migrants were limited to a couple of overhead Yellow Wagtails, a Lesser Whitethroat in the bushes and a Yellowhammer heading south. Reaching Shore Hide, we took a breather from the direct sun, noting a Greenshank, hundreds of roosting Black-tailed Godwits, and 25 Little Egrets. We then made our way slowly back following the tide out, seeing another Curlew Sandpiper, a juvenile Stonechat and more views of the whirling waders. The walk back was a hot one - but we noted Wall Brown and Brown Argus butterflies along the way.

 

 

Curlew Sandpiper and Brown Argus at Snettisham, 3rd August

 

The afternoon would be spent at Titchwell,  and we learned as we arrived on site that a Southern Migrant Hawker had been seen by the West Bank path only twenty minutes previously. This species is rarely recorded in Britain, though 2018 has been something of a record year with many sightings in the south of England. As we headed out along the path, we paused to watch two Pied Flycatchers in the trees by the Fisherman's car park - unprecedented numbers of this classic August drift migrant have been appearing much earlier than usual, and in totally atypical weather conditions. Whether the birds are departing out of Scandinavia after a good breeding season, or British bred birds dispersing, its not clear. But in one day today a months worth of sightings were made along the Norfolk coast! Further along and we found a patrolling dragonfly which we thought could be the Southern Migrant Hawker, moving fast above a small weedy pool and giving some close views. We weren't able to get any decent photographs and couldnt be totally sure of the ID though, with a bright mature male Migrant Hawker a possibility. At Island Hide, we were greeted with a vast spread of birds on the freshmarsh - Black-tailed Godwits were very numerous and among all the moulting adults we saw the first juvenile islandica of the season. 50+ Ruff, 28 Dunlin, 5 Knot, 3 Golden Plover, 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Whimbrel, 3 Little-ringed Plover, 4 Spotted Redshank, 5 Common & 1 Green Sandpipers, 1 Curlew Sandpiper and the lingering Lesser Yellowlegs were among the waders noted! Bearded Tits showed brilliantly at the reed edges, 13 Spoonbills were sleeping at the back of the marsh and a first summer Little Gull dropped in. Third calendar year Yellow-legged Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Reed Warbler and Marsh Harrier were other species noted on an excellent and bird-filled afternoon.

 


NORFOLK BUTTERFLIES & DRAGONFLIES TOUR 16TH - 19TH JULY 2018 [AS, JM & AMR]

 

THURSDAY 19TH JULY - NORTH-WEST NORFOLK

Sunny spells in fresher east breeze, 23C

 

A bugging day to finish the tour saw us heading across to Roydon Common in West Norfolk to try our luck with Black Darter and other odonata. Walking out across the heath, we saw several Keeled Skimmers including our first sightings of mature males, and on reaching the main pool we were pleased to find that at least it still held plenty of water! Being so early in the emergence period for Black Darter, we dint expect to find any mature males, but instead knew the tactic would be to wander slowly around through the heather and bracken looking for immatures and trying to separate them from the similar looking Ruddy Darter, which was common! Eventually we found a couple of immature Black Darters, and everyone had a chance for a good look at the salient features. Emerald Damselfly was really common, and both Emperor and Four-spotted Chaser were over the water. More exciting though, was our second Willow Emerald Damselfly in two days, and this one a male. We believe this to be the first record for the site, so quite a significant sighting. On our way back to the car park, we enjoyed a bush full of migrant warblers with Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, two Garden Warblers and at least three Willow Warblers including two lovely lemon yellow juveniles. Nice!

 

 

Willow Emerald Damselfly and Purple Hairstreak, 19th July

 

No bug-hunting trip in Norfolk would be complete without a visit to Holkham Meals on the North Norfolk Coast, and so we made our way up there for a couple of hours wandering through the pine woods and dunes to round off the tour. It was quite overcast for the most part, so butterfly activity was quite low, and we had to concentrate on the bramble blossom and Hemp Agrimony flowers to see what we could find. Comma, Painted Lady, Peacock, Red Admiral, Holly Blue, Essex Skipper, Small Skipper and lots of Ruddy Darter were noted, the latter apparently having an excellent season. Having seen a few more Purple Hairstreaks dancing around the tops of the oaks [another species booming this year] we eventually found one nectaring at the agrimony blossoms and had fantastic photographic opportunities. Great views of fledged young Goldcrests and Common Chiffchaffs being fed by their parents, and a brace of Green Woodpeckers, were also noteworthy. Reaching the cross tracks, we headed north out onto the dunes, where the sun came out and brought everything briefly to life. This included two female Dark Green Fritillaries, which gave some superb views feeding on the thistle flowers. Common Blue and Small Heath were also final additions to the list, and there was a good opportunity to see a variety of specialised plants such as Sea Spurge, Sea Spurrey, Sea Holly and three species of sea lavender. Marsh Helleborine, Southern Marsh, Pyramidal and Common Spotted Orchids were also plentiful. The wander back through the dunes in the sunshine took us past the bay, where the sea lavender was in full bloom and offering a spectacular purple wash. We concluded the tour around 4pm, and headed back to Great Ryburgh.

 

WEDNESDAY 18TH JULY - BRECKLAND

A warm day with sunny spells and light winds, 25C

 

We planned to spend the whole day down in the Brecks today, starting with a quick look around some of the North brecks pig fields for gathering Stone Curlews which have started to appear in small flocks already. We couldn’t find any ‘stonies’ unfortunately, with lots of agricultural activity going on in the birds favoured fields, but we did have brief views of a stunning fresh juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, which was tugging at a dead rabbit in a roadside field. There was only a narrow gap in the hedge where the bird was visible, so we had to get out in order for everyone to see – predictably for a timid large gull this didn’t work out and the bird flew off strongly and was lost to view. Nevertheless everyone was able to see its dark upperpart plumage, big chunky bill, dark eye patch, dark centred tertials with marbled tips, lack of a primary window and white tail with striking black terminal band. We spent some more time searching for our main quarry without success, and so pressed on to Lakenheath Fen, which would be our main site for the rest of the morning.

 

 

Small Red-eyed Damselfly and female Garganey, just some of the wildlife highlights from Lakenheath today

 

It was already hotting up as we wandered down the path towards New Fen, but we wanted to get down to Mere Hide in order to try and see the family of Bitterns which had been showing really well there in recent days. The plan was then to work our way slowly back, enjoying the various odonata as we went. Arriving at the hide, we were greeted with the news that the Bitterns had just flown off! Anyway, we enjoyed superb views of Small Red-eyed Damselflies right outside the hide, Emperor, Four-spotted Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer. We were also able to observe the feeding activities of several species of fish, including Rudd, Perch and a fine Pike! Realising we weren’t going to see a Bittern from here, we headed back towards New Fen, stopping to scan by the corner of West Wood. A cacophony of noise coming from a big sallow couldn’t immediately be placed, but we thought it sounded a best fit for a fledged family of Kingfishers – with that the adult flew out of the tree, confirming our suspicions that there was a concealed bunch of youngsters somewhere within! A young Water Rail then appeared, preening at the edge of the reeds in the sunshine, and then just behind us, a Bittern flew low over the path and away across the reeds – a crazy few moments! Not long afterwards, another Bittern appeared, flying in high from the west. It was a familiar bird we had been observing for the whole year, with a dangling leg, and it flew slowly right over us before dropping down into the reeds – a truly awesome view! A Hobby also appeared briefly over the poplars, meaning we had now seen all our bird targets for the site, and could get to work on the dragonflies! The walk back along the ditch towards New Fen was alive with dragonflies, mainly Brown Hawker and Southern Hawker, both of which settled for amazing views. Ruddy Darter was also extremely common, and we saw a few butterflies too – Small Copper, Brimstone, Peacock and Painted Lady.

