Dark-bellied Brent Geese near Burnham Overy
7 December 2016
We all assembled early in the morning, all of us ready and raring to go birding in North Norfolk once again. A stop or two to take in a brew and a rest stop along the way was welcome, we did pass a few birds along the way, pick of the bunch would have been the Whooper Swan flock. The first birding stop was at Burnham Overy, a walk down the hill from the coast road to link up with the seawall path. This route took us past flocks of Pink-footed, Greylag and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, among them a few Barnacle Geese grazed. Marsh Harriers hunted over the marshes between here and Holkham NNR, these raptors were often responsible for putting up the flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover.
Reaching the seawall we passed flocks of busy Dunlin as well as Redshank and Grey Plover. At the dunes we headed along the beach looking for an autumnal leftover, a long-staying Issabelline Wheatear. Fortunately a flock of 20 Snow Bunting dropped in and gave us great views as they moved up and down the beach and fed on the strandline. A good search of the beach and adjacent dunes did not reveal the target bird, it was getting very breezy so we headed back enjoying the open, wild scenery and birds.
At the guest house we received a warm welcome with tea and cake. After a wash and change what followed was a team effort putting up the Christmas tree! I couldn’t claim to have helped out but it was up and ready for decorating in no time, a first for an Anser trip. Our hosts may have meant it as a jovial comment but at least it saved them a job. A good meal followed in one of the local Dersingham pubs and we were all ready for an early night.
8 December 2016
Breakfast was leisurely and was enlivened by the skeins of Pink-footed Geese heading from the Wash inland for the day. We made our way across country toward Docking, North Creake and Burnham Market to look for flocks and connected with a few groups here and there. It wasn’t long before we were at the Lady Anne’s Drive where we saw Wigeon and Snipe in the fields and were soon heading out to the beach, BW was last to set off and noted a Grey Partridge in the field next to the drive.
Out on the salt marsh between the dunes and woodland belt we searched for our target bird, 19 Shore Lark flew in toward us and landed nearby, the flock scuttled across the sand gleaning seeds as they went. It is always a treat to spend time with these charming birds and there was no hurry to leave them. It has been a brilliant winter for this species in the UK.
Eventually we walked the short distance to the beach to make full use of the high tide to scan for birds. Out on the sea we logged Great Crested Grebes, a fly by Great Northern Diver as well as a few Red-throated Diver. A flock of c25 Velvet Scoter were fairly close in, a larger flock of Common Scoter with 15+ Velvet Scoter were further out with 4 Long-tailed Duck. Heading back through the Holkham Gap we took time to scan the mobile 400 strong Linnet flock, four Twite showed themselves to us when the flock settled on the beach.
Moving on quickly we wanted to catch the high tide period at Titchwell RSPB beach so we didn’t stop to take in many of the birds on the way. KL spotted a Kingfisher as it fished unconcerned by our presence from WW2 pill box. Reaching the beach as soon as we could was a good strategy, we enjoyed a great hour or so going through the birds that drifted past, many were close in. A few Red-throated Divers and a Black-throated Diver were seen well plus Great Crested Grebes and a hide and seek Guillemot. The birding was great, at least 25 immature/female Velvet Scoter were joined by 45+ busy Long-tailed Duck including some brilliant adult males. An adult male Common Scoter with two females, a few Red-breasted Mergansers, c 20 Goldeneyes and c8 Eiders also bobbed about in the waves, further out a flock of scoter were mostly Common but also contained more Velvets. Quite a show and among the best ‘sea-ducking’ for many years.
Wandering back we were able to enjoy the many freshwater dabbling ducks, Little Grebes, Grey Plover, Bar and Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Avocets and Shelduck. Once again KL alerted the group saying she had seen a raptor with a white rump and suspected a harrier. A short wait and it appeared again, we watched a female Hen Harrier as it hunted the dunes and saltmarsh before flying high to the east. More Marsh Harriers were seen over the reed bed on the return walk.
With a bit of light to spare we tried our luck at Thornham Harbour and at Holme next the Sea for a dusk Barn Owl but it was just too windy and was now getting dark, time to head for our accommodation in Dersingham. The evening destination was a ‘Pub of the Year’ in Snettisham for a meal and a drink to celebrate a good day.
9 December 2016
Another morning and another Pink-footed Goose fly-by breakfast, replete we loaded up the car with our gear for a drive inland searching for geese inland, when able to stop and scan safely we settled on a large flock of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese, although no other species were seen we could at least appreciate the birds in full view and without causing them to take flight.
We decided as a group to try our luck back at Burnham Overy Dunes again, another good birding walk this time from the harbour to Gun Hill followed, a thorough search delivered Stonechats and a few thrushes but it wasn’t until we nearly gave up when NS found the Issabelline Wheatear feeding between the saltmarsh and dunes. We spent a good while enjoying it, taking in the features until everyone was satisfied. This is still a very scarce bird in the UK and unusual to see one in the month of December.