 

A break at the viewpoint was necessary to take some shade, a drink of water and a bit of a breather before pressing on. This few moments provided one of the days highlights, as we discovered a female Willow Emerald Damselfly newly emerged and hanging in the reeds just in front of the shelter. This species is only a recent UK colonist, and this was an Oriole first on a UK tour – quite unexpected indeed! Continuing out to the river bank path, we scanned the small pool by the River Little Ouse and found a female Garganey sitting on the water right in front of us! A second bird took flight and headed off, showing prominent blue forewing coverts, so clearly and eclipse drake. A bit further on, we found Banded Demoiselle to be common on the river, and had a reeling Grasshopper Warbler which was found settled in the crown of an umbellifer and available for scope views. Brown Argus was the main butterfly of note here, basking among the flowering thistles, and a Painted Lady was also very popular with those taking photos, being a freshly emerged specimen. The main washland is now very low in water, with plenty of exposed mud around its fringed. This means it is unusually goof for passage waders and we saw a Greenshank, five Green Sandpipers, Avocet, 30 Black-tailed Godwits and numerous Little Egrets. Best of all though, a fledged young Cuckoo was perched on a fence post at the edge of the river, perhaps still waiting for its Reed Warbler host to return to feed it!

 

Click to listen to some of the sounds of Lakenheath Fen today - young Kingfishers begging for food!

 

Our afternoon would be devoted largely to damselflies, with a couple of rare species still to look for. The glacial pingoes at Thompson Common were therefore our next stop, and after a short impromptu pull-over to rescue a fledgling Blackcap from the middle of the road near West Tofts, we reached the small car park where the Pingo Trail begins near Stow Bedon. The woodland section of the walk is always mosquito-ridden, and we had to make particular haste today to avoid their advances, which some of us achieved and others did not! Once out in the open on the common though, we were safe and able to get to work on separating the two speciality damselflies – Emerald and Scarce Emerald. Males and females of both species were seen very well, and we also noted more Brown Hawker, Ruddy Darter and Emperor. Butterflies here included a photogenic Painted Lady, Small Skipper and Small Copper, while both Marsh Tit and Garden Warbler were also noted. Finally we ended the day by pressing on up to central Norfolk, to visit a small reserve where the Small Red Damselfly occurs. This species finds its only Norfolk outpost here, though sadly today we found that the recent hot weather had seen it through its annual cycle and for the first time ever we couldn’t find any on the wing. Botanical interest here though included some superb spikes of Fragrant Orchid, and some very nice Marsh Helleborine. Common Spotted and Pyramidal Orchids were also seen, as well as several other interesting species of marsh plants. It was a weary crew which returned to base around 6pm, with another very full notebook after a great day of varied wildlife watching in the Brecks.

 

TUESDAY 17TH JULY - NORTH NORFOLK

Overcast giving way to sunny spells, 22C

 

A cooler day today after the recent heatwave, which meant the day started a bit slowly, but built up to be an absolute cracker! We headed straight to Holt Country Park, where butterfly activity was decidedly low under the heavy cloud – just the odd Ringlet and Meadow Brown on the wing along the woodland rides. We decided to head out onto the heath, to search for Keeled Skimmer, which we were fairly confident we could find among the heather and gorse despite the weather. There were lots of Gatekeeper out and about, and we managed to find one female Keeled Skimmer which showed well. Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard and Red Kite were all seen over the woodland, and we also saw some nice patches of Round-leaved Sundew. Back in the woods, there was a distinct rise in the temperature, and this was instantly met with our first sighting of a superb male Silver-washed Fritillary which floated down and landed in front of us. Further along the track towards the car park, we saw two or three more, plus an obliging White Admiral, gliding along in typical fashion. The highlight though was a brief but clear sighting of a valezina Silver-washed Fritillary, the so called ‘greenish’ form. Back at the car park, we added Large, Small and Green-veined Whites, Red Admiral, Holly Blue, Purple Haristreak [high among the oaks!] and two more Silver-washed Fritillaries. Throw in a singing Firecrest, and we had not had a bad morning so far!

 

Onto the nearby heaths after coffee break, and with the sun now taking hold we had high hopes of some more butterfly activity. Just around the car park, we had another Silver-washed Fritillary, and then onto the heath itself we began to find our first Silver-studded Blue Butterflies, Small Skipper and a nice example of Essex Skipper too. We were keen to head straight to a good spot for Grayling, and we were lucky to find one almost right away, posing nicely on a bare patch of earth among the heather. Several more Silver-studded Blues were also noted, including a surprisingly fresh looking male, and we had some nice views of Yellowhammer, Linnet and Stonechat. A soft, fluted call alerted us to the presence of a Woodlark close by, and with patience we located it, typically being much closer to us than we first thought! Eventually it showed really well, foraging quietly among the heather and occasionally popping out into full view. Taking a long route back to the car park, we added Southern Hawker, and then finally a singing male Dartford Warbler, foraging for a calling and unseen youngster. The bird only showed briefly, but was pretty vocal – a new species for some of the group.

 

 

Our afternoon would be spent birding, with the plan to head across to Titchwell and try to see the Lesser Yellowlegs which had been present there for the last few days. En route, we made a quick stop at Wells church to check in on the regular roosting adult male Peregrine, which was sitting up on its favoured perch on the gargoyle on the east face of the tower. A wing stretch and it was off though, heading inland and out of view, so we were lucky to connect with it. Reaching TItchwell, we had a cuppa in the car park, noting a Purple Hairstreak around the oaks there, before making haste to the freshmarsh where the ‘legs’ had reportedly just dropped back in after a few hours absence. The reserve was absolutely bustling with birds today, and you could barely prick a pin on the freshmarsh for gulls, wildfowl and waders. The Lesser Yellowlegs was feeding along the exposed mud by the reed edge, among Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and a brace of Spotted Redshanks, but soon flew closer and ended up on the oozing mud right by the West Bank path just a few metres away from us. The assembled throng of waders included a couple of hundred gorgeous Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, several Ruff including at least one full plumaged male [the rest already being well into their moult] and a delightful leucistic Little-ringed Plover, being almost entirely white apart from of course its distinctive yellow eye ring! Four Dunlin, a bathing Whimbrel, first-summer Little Gull, two each of Pink-footed Goose and Red Crested Pochard, and a great showing from juvenile Bearded Tits were just some of the other highlights. Gulls are always likely to feature at this time of year, and there were plenty to see today! The thriving Mediterranean Gull colony on the reserve means the freshmarsh is currently awash with fresh juveniles, and several could be seen still begging from the gaudy adults. There were at least 100, but we didn’t count them – others were reporting having logged nearer 200 in recent days. Another sign of the times, two adult Eurasian Spoonbills circled the pool, with another foraging in the deep water at the back and a further four on the tidal pool. While watching the yellowlegs, a report reached us that someone had seen a Caspian Gull on one of the islands. We quickly picked up the candidate, but it was fast asleep and not giving too much away. Eventually it woke up, showing a long, slender greenish-yellow bill with black and red subterminal marks, a dark beady eye, white head, spotted neck shawl and solidly dark centred tertials. It was a second-summer, with second generation grey mantle, and it showed very long, yellow-pink legs. A really classic looking individual, we eventually had the best views of it from Parrinder Hide, when it stood up and had a wander around for us. From here, a juvenile Common Snipe was also seen, and one of the Spoonbills gave us another fly past. It had been a breathless and exciting day, with a full notebook to take home with us, but even then the day was not quite done!

 

 

After dinner, we ventured out to west Norfolk to make our last Nightjar trip of the year. It was a perfect evening, though of course the midges thought so too! We were treated to fantastic views of several Nightjars, including at least five churring males, and a particularly good view of a female which buzzed our group before landing on the sandy track in front of us – a great way to sign off the season!

 


NEW FOREST 9TH - 13TH JULY 2018 [AS, AMR & JM]

 

FRIDAY 13TH JULY  - BENTLEY WOODS

Sunny spells and light winds, 23C

 

Today we left the guest house in convoy and headed up to Bentley Woods on the Hants/Wilts border for a spot of butterfly action to round off the tour. The conditions weren’t the best, with plenty of cloud and eventually light rain setting in, but we made the best of it! Purple Hairstreak seems to be having a fantastic year this year, and we saw more than we have ever encountered at this site before – they were literally flitting around the canopy of every oak tree in the forest and numbers were hard to estimate. As usual, all the views were pretty ‘distant’ as the creatures were always remaining among the lofty branches, and often crawling frustratingly under or behind a leaf on settling! Silver-washed Fritillary was also going strong here, with several nice sightings, and we also had some lovely close ups of Ringlet, Brimstone and Holly Blue. Perhaps the biggest surprise was a White Admiral, which we though was already over given the hot weather and the fact we had failed to find any in the New Forest this year. The one we saw was actually in pretty good nick though! The dragonfly ponds here have been opened up and are now much improved, and we spent some time here watching Azure, Large Red and Blue-tailed Damselfly, and large numbers of Southern Hawker. Clearly this was another species having a good year, with many adults buzzing around the ponds and uncountable numbers of their exuviae on the waterside rushes and reeds. Common Darter and Broad-bodied Chaser were also noted here. And what of our main target, the regal Purple Emperor butterfly? Well we actually managed a couple of quick sightings of them flying at treetop level, but the only satisfactory one came in the car park itself. Here we had one flying around the big oak above the parking area, where it made four or five circuits without settling. That was unfortunately our lot, and not seen by all of the group either. Not quite the ending we hoped for, but with black clouds rolling in, we knew it spelled the end of the session! After a picnic lunch, we all went our separate ways to do battle with the Friday afternoon traffic.

 

THURSDAY 12TH JULY - ACRES DOWN & TITCHFIELD HAVEN

Another warm sunny day in light winds, more cloud around, 25C

 

A birding day today since we had hit all our bug targets for the forest over the previous two action packed days in the field. It was another warm one, and we had to take that into consideration when working out an itinerary for the days proceedings. We started at the excellent Acres Down, with a walk down through the forest along the various tracks that criss-cross the area, hoping to find plenty of small birds in mixed feeding flocks. It is normally a really birdy area, but the first section of the walk at least was really quiet. We added Nuthatch, and saw Great-spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and Goldcrest, but it was otherwise pretty quiet. Eventually a singing Firecrest stopped us in our tracks, and we spent some time looking carefully for movement among the conifers to see if we could get a sighting. We couldn’t find the crest, but another movement caught our eye further back among the cones of a larch – it was a Common Crossbill! We’d only just been talking about what a poor year it had been nationally for this species, and this was in fact our first on tour in 2018. A male then dropped into view, and we watched the pair together for a while before they flew off calling. Heading further on, we found a pair of Firecrests with the male again in song, and eventually got some decent views of the two of them foraging low down in a conifer overhanging the track. Wandering back up to the car park, we picked up Southern Hawker and a selection of ten or so species of common butterflies including Brimstone and Holly Blue.

 

Next we climbed up onto Acres Down proper and walked along the woodland edge to the watchpoint overlooking the forest. This stunning location is always a lovely spot to spend some time scanning for raptors, and early signs were promising with a Peregrine powering over as we arrived. After that though, we saw very little in the form of raptors, with just the odd Buzzard noted. Thankfully, small birds kept us entertained, and a pair of Woodlark were flying to and fro over us the whole time, feeding young somewhere down in the valley below. They would often give a soft call as they passed over with a bill full of food. Eventually we worked out where they were going and by standing quietly, could watch them on the ground, though we never saw the concealed youngsters. Other species noted included at least six more Crossbills flying over in small groups, a Tree Pipit, two young Redstarts and finally a cracking Hobby just as we were about to pack up and head back for lunch. Not quite what we were hoping for overall but still a nice selection of birds.

 

 

Our afternoon would see a total change of scenery as we headed east to Titchfield Haven overlooking the Solent on the coast east of Southampton. This excellent reserve always produces a nice spread of waterbirds, and we were soon adding our first Common Terns and Shelducks along the coast road by Meon Shore. The hide overlooking South Scrape was bustling with life, as the Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns were all fledging. Avocets also had young, and we saw Common Snipe, Redshank and about fifty smart Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits too. All on its own, a gorgeous fresh juvenile limosa Continental Black-tailed Godwit was found, the second time in two years we have seen them at this site which may well be an important stop off for this rare taxa. This subspecies fledges much earlier than islandica, and the juvenile plumage is much greyer and plainer, with whitish fringes to plain grey-brown coverts. Its bulky, large size was also apparent and the bill was incredibly deep based, even though this individual was not especially long-billed [though the bill was certainly still growing anyway]. This made up for the fact that two Roseate Terns seen on the scrape earlier were nowhere to be seen! We visited two further hides, adding Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler to the list, a distant Marsh Harrier, and some common odonata. Back at the shore, we picked up a Sparrowhawk which went through the scrape sending everything skyward, including a Dunlin which we had obviously missed! Two Sandwich Terns flew high over calling and a lovely adult pair of Mediterranean Gulls were resting on the shore – we had also seen them or another pair earlier on the scrape, and a juvenile flying east over the reserve. After tea and cake by the beach, it was time to head back to Lyndhurst after another long day in the field.

 

WEDNESDAY 11TH JULY - OBER, LATCHMORE & MARTIN DOWN

Sunny spells and very warm in light winds, 27C

 

Today we would mainly concentrate on bugs as we opted to use the great weather to hit our remaining three key sites for New Forest specialities, starting with the very localised White-legged Damselfly at Ober Water near Rhinefield Ornamental Drive. This was only a ten minute drive from our accommodation, and we were soon wandering down across the heath noting our first Keeled Skimmers of the day, and picking up a variety of birds along the woodland fringe. This included a pair of Hawfinch, which alerted us to their presence with the sharp flight call, but dived quickly into the trees out of sight. Reaching Ober Water, there seemed to be a strange dearth of damselfly activity actually on the stream itself, and we thought perhaps they were still among the surrounding vegetation waiting for the day to fully heat up. Exploring the banks of bracken and sedge adjacent to the stream, we eventually found a single male White-legged Damselfly – a great view of a really photogenic individual which sat out for us long enough for everyone to get a picture! This was a great result, as this species can be tough to find. Emperor and Beautiful Demoiselle were also plentiful here, and there were Keeled Skimmers everywhere around the ‘enchanted pool’ which was looking a lot drier than normal this year. Azure Damselfly was also added here, a species which we had seen surprisingly few of so far. Heading back up along the edge of the wood, we found a family of Redstarts with three scaly youngsters sticking to the shade, and quivering their half grown tails. Stonechats were also out in force, and a Spotted Flycatcher showed really well, sallying out in front of us close enough to hear the snap of its bill closing around an unsuspecting insect. Amazingly what was presumably the same two Hawfinches came in on the exact same trajectory as earlier, dropping into the same trees – this time at least half the group saw them! The highlight of the morning though was a fantastic lacteal phase female White-legged Damselfly, hiding among the grass and heather well away from the attentions of the males on the breeding stream. Back at the van it was coffee time, before plotting our next move.

 

Latchmore Brook is a pleasant spot for a bit of bugging, being quite out of the way along a dead end track [so out of the way in fact, that it always takes some finding even though we know where it is!]. It was the hottest part of the day here, and we had another key target to find – the ever difficult Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly. It was really dry here, with most of the stream and its adjoining flushes being totally parched and bare. This did mean that the wet bits we did find were buzzing with odonata – Keeled Skimmer, Golden-ringed Dragonfly and Small Red Damselfly in particular. Initially there was no sign of the main attraction, but eventually we found a boggy flush with a slow moving trickle of water through it – perfect habitat! Thankfully the Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly thought so too and we had our best ever showing of the species on one of our trips, seeing at least five males and getting prolonged, close up views. Brown Hawker and Holly Blue were other insect highlights here, before we returned to the car park for lunch in the sunshine.