Issabelline Wheatear at Gun Hill
As it was our travel day back home we discussed various birding possibilities but we could only manage a short stop at Choseley Drying Barns. A Rough-legged Buzzard had been reported, we could only find a very white Common Buzzard in the location where the RLB was last seen so it may have been a case of mistaken identity. It was busy at the barns with farm machinery so this concluded our birding for this trip other than seeing dozens of Egyptian Geese near a roadside pond.
Thank you to everyone who joined me on another successful visit.
A relaxing break from work.
A week spent in two Andalucian provinces that are among my most favourite areas to watch birds in Europe, I just keep going back and love exploring new sites and visiting productive scenic places again.
I have put together some wildlife related notes and images from my family holiday this year that you may enjoy or find useful, although this was not a birding trip I often get a little bit of time to explore in the mornings whilst everyone else is waking or taking their time to get up and about. We rented a quiet villa in the mountains with spectacular views and great sunsets. Despite it being the hottest time of year and birds being in moult, the area still offered decent birding.
I made no real attempt to take pictures, just reacted to what came my way, this trip was all about relaxing and spending time with my family who do put up with me forever being distracted by wildlife. On the flip side I put up with ‘stuff’ too so it all balances out.
Villa la Palma is near Gaucin, Malaga province, situated on the south side of the Rio Guadiaro within the Serrania de Ronda. The views from the house take in the Sierra de Grazalema on the north side. It is surrounded by Olive groves, woodland and some very steep open grazed fields with livestock the bells of which are among the only sounds you’ll hear, it is one of the sounds of the mountains. Cicadas and crickets also sing, it is a very tranquil place.
Griffon Vultures were present every day and seemed to be trying their luck at what has been described as a vulture restaurant or feeding station on a distant hillside. I noted up to 50 daily and they did circle very low over the pool at time giving brilliant views. Every single one carefully was checked for the rare Ruppell’s Vulture but I had no luck. I did a bit of research and visited this site, it is reached by turning off on a minor road to Colmenar west of Cortes de la Frontera.
The vulture site was very productive for birds but I did not see any vultures on my visit, it is within a fenced area to prevent ground predators from helping themselves to the food with interpretation and a public viewpoint on a nearby hill. I am not sure if food is being put out or not.
Other daily visitors from the garden were Booted Eagles (a pair were feeding young in the woods below the pool), Short-toed Eagle, Swift, Pallid Swift, Crag and House Martin, Red-rumped and Barn Swallows, Sardinian Warbler, Bonelli’s Warbler and I also saw or heard House Sparrow, Wren, Nuthatch, Serin, Golden Oriole and Blue and Great Tits. Nearby we saw Hoopoe, Alpine Swift (Venta/radio masts), Kestrel and Stonechat. A single Turtle Dove flew through. Best of all was the constant presence of a flock of c25 Bee Eaters with some juveniles among them. This flock gave us regular insect catching displays over the pool as they moved up and down the slopes. I did see two other flocks that went through South, a flock of 50 and 15, they did not stop so they may have been migrating.
Short birding/insect finding excursions were as follows
We visited Ronda to get provisions for the week and had a good walk around the old quarter, 30+ Red-billed Chough, Crag Martins and a Short-toed Treecreeper were all seen, it was a sweltering 40c.
A morning out with my son exploring took us the Jimena de la Frontera area. A slow drive across a country track south of the town took us past open fields, eventually we reached a copse on the edge of a village. We had great views of Stonechats, Red-rumped Swallows, 4 Short-toed Eagle, Little Owl, Woodchat Shrikes, singing Golden Oriole, Melodious Warbler, Kestrel, Sardinian Warbler, Hoopoe and more.
We also walked a stretch of the Rio Horzgarganta from the bridge below the castle seeing Red veined and Scarlet Darters, Violet Dropwing, a bunting sp and a few frogs. It was getting very hot at midday so we headed back to the villa. A repeat visit later in the week was made to climb to the castle and enjoy tapas at a restaurant during the heat of the day, at the castle we added two Lesser Kestrel, Booted Eagle, Crag Martins and Griffon Vultures to our list of species seen.
A morning out at in the cork oak woods on the way to and back from the Vulture feeding station between Colmenar and Cortes de la Frontera was productive. Short-toed Treecreeper, Blue, Great and Crested Tits were roaming in a large flock, many Bonelli’s Warblers were among them. A Dartford Warbler or two hid in the roadside brambles and three Short-toed Eagles cruised overhead. Pretty sure I saw a Rock Sparrow on wires below Cortes de la Frontera on the drive up.