 

 

White-legged Damselfly and Dark Green Fritillary

 

Our route north-west to Martin Down took us over the Hampshire Avon at Ibsley, a beautiful spot where the water was alive with a blue haze of Common Blue Damselfies. We had stopped though to tick off Banded Demoiselle, having seen scores of Beautiful at other sites in the forest. There were dozens of them here, so it wasn’t difficult, and in fact we got somewhat sidetracked by some of the other wildlife on offer – Little Egret, Reed Bunting, Grey Wagtail, Red Kite and Common Kingfisher. All were trumped though by an impressive 12lb Barbel, loitering among the weed below the bridge – what a giant fish! Continuing on, we reached Martin Down car park in time for afternoon tea and cake, and our first Ringlet and Marbled White butterflies. A Turtle Dove was purring, and we enjoyed lovely scope views before it took off and displayed right overhead. Wandering down onto the down, we found lots of Small Skipper feeding on flowering Marjoram, and among them we could pick out a couple of Essex Skipper with their black-tipped antennae. Small Copper, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone were also seen, while the Scarce Forrester Moth was another interesting sighting. Botanically this site is amazing, being a vast swathe of unimproved chalk grassland – Pyramidal Orchid and Knapweed Broomrape were just two species we enjoyed but there were many, many more. Another Turtle Dove purred from an open perch, and at least four Corn Buntings were noted, including one in song. We searched hard for any early Small Blue but couldn’t find any, having to make do instead with great views of many Dark Green Fritillaries, mainly females searching for violets for egg laying. A super afternoon and another great day of all round wildlife.

 

TUESDAY 10TH JULY - CROCKFORD, BEAULIEU & MATLEY

Warm sunny day with little cloud, moderate winds, 25C

 

The remarkable summer weather continues into its fourth week as we basked in beautiful sunshine all day, and with no sign of a change on the immediate horizon, we had the rare luxury on one of our bug trips of not having to panic too much about fitting everything in around the weather! We started at Upper Crockford Stream, one of our favourite all round wildlife watching sites in the New Forest, and we were right into the good stuff from the off with a Southern Damselfly among the heather. We had the chance to study this species closely throughout our walk along the stream here, with several, mainly males, observed among the Bog Myrtle and heather. The metallic dancing forms of many Beautiful Demoiselles delighted us too, and at every turn we were seeing Keeled Skimmers and the ever impressive Golden-ringed Dragonfly. Further up the stream, in the more open area, we had great views of a Broad-bodied Chaser and our first Emperor, while Common Darters were newly emerged and drying their silvery wings in the sunshine. It really was hard to know where to look next as we moved from one great view to another! Butterflies were fairly thin on the ground here, but we saw plenty of Gatekeeper and Large Skipper, and once we crossed the stream and headed up onto the more open heath, we soon added Silver-studded Blue and Dark Green Fritillary. The latter were typically fast moving males, out hunting for females hidden among the heather, and as such they did not settle for a moment. With so much going on at ground level, it was hard to remember to keep looking up, though frequent checking of the sky above revealed a superb female Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and a pair of Ravens. One of the Ravens hung around, circling above the heath where it was mobbed relentlessly by the comparatively tiny Kestrel. Walking a bit further on, we soon found a family of Stonechats and knew this would be a good chance to seek out a Dartford Warbler. After following the chats along for a while, a male Dartford Warbler eventually popped up right on top of the gorse ahead of us, swinging its tail from side to side as it looked around before diving back into cover. Later we found a juvenile bird, preening in the sun and allowing a longer view, and we also heard a few snatches of song from the male. Heading back across the heath, we had superb close up views of an early Grayling butterfly, displaying its brilliantly cryptic underwing pattern as it sat motionless on a bare patch of earth among the heather. We actually ended up seeing several, including one which was very newly emerged and appeared to be still hardening its wings for a maiden flight. Over the distant forest, a Goshawk appeared and circled around a few times for us before stooping down into the trees out of sight, not a bad way to round off a pretty awesome morning.

 

 

The rare Southern Damselfly, and a pair of Golden-ringed Dragonflies 'in cop'

 

Coffee stop was nearby Hatchet Pond, another favourite site for odonata. Just walking along the shore of the pond, we saw many Common Blue Damselflies and enjoyed our first views of Black-tailed Skimmers to compare with the Keeled seen earlier on in the day. It was the ‘red-eyed’ damselflies that provided the most interest here though – we had the rather unique opportunity, being in the narrow flight period overlap zone, to watch both Red-eyed and Small Red-eyed Damselflies side by side, comparing their structure, eye colour and pattern of blue on the abdomen. A really instructive lesson! A super male Broad-bodied Chaser was also seen, while the Bramble and gorse at the edge of the pond hosted several Small Red Damselfly, which posed beautifully for photographs. Large Red Damselfly was seen too, giving another good comparison opportunity. Round the far side of the pond, we tried unsuccessfully for Downy Emerald, which appeared to be over, and had to make do instead with lots of Four-spotted Chasers, Emperor and another good view of Small Red-eyed Damselfly. It had been a great day for odonata, with 17 species seen by lunchtime! We now opted for a bit of a chill out in the hottest part of the day, visiting Bealieu Road Station Shatterford car park where we could stand under the shade of the pines and spend a bit of time scanning for forest raptors. Two speckled juvenile Redstarts were a nice bonus right by the car park, along with a family party of Mistle Thrush. The heat haze meant we didn’t see too much on the raptor front other than Common Buzzards and Kestrel, but a pair of Ravens did drift through and we had another, more prolonged view of a distant Goshawk which everyone had a chance to see through the scope.

 

Denny Wood would provide some shade and a chance to look for woodland butterflies, and we were not disappointed. We had to make an impromptu stop just beyond the campsite, as a clump of flowering Bramble was alive with Silver-washed Fritillaries! We counted at least ten, but they were coming and going all the time and it could easily have been more. On the same clump were a similar number of Brimstone, Gatekeeper, Small Skipper, Meadow Brown and Large White – a real butterfly fest! Parking for a short walk through the wood, we had nice views of Spotted Flycatcher and added both Marsh Tit and Treecreeper, plus several more sightings of Silver-washed Fritillary. A Southern Hawker was a highlight, patrolling a small patch of shady forest floor and frequently buzzing right around our feet. Upon catching a larger prey morsel, it would dart up into the oaks and hang up in the sunshine to munch its prize – a truly impressive beast! Finally a Purple Hairstreak was seen, typically high up in the canopy of an oak, but it didn’t perform well and most people just saw a little silver triangle dancing off through the branches! The end of the day was spent at Matley Bog, but since we had already seen all the possible odonata, we opted not to venture too far out onto the heath here. Instead we stuck to the woodland fringe, noting a few Willow Warblers, and then checked an area where we frequently find Woodlark at this time of year. Right on cue, two well fledged Woodlark exploded from the bracken, dropping back into a small open patch where we might have a chance to see them. One was in the open, motionless, but unfortunately no one could quite get onto it before they both flew again – at least giving people a chance to note their compact and short tailed silhouette in flight. It had been a really nice mixed day with some great highlights – what a difference the weather makes to a trip like this!

 

 

Little and large - Silver-washed Fritillary and Large Skipper, and a Brimstone

 

 

MONDAY 9TH JULY - ARRIVAL & NIGHTJARS

Warm day in light winds, 25C

 

Our arrival to Lyndhurst in the heart of the New Forest around 1700 was slightly delayed due to the dreaded M25, but once we were assembled in the guest house garden with a cup of tea and slice of cake, and Siskins singing around us, it was soon forgotten! We didn’t have time for much birding in the agenda today, but after an excellent dinner in nearby Emery Down, we opted to take to the heath in search of European Nightjar, often quite easy to find not far from our accommodation. It was a stunning warm, still evening as we arrived at a faithful Nightjar territory, and almost right away we saw a female floating low over the gorse in the half light. She was closely followed by the male, with white-spotted tail fanned and tilted like a ships rudder to impress his mate. We watched the pair for several minutes, though interestingly heard virtually no calling at all. Eventually they gave a few croaks and a bit of wing-clapping, before the female headed off purposefully to feed elsewhere. The male returned, churring briefly as darkness fell on our first evening in the New Forest – a great way to kick off the trip!

 


MULL & IONA 2018 [AS]

 

SUNDAY 1ST JULY - TRAVELLING HOME

Warm day in a slightly cooler breeze, 24C

 

Today was a travelling day, but we had time to squeeze in a little birding either side of breakfast. We opted for an 0830 breakfast and an hours walk beforehand, along the nearby Carsaig road. Our primary target was Wood Warbler, but unfortunately we drew a blank – for the first time ever we didn’t even manage to hear one on the island this year, a species in dire straits. The Black-throated Diver was once again off Pennyghael, meaning we had now seen it every day in virtually the same spot! Another species we had recorded daily, and far less surprising, was Hen Harrier. Mull is a premier location in Britain for this species, and as we packed up the van and headed off up the glen towards Craignure, we saw a male drifting over the road near the three lochs viewpoint. We also called in briefly at a Golden Eagle eyrie, and had absolutely superb views of both adults circling above the crags – perhaps the best views of the whole week! They were being relentlessly mobbed by a pair of Kestrels, which looked like tiny midgets by comparison! The crossing back to Oban was in beautiful sunshine, though sadly the drive back to Norfolk was not so incident-free – a bad accident on the A85 meant a closed road and a fifty mile detour to the north via Glencoe and Rannoch Moor. We still managed to get back to Great Ryburgh just before midnight.

 

SATURDAY 30TH JUNE - NORTH-EAST MULL

Hot and sunny in light winds, 25C

 

The heatwave continued today, though it was a touch cooler and more comfortable with a slight breeze and the odd puff of cloud around – the first ones we had seen all week! We enjoyed a superb days wildlife watching, which started for some with good views of Otter close to the hotel, and the Black-throated Diver still lingering offshore. Our main destination for the morning would be Grasspoint, though of course it was impossible to drive all the way up the glen without seeing a pair of Hen Harriers on the way! Winding our way down the narrow Grasspoint road, we enjoyed a nice little flurry of birds at the top end with a Spotted Flycatcher on the roadside fence causing us to stop, and then a scaly juvenile Redstart popping up in the same view. Down by the parking area, a pair of Whinchats had fledged young out too, and we had some really nice views of them all perched on top of the bracken with the male calling nervously nearby. Walking down towards the point, we saw several Golden-ringed Dragonflies and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, though we couldn’t find any Marsh Fritillaries this year despite the perfect butterfly weather. Orchids were also plentiful, with Lesser Butterfly Orchid added to the list, and we were frequently seeing and hearing Willow Warblers all along the walk. At the point, we spent some time scanning the sound, where many gulls were feeding in the tidal race including Black-headed Gulls and Kittiwakes. A small bird caught the eye, a long way out, showing a more tern like flight. It showed a dark ‘W’ pattern on its upperwings, but soon alighted on a rock way out in the distance with lots of other gulls. Eventually we could see it well enough to note a partial dark hood, and again its diminutive size against the surrounding Kittiwakes and Common Gulls – it was a first-summer Little Gull, our first ever for the tour. Heading back up to the car park, a pipit circled us silently and dropped into some tall pines. It was a lovely, richly coloured fresh juvenile Tree Pipit, which soon took off again and gave us a ‘bzzzt’ as it flew past. Back at the van over coffee, we enjoyed the Whinchats again, and then two adult White-tailed Eagles circled into view way above the ridge in the distance – excellent!

 

Next stop was Salen, where we would try unsuccessfully for Wood Warbler and have lunch by the old boats looking over Salen bay. We did find a nice Common Greenshank here, and a Red-breasted Merganser, but nothing more. Tobermory was the final corner of the island which we had not visited, and with reports of a long staying Iceland Gull recently, we had two reasons to visit. It was baking hot here though, and we couldn’t find the gull despite good numbers being present in the distillery burn. A look for the Dipper often present here was also unsuccessful – time to move on and try something else in the hot part of the day! Heading back to Salen, we took the road round towards Knock and then on to a spot where we knew of a White-tailed Eagle nest. The birds weren’t in residence, but it was a super spot to enjoy a brew with Dark Green Fritillary on the wing and a real bonus in the form of a full summer plumage Slavonian Grebe on nearby Loch na Keal. Presumably a failed breeder or early returnee, as the species does not breed in Mull. Just as we were getting ready to leave, an adult White-tailed Eagle drifted in, and off across the loch, where it caught up with a second bird and circled distantly over the hillside. After a few blank days for this species, we were making up for it today. Next we drove around to another spot, this time overlooking a Golden Eagle territory, and spent some time carefully scanning the cliffs. On the way a short stop at a river crossing produced lovely views of a young Dipper, our first and only one of the trip. At our chosen eagle watchpoint, a Common Snipe was in the roadside ditch, but initially there was no sign of any eagle action. Perseverance paid off again though, as an adult Golden Eagle circled into view, giving great scope views as the sun glinted off its golden nape feathers. It circled high and away, before returning and joining its mate. We then watched the two eagles circling together for ten minutes or so, giving everyone a chance on the scope. This wrapped the day up nicely, and all that remained was to drive back round to Pennyghael via Glen Seilisdeir, scanning for Otters as we went. No Otters again this evening, but stunning views of our regular female Hen Harrier, quartering right alongside the van again in beautiful light. Always a great end to any day!

 

FRIDAY 29TH JUNE - TRESHNISH ISLES

Hot & sunny in light winds, 25C

 

Today was our Treshnish Isles trip, seeing us head down the Ross of Mull towards Fionnophort for our 0945 sailing with Staffa Tours out to the island of Lunga. On the way, we had a spare twenty minutes to pop down to Loch Assapol, near Bunessan, where we noted a nesting pair of Yellowhammers, and heard a Cuckoo. Continuing down to Fionnophort, we joined the boat and steamed out through the Sound of Iona on another baking hot sunny morning! A fine Red-throated Diver was in the sound, and we soon began to see plenty of Common Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins as we made a beeline out to Lunga which would be our first stop. Reaching the island, and cruising around to the north side, the sea was peppered with hundreds of auks and Fulmars, floating on the crystal clear turquoise water – we could have been in the Mediterranean!

 

 

Puffin with nest material and Guillemot with chick, Lunga 29th June

 

Heading ashore on the floating pontoon, we crossed the boulder beach and up to the base of the cliffs, where we could see thousands of Puffins flying to and fro and enjoy close views of Rock Pipits and Wheatears. Once up on the clifftop, we were literally in amongst the Puffins and spent some time watching them going about their business, including several pairs which seemed to be still doing housework and taking grasses down into their burrows. Others clearly had pufflings onderground and we saw several birds diving down holes with beaks full of sandeels – great to see. A pair of Great Skuas were patrolling from a nearby small island where they appeared to be nesting, and we had some superb views of them, much to the annoyance of the Puffins who would cascade off the clifftop in unison each time a ‘bonxie’ made a pass. As we continued along the clifftop to Harp Rock, we enjoyed amazing close views of breeding Razorbills, Fulmars and Shags, the latter nesting among the boulders which lined the pathway. Harp Rock itself was a noisy, smelly and boisterous Guillemot city, with thousands of birds thronging the ledges with half grown chicks. Kittiwakes were also nesting here in numbers – a great place to sit in the sun and enjoy our lunch overlooking the mass of birds! Picking our way back, we spent some more time with the Puffins and watched Arctic Terns swirling over their nearby nesting island before it was time to board the boat again for the thirty minute trip to Staffa. Rather than walking down to Fingal’s Cave, we opted to take a walk along the top of the island to look for Twite. We found a singing bird perched distantly, but could see its pink rump through the telescope! It eventually flew and dropped down onto the undercliff, where we found it feeding with two others and had some really nice scope views. Another highlight here were the Black Guillemots, breeding in the cave entrance by the jetty and giving some really lovely views, the best we had enjoyed so far.