One of my favourite drives takes in circular route with a stop at Grazalema, the Mirador de Boyar and Puerto de la Palomas, we also stopped in Zahara where we found La Gallo bar, this provided us with a great table outside and an extensive range of vegetarian tapas for 2.5 euro per dish, delicious! Birds seen included a smart Black Wheatear below Grazalema village, the mirador was a busy spot, Subalpine and Melodious Warblers, Woodlarks, Jays, Stonechats and a Hawfinch. At the pass we watched a large eagle sp that drifted off before I could scope it, lots of Griffon Vultures, 30+ Red-billed Chough, Rock Bunting, Black Redstart and more Stonechats.
We visited the excellent Roman ruins at Acinipo and saw a pair of Black-eared Wheatear, two probable Thekla Larks (never looked at them through binoculars) and plenty of Swifts. A few individual Rock Sparrow flew past and a small flock also whizzed through down the hill. A pair of Turtle Dove rocketed through and zig-zagged over me, no doubt seeing any human contact as a potential death threat. I was shocked not to see this species regularly during the week.
Two Alpine Swift were seen over Cuevo de Gato near Benajoan, I have seen flocks of them here before. Worth visiting for the blast of natural air conditioning as the water spouts from the cave entrance. It is very busy with people on a hot August day.
Got to make a special mention to encourage anyone passing to stop at the store in the small mountain village in Algatocin, modest entrance but the place is a cavern full of stock, everything you need and refreshing to see an independent store. The bars and restaurants of these mountain towns were all very good and we did very well for vegetarian tapas pretty much everywhere we tried.
I hope you enjoy the images, they are a nice reminder of what was a great week.
Sunset view from Villa de Palma, Malaga Province
Red-billed Chough over Ronda, Malaga Province.
Bonelli’s Warbler and Griffon Vulture, Villa de Palma, Malaga Province
Juvenile Woodchat, Marchenilla track
Stonechat, Marchenilla track
Short-toed Eagles (Marchenilla and Colmenar road)
Booted Eagle diving below Casares Castle
Weathervane or vultures this way?
Cork Oak woodland
Bonelli’s Warbler, Cortes de la Frontera, Cadiz Province
Black-eared Wheatear, Ancinipo, Malaga Province
Probably Thekla Lark, Acinipo, Malaga Province
Melodious Warbler, near Mirador de Boyar, Cadiz Province
Woodlark, near Mirador de Boyar, Cadiz Province
Bee Eater, Villa la Palma, Malaga Province
Northumberland with a bit of Teesdale, Durham and South Yorkshire 6-10 June 2016
A selection of images from the Farne Islands (all images Martin J McGill).
This was a repeat visit to this attractive area with visits to Teesdale and South Yorkshire along the way. We travelled 980 miles during the trip and enjoyed some brilliant birding, most of it in sunshine with near cloudless conditions. We explored some new sites and visited some very familiar ones assembling a decent list of birds and some memorable birding.
6 June 2016
Our party of six (including me) met early for departure at Whitminster to make the most of the long June day. We encountered some traffic along the way, after North Lancashire it was clear. All congestion issues were quickly erased with stunning views of moorland scenery and excellent weather. Our first birding stop followed soon after leaving Brough on our way to Middleton in Teesdale.
Scanning the moors whilst eating our lunch we spotted over 20 Red Grouse, three Buzzard, two singing Meadow Pipit, 3+ Golden Plover, Kestrel, two families of Greylag Geese and pairs of Curlew with young. Our next stop was at the magnificent High Force waterfall, it was very warm and sheltered here as we all watched and listened to a male Redstart singing, in addition we saw 3+ Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler (including a bird feeding young in the nest), Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail on the river and Chaffinch, Bullfinch and Siskin in the woods/plantations.
Our next stop was at Langdon Beck where it was a pleasure to watch 9 Black Grouse feeding,a Redshank was ‘chipping’ Curlew ‘bubbling’ and Lapwing ‘pee-wit-ing’. Another Spotted Flycatcher was seen on wires near the hotel as we passed by. A walk to Widdybank gave us more excellent wader activity, Curlews, Oystercatchers, Lapwing, Snipe and Golden Plover all called, displayed or kept an eye on their young as we passed. We were briefly caught in a shower so sheltered behind a stone shed, not before seeing another 8 Black Grouse fly across the fields.
Watching from our latest viewpoint we picked up two male Ring Ouzel and a juvenile worming in the rain, a pair and single female Red Grouse, Pied Wagtails and undeterred a male Wheatear sang. Back at the stream a Song Thrush posed and Grey Wagtail fed, skipping from stone to stone. The area is also notable for Spring Gentian and other wild flowers.
We had used the time well and although we had already done very well there was time for another quick stop. Grindon Lough was a new site, it sounded to be an interesting place but also had a specific attraction. Arriving at the Lough it was not long before we spotted the recently reported Red-necked Phalarope spinning on the water, though it quickly disappeared.