 

The sail back under clear blue skies and sunshine saw us back in Fionnophort about 3.15pm, and after collecting the van we made for Loch Assapol again for afternoon tea stop. The Yellowhammer pair were still busy, but we didn’t add anything else apart from a Common Whitethroat – it was stinking hot here! We didn’t hang around, as we couldn’t wait to get the air conditioning on in the van for a respite from the oppressive heat – yes this really was the west coast of Scotland and not southern Spain!! Heading back up to Pennyghael, we collected two of the group who had sat out the Lunga trip [having done it before three times, they had opted for a day walking locally instead noting Wood Warbler, Whinchat, Cuckoo, Dark Green & Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries] and headed around Loch Scridain to the Burg peninsula. A short walk in the sun here was unproductive – we hoped to find the mega rare Slender Scotch Burnet Moth but it was perhaps too warm for it to be out and about – even the butterflies were finding it too hot now! A Greenshank was seen near Tiroran on the high tide, and working our way slowly back around to Loch Beg we checked for Otters, but none could be found. We did have cracking views of a female Hen Harrier though, hunting beside the road, and then the male appeared and crossed the road in front of us before making off across the water towards Kinloch. A nice end to another scorching hot day in the Inner Hebrides!

 

THURSDAY 28TH JUNE - IONA AND ROSS OF MULL

Another very hot and sunny day, 30C

 

The unbelievable weather continues! Our pre-breakfast observations outside the hotel included the Black-throated Diver again on Loch Scridain, though otherwise it was largely quiet in the already very warm conditions. We had decided that we would head down the Ross of Mull today, and take the short ferry crossing from Fionnophort to Iona. We knew it was going to be tough going in the heat, but that we had to at least have a go at finding a Corncrake against the odds! We started up around the famous Abbey, a major pilgrimage centre from where Christianity was spread throughout Scotland. A Sedge Warbler was chattering away on the irises and showed pretty well, and the first of many Northern Wheatear juveniles were also seen. Some smart Rock Doves, and obliging singing Willow Warbler, were the only other sightings of note before we retraced to the village centre and then up the track towards the west coast of the island. This was the quietest, hottest drag of the day with little seen other than Wheatear, and a pretty hot and tired group reached the golf course on the west coast where we sat down in the refreshing breeze for an early lunch. The bay looked beautiful in this weather, and we saw Common Eiders, Shelducks and Red-breasted Mergansers here. Best of all though, was a fine summer plumaged Great Northern Diver fishing just offshore, completing our diver set for the tour and the first time we had ever managed it! The long walk back produced just a couple of short snatches of Corncrake crekking, but clearly we weren’t going to see one today. We reached the pier just as the ferry was coming in, which was good timing, and so we swiftly returned to Fionnophort and headed down to Fidden for a welcome cup of tea. Here a female Hen Harrier was hunting over the bracken covered hillside, and an unexpected flock of twenty Lapwing were seen.

 

Our afternoon was a more chilled out affair, after the exertions of walking around Iona in the heat. We drove back up to Pennyghael, and then on up the glen to scan for raptors from a few watchpoints. At the first, an adult White-tailed Eagle drifted over as we pulled up, but unfortunately disappeared behind the hill and wasn’t seen again. Large Heath and Six-spot Burnet were noted at ground level, but we didn’t note much else here and so moved on to Glen Forsa. Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was seen well here, while over the adjacent hillside, an adult Golden Eagle drifted over. The bird crossed the valley, ending up over the ridge to the south, where it was mobbed by a comparatively tiny Common Buzzard! It really was a hot and sticky afternoon though, and with the day wearing on we opted to head back towards base and take a slow drive around the top end of Loch Scridain and Loch Beg to look for Otters. We didn’t see any, and had to make do instead with another excellent view of our local male Hen Harrier, which flew right alongside the van at the roadside. A fine end to an otherwise very quiet day.

 

WEDNESDAY 27TH JUNE - SEA EAGLE TRIP AND NORTH-WEST MULL

Baking hot day in light winds, 27C

 

In over a dozen tours to Mull over the years, we have often been lucky with some sunny weather, but never would we ever have described it as ‘hot’! Today was exactly that – we could have been in the Med! Our day started strongly again, as a young White-tailed Eagle was sitting on the rocky skerries just west of the hotel. It was still there after breakfast, giving everyone the chance for a distant scope view, and the Black-throated Diver was also still present and showing really well. Our morning was planned for us, as we had booked with Mull Charters out of Ulva Ferry for their ‘Sea Eagle’ trip, always an unforgettable experience and tour highlight. A smart male Redpoll greeted us near the pier, signing from the top of a sallow with bright raspberry red breast. Once aboard, we chugged east into Loch na Keal, and down towards Killiechronan spotting the odd Black Guillemot and Gannet as we went. Soon the first White-tailed Eagle appeared, a male from an adjacent nest site, and swooped in majestically to pluck a fish from the water right next to the boat. It felt as though everyone was holding their breath the whole time! Twenty minutes later and the same eagle was back, taking another fish back to its nest which we were told contained two healthy chicks which had been ringed the week before. The third and final time the eagle came in he made a really slow approach, giving the photographers in the group the best chance yet for some gripping images of it plucking the fish from the water no more than 50 metres away. From here, we motored back west towards the mouth of the loch and along the south side of Ulva. The views here were just stunning, out to Inch Kenneth, Staffa, Lunga, and Tiree. We enjoyed tea and biscuits as we floated silently on the water here but we didn’t sea too many other birds of note. A small group of moulting Common Eiders, several Shags and Black Guillemots being the best of it – a spectacular Barrel Jellyfish was perhaps the highlight, passing right under the boat! After a look at the local Common Seals and their new pups, we headed back around Ulva and into the jetty – a really enjoyable three hours on the water.

 

Lunch was at nearby Eas Fors, were the temperature peaked at 27C! Dark Green Fritillary was noted whizzing over the bracken, and we also saw Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Grey Wagtail. Continuing on, we navigated the rather tedious minor road around Treshnish and on to Calgary – the island was really busy in the nice weather, so there was a lot of pulling over and reversing to be done! Calgary beach looked stunning in the sunshine, but our destination would be the remote Caliach Point, at the very north-west tip of Mull. Afternoon tea in the sunshine here scanning out across the sea produced a group of Harbour Porpoise, plenty of Shags, Common Guillemots and Rock Pipits, plus numerous Northern Wheatears bobbing about on the grass. The views out from here were also spectacular – Ardnamurchan, Eigg, Rhum, Skye and Coll all being visible. As we headed back out along the lane, scattering more Wheatears as we went, a Spotted Flycatcher popped up on a roadside fence post, giving everyone a nice view. The wildlife generally seemed to be keeping low in the baking heat though [something they are probably not used to on Mull] and we didn’t see a great deal else until we had passed Craignure and headed back down the Glen to Inverlussa. Here we made a short roadside spot at a location which is often good for Whinchat, and sure enough had nice views of a pair working their way along a fenceline, and up and down on the telegraph wires. Thinking that perhaps we might see a Hen Harrier or two on the way back, we actually went one better with a pair of Golden Eagles appearing over the ridge near the three lochs viewpoint. We dived into the small parking area and watched the eagles soaring for some time, mobbed almost continually by an agitated Common Kestrel. Superb views through the scope, with near perfect light on these most magnificent birds as they slowly spiralled round above the mountainside. Not quite so action packed as yesterday, but a delightful day all the same with some excellent highlights.

 

TUESDAY 26TH JUNE - CENTRAL & SOUTH-EAST MULL

Fine and sunny, clouding over later, 20C

 

A superb days wildlife watching today, which was really to be expected given we were on Mull in perfectly calm, warm and sunny weather! The excitement kicked off before breakfast, as some of the group found a non-breeding plumage Black-throated Diver, presumably a second calendar year bird, floating on the glass-like surface of Loch Scridain just off our hotel. We all had some really nice views of this distinctive bird through the scopes – a great start to the day! After breakfast, we set off in the direction of Kinloch, but didn’t get very far as we spotted two Otters frolicking in the water just off the rocks. A conveniently placed spot to pull off the road enabled us to set up our scopes and watch the two animals feeding for almost half an hour, getting some really great views in the process. A superb adult pair of Red-throated Divers were also seen, preening out on the flat calm water, and we also saw the Black-throated Diver again a little closer. Further away, but still a useful addition to the list, was a Common Greenshank marching along the seaweed strewn shoreline of Loch Beg, a classic location for this localised species. We managed to tear ourselves away, and head on to a spot where we often see Golden Eagles. Two adult birds were sitting out on the crags in the morning sunshine, again giving superb scope views. A little further on, and a ringtail Hen Harrier was seen circling above the road, requiring another impromptu pull off. We watched her hunting over the bracken covered hillside in lovely light, before she was joined by the male – it wasn’t even 10am, and we had seen many of Mulls specialities already!

 

 

Redstart and Common Sandpiper, 26th June

 

Our plan for the morning was to head down to Loch Buie, one of our favourite spots on the island. This took us along the narrow winding road through the oak woods near Croggan, a productive area where we would spend a bit of time looking for woodland passerines. A Tree Pipit flew up from the grass as we parked up, and we eventually found it again perched in a dead tree back along the road, giving its subtle high pitched single note alarm call. The highlight here though was a rather unexpected pair of Common Redstarts, using one of the nestboxes – we hadn’t seen them here for a couple of years, so to get such good views was a real bonus. Other species noted here included Willow Warblers feeding young, a family of Coal Tits, and good views of Treecreeper. Continuing down to Lochbuie, we parked overlooking the water and out to the distant island of Colonsay. It was actually pretty quiet here for birds, but we saw two more distant Red-throated Divers over coffee, and a Common Eider family. Returning back by the same route, we made a stop to look for Common Redpolls among the Rhodedendron covered slopes, and we ended up enjoying great views of a male perched on telegraph wires. Common Stonechats, Willow Warbler, Great-spotted Woodpecker and Yellowhammer were also seen. Amazingly it was already lunchtime, so we returned to the main road and parked up at a spot which is often very good for orchids and odonata. It had clouded up now, meaning butterflies were off the menu, but we saw Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Keeled Skimmer, Large Red Damselfly, Four-spotted Chaser, Heath-spotted, Heath Fragrant and Greater Butterfly Orchids. Common Whitethroat and a Sparrowhawk carrying prey were two of the avian highlights as we ate our sandwiches.

 

 

Greater Butterfly Orchid and Golden Eagle, 26th June

 

The second part of our afternoon would be spent down at Loch Ba, a beautiful scenic spot in the centre of the island. We headed there via Craignure, stopping briefly for the shop and toilets, before parking round at Knock. Grey Wagtail and Spotted Flycatcher were seen briefly as we had a coffee, before setting off along the track down to the loch. It was really warm and muggy, and so the horseflies were out in force here! Nevertheless we found two more Spotted Flycatchers, Siskin, Treecreeper, Willow Warbler and Stonechat along the way, and a pair of Common Sandpipers along the loch shore were tending a half grown chick, which was great to see. We didn’t see much else though, with no Redstarts here this year, so we returned to the car park and made our way back to base via the Loch na Keal ‘scenic route’. Birds noted along the way included several Northern Wheatears, and we enjoyed magnificent views out to Coll, Tiree, Staffa, Iona, Ulva and the Treshnish Isles. A very enjoyable and productive first day on magical Mull!

 

 

MONDAY 25TH JUNE - ARRIVAL TO MULL

Fine and sunny in light winds, 23C

 

After departing our Norfolk base yesterday afternoon and driving as far as Doncaster for an overnight stop, we set off early this morning at 0730 for the remainder of our journey north, collecting our final two guests in Penrith en route. The journey was uneventful, and the scenery beautiful in the superb weather as we wound our way up the west side of Loch Lomond and beyond Tyndrum to Oban. The ferry departed just before 1600, and we enjoyed a fine sail across with great views across to Morvern and up Loch Linnhe to Ben Nevis in the distance. Birds were fairly sparse on the crossing, though we noted a large number of Kittiwakes and a few Shags resting on the skerries in the Sound of Mull and some nice views of Black Guillemots. Once in Craignure, we set off down past Lochdon and Inverlussa and on through Glen More towards the Ross of Mull peninsula which would be our home for the next six nights. Rather predictably, it wasn’t possible to go through our first afternoon on Mull without seeing a Hen Harrier, and right on cue a cracking male flew low across the road in front of the van as we reached Kinloch. We had some nice views of the bird quartering out over the grassland towards Ben More, the first of many we would no doubt see before the end of the trip. Our first Common Sandpipers were ‘peeping’ away along the shore of Loch Beg, and we saw Common Stonechat and Hooded Crow too before reaching our hotel in Pennyghael.  A classic Loch Scridain sunset and excellent dinner would follow, as we planned our first full day on the island tomorrow.

 

 


 

NORFOLK SUMMER WILDLIFE TOUR 2018 [JM + AR]

 

SUNDAY 24TH JUNE – Blazing sunshine all day, very light winds, 22C

 

Our final day of our Norfolk wildlife tour was set under blue skies and wall to wall sunshine; we couldn’t have been luckier with this weekend! Our last set of destinations would be based in and around the Norfolk Brecklands, where a fascinating array of insects await, along with a superb array of birds. Our first stop was Thompson Common, where the insect rich glacial pingos would be our main interest, so long as we could make it through the mosquito-infested woods! Of course we did, noting Marsh Tit as we went, arriving in the sunshine at the other side with some relief. The fringes of the pools were alive with odonata, and we quickly noted Norfolk Hawker (a recent colonist to this area) and both Emerald and Scarce Emerald Damselflies in their droves in the long grasses. Further odonata included a single Banded Demoiselle and Brown Hawker, a couple of Hairy Dragonflies and Large Red Damselflies, and several Azure and Common Blue Damselflies. The butterflies present included Large Skipper and White Admiral, along with the more expected species. A superb site! Reed Warbler, Reed Bunting and Blackcap were all vocal here, and we left very much impressed with the array on offer.

 

 

A day rich both in insect and avian highlights, including this Scarce Emerald Damselfly and Eurasian Bittern

 

Following this, we headed deeper into the Brecks, stopping briefly at the Forestry Commission car park for a cuppa, noting a couple of wandering Banded Demoiselles whilst here. We then moved onto a favoured forest ride, where the temperature was a good few degrees warmer than what it was earlier in the morning! Birdlife this morning was fairly hard to come by, probably affected by the oppressive heat, though Yellowhammers were seen well along with a family party of Common Whitethroats. However, insect life was enjoying the weather, with 30+ Small Skippers, around 10 Small Heath and four Purple Hairstreaks all noted in far greater numbers than the other day. The latter were our first of the year, and some were giving fantastic views low in the oak trees. An Elephant Hawkmoth was a surprise in the long grass, while a variety of common butterflies and a couple of Emperor Dragonflies were also seen. Following lunch under the pleasant shade of a tree, we paid a visit to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Weeting Heath, where we would look to see one of the regions avian specialities – the Stone Curlew. After collecting our permits (and the odd ice cream for some group members!) we made our way across to the west hide. Looking out over the open grasslands (the grasses now exceptionally long due to a decimated rabbit population caused by Viral Haemorrhaging Disease) we were soon watching one of these iconic birds, showing quite well stood out in the field. Being principally crepuscular, most action occurs late on, so it was little surprise that the bird was watched doing relatively little! A Stock Dove was also noted, while behind the hide Spotted Flycatchers were vocal, having recently fledged a brood of youngsters, though a single adult was all we could note. Back at the car park, Ade had noted eight species of butterfly, including Purple Hairstreak. Our final stop of the day would be the RSPB’s fantastic Lakenheath reserve. Arriving at the visitor centre, a moth trap was presented for us to take a look at, which while being rather quiet did hold a beautiful Buff Tip moth. Out onto the reserve we made our way to the Fen Hide, noting many Ruddy Darters, all three blue damsels, singles of Brown Hawker and Hairy Dragonfly and several Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-spotted Chasers. Reaching the Fen, Red-eyed Damselflies were common over the pond scum, while scanning he reedbeds produced views of two Bitterns in flight; fantastic! However, this was just a prelude of what was to come later at Mere Hide. Walking out to the poplar stand, Bearded Tits were vocal but difficult to see, until a male flew straight through our group and into the reeds in front of us. Reed Warblers were numerous throughout. Time was already ticking, but we had time to take a look at the Mere Hide, where a family had been reported in the morning. Walking to the hide, a single Bittern was visible for those of us tall enough to see over the reeds, so we hurried to the hide and enjoyed a fantastic show. Two virtually fledged Bitterns were variously parading around at the front of the reeds lining this small pool, fishing, wing-flapping and occasionally bitterning. An absolute privilege to be able to watch behaviour like this of one of the UK’s rarest birds. Returning back to the van, Ade pulled one final treat out of the bag, with a single Scarce Chaser in the car park. A fine ending to a weekend which has featured so many highlights.

 

 

 

SATURDAY 23RD JUNE – Bright and sunny all day, lightnorth-east wind, 20C

 

Another superb day of weather, and with it came some superb sightings! Things got off to a good start with a Barn Owl hunting over the grasslands bordering the river Wensum just outside Great Ryburgh, putting on a good show for around 10 minutes. Banded Demoiselles were also noted along the riverbank, though there wasn’t a huge amount of activity from this species so early in the day. From here we made our way east, where we would spend our day in the Norfolk Broads; home of the Swallowtail Butterfly and Norfolk Hawker Dragonfly. Arriving at the Norfolk Wildlife Trusts Hickling Broad reserve, we paused at the visitor centre to collect our permits, and were soon noting our first Variable Damselflies, along with several Azure Damselflies. Walking out onto the reserve, the first small pool came up trumps, with two Norfolk Hawkers flighting over our heads! This incredibly rare UK species gave us a nice show, displaying its bright green eyes for which it is given its alternative name, the Green-eyed Hawker. A number of Four-spotted Chasers were perching prominently over the pool, while various damsels entertained along the fringes. Chiffchaffs were singing from cover here, while out on the reedbed we noted Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting, as well as our first Marsh Harriers. A lucky couple from the group who were slightly behind the rest of us watching damsels saw a superb Swallowtail butterfly dash up the boardwalk! One of our main targets, the rest of us hoped we would see another! On this front we weren’t disappointed. From here we walked to the jetty at the edge of Hickling Broad and boarded a small boat, upon which we would spend the next few hours cruising the hidden corners of this amazing reserve. Black-tailed Skimmers were abundant throughout, while both Brown Hawker and Norfolk Hawker were also noted. In addition, during the course of the cruise we probably saw around five Swallowtail butterflies; likely males dashing fast over the reeds in search of mates and defending territories. A couple of stops and hides deep within the reserve at Swim Coots and Rush Hills revealed a single summer plumaged Dunlin, several Avocets including well grown young, four summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits, a couple of Teal, several Shoveler and a number of breeding Common Terns. A single Gold Spot moth was seen nectaring on thistles, while Bearded Tits provided rather brief views as they dashed over the reeds, ‘ping’ing as they went. Making our way towards the Weavers Way, two adult Great White Egrets cruised slowly overhead, while Great Crested Grebes were noted in small numbers across the broad. Disembarking the boat at the Weavers Way, a sheltered corner of reeds held Common Blue, Azure and Variable Damselflies, while Large Red Damselfly was also seen close by. From here we walked up the 60ft Tower Hide, where we enjoyed the views out to Happisburgh lighthouse, Stubb Mill and Horsey Mere. Probably the highlight, though they were rather distant and difficult to pick up, were a pair of Common Cranes which drifted along the distant treetops and dropped in out of view near Stubb Mill, while Marsh Harrier, Red Kite and Common Buzzard were also seen. In the high oak treetops Black-tailed Skimmer and Four-spot Chaser were basking in the sunshine. Back at the jetty our skipper Phil showed us a small colony of Fen Mason Wasps burrowing into he path; an extremely localised species restricted only to the upper reaches of the Thurne Valley. Finishing our fantastic boat trip, we thanked Phil and made our way back to the visitor centre through the woodland trail, where a number of good sightings included a brief view of a Swallowtail butterfly on the boardwalk, which was unfortunately flushed by a couple of hurried walkers before we could really get close and enjoy it properly. In addition, a single Emerald Damselfly, several Emperor Dragonflies, Black-tailed Skimmers and Ruddy Darters were noted before we made it back to the visitor centre for lunch.

 

 

Great White Egret and this Scarce Chaser were noted today

 

The second half of our day was spent at Strumpshaw RSPB, where we hoped that, with such warm and sunny conditions, the insect life would really perform. On route a Grey Partridge flew over the van. Once at the reserve we made our way along Tinkers Lane, noting Comma, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Meadow Brown and Ringlet Butterflies, along with more Variable Damselflies. Heading across the railway crossing, we enjoyed some lovely sightings along the Fen boardwalk, including our first settled views of both Norfolk Hawker and Brown Hawker. In addition, a single Scarce Chaser showed itself fantastically, allowing us all to note its black wingtips as it returned to use the same hunting perch over and over again. We spent a fair amount of time searching for Swallowtail butterflies here but, while we did find some eggs on its foodplant, Milk Parsley, we couldn’t find any adults. However, Marsh Harriers, a single female Sparrowhawk and several singing Willow Warblers and Reed Warblers all served to entertain. We then headed back to the van for a last cuppa before making our way homewards. However, one last stop saw us pause just down the road from Great Ryburgh, where an old dead oak tree harboured a single showy Little Owl, cheekily watching us from its perches as we watched it from the van. A nice ending to a rather splendid day for general natural history.

 

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

 


 

NORFOLK - SUMMER BREEDERS TOUR JUNE 2018 [AS & JM]

 

 

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!

 

WEDNESDAY 20TH JUNE  - BRECKLAND

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

 

TUESDAY 19TH JUNE - EAST NORFOLK

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

 


NORTH-EAST ENGLAND - THE GRAND TOUR - 4TH - 10TH JUNE 2018 [AS]

 

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!

 

 


NORTH EAST ENGLAND - THE GRAND TOUR - 29TH MAY - 4TH JUNE 2018 [JM]

 

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.

 


 

ORKNEY 27TH MAY - 3RD JUNE 2018 [AS]

 

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!

 


NORFOLK COMPLETE TOUR 18TH - 24TH MAY 2018 [AS]

 

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!

 


OUTER HEBRIDES 16TH - 22ND MAY 2018 [JM/NP]

 

 

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

Tuesday 4th September - Chorokhi Delta and Sakhalvasho raptor watchpoint

Sunny most of the day, with some cloud, humid, 30C