Other species included 4 Ringed Plover, 6 Dunlin (some singing), 8 Redshank, a Greenshank, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard and 20 Wigeon. Subsequently searching the shoreline the female phalarope was relocated on the shoreline fast asleep with Redshank. A fine end to the birding day but we had get to our accommodation, we arrived mid evening making a short shopping stop and arranged to meet up the following morning.
7 June 2016
The weather was still favourable if a little cool on the coast so it was decided to stick to our plan and visit the Farne Islands, it took a couple of journeys due to an issue at the accommodation (small scale wetland creation) but we were all eventually reunited on the quay in readiness for the boat trip out to the rock stacks and islands. As usual the Grey Seals and seabirds did not let us down, the crew skilfully got us in close to enjoy views but not cause disturbance. The seabirds were superb, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Kittiwake, Shag were all seen in vast numbers about the boat or on the cliffs. We landed on Inner Farne to be among (as well as plenty of other visitors) the vast tern colonies. Huge numbers of Arctic Terns with Common and Sandwich Terns in their respective colonies. Eiders and a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers were also great to see.
Back on the mainland we stopped at Beadnell Bay where it took seconds to get onto our fourth tern species of the day- two Little Terns fished the beach at high tide. Our next stop was at Amble for high tide, on the river Coquet we watched Eiders with young some of which were struggling to eat small crabs, also Sand Martins, Shelduck, two female Goosander plus in the fields behind a welcome find by Ian was a single Grey Partridge.
Another nearby stop overlooked Coquet Island, in the distance some of could make out 20+ Roseate Tern as well as the Sandwich , Common and Arctic Tern colonies and plenty of Puffin. A Stonechat fed in the dunes nearby. This concluded another day in the field.
8 June 2016
Our destination for the morning was Holy Island (Lindisfarne), the tides were favourable so we crossed early in the day, as a reward for being the first car in the car park a Barn Owl flew past (Barbara called it). A very pleasant walk along the Crooked Lonnen, out to the Lough and back along the Strait Lonnen was enjoyed although migration was almost non- existent. A Willow Warbler in the sallows perhaps the only bird classed as still moving. The breeding birds were much as you would expect, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Lapwing,House Sparrow, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Gadwall, Reed Bunting, Reed and Sedge Warbler.
A search of the dunes at the Snook gave us two Grey Partridge, Stonechat and Meadow Pipits. Moving off the island to Budle Bay we stopped to scan the channels and mudflats, Little Egret, Mute Swans, Gadwall and Eider the best we could muster.
Driving south we headed for Hauxley NR which was closed so it was off to East Chevington instead, we saw a pair of breeding Marsh Harrier, Great Crested Grebe with young, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Tern visiting to bathe. We had booked boat trip to circumnavigate Coquet Island with time drifting off the tern terraces. A similar range of species were seen but a Red-throated Diver flew past South on our way out. The crew were very good to give us a few drift pasts aboard and to really look at the many Roseate Terns in detail and compare with the other tern species present.
Everyone seemed to be very happy with the views of Roseate Terns and agreed it was now acceptable to count as our fifth tern species of the trip. Being so focussed on our target bird it was easy to forget the thousands of seabirds that were also on show. Back ashore a quayside stop for a chippy tea was followed by our drive back to the accommodation to end another good day.
9 June 2016
After breakfast we made a visit to a local gravel pit and surrounding fields, breeding Goldeneye was a bonus and a brief Tree Sparrow was nice but we also saw/heard 2 Redpoll, 3 Common Sandpiper, Reed Warbler, Blackcap, Yellowhammer, Tufted Duck, Little and Great Crested Grebe.
We moved off South to Widdrington open cast (now full of water) and picked up on two first summer Little Gulls hawking over the lake as well as more familiar wetlands birds. At Druridge Pools a brief Grasshopper Warbler was seen, Whitethroat, Tree Sparrows with broods, Lapwing, Shoveler, Teal, 2 Yellow Wagtails, Gadwall, Snipe displaying and Curlew on the shallow floods and marsh.
At Cresswell Pond we watched more Tree Sparrows (on feeders) and a few Lapwing and Shelduck, the nearby cafe was a popular stop for a fresh brew. Having a bit of time on our hands to finish the day off I decided to go even further South to another new site- the River Wansbeck river mouth.
We arrived in good time but took a while to establish where the footpath actually was, a local boatyard chap pointed us in the right direction so we walked along the cliff top looking down onto the channel and mudflats. It wasn’t long before everyone was getting great views of our afternoon target- a first summer Bonaparte’s Gull. This North American visitor fed on the mud and stream despite getting a bit of negative attention from the other gulls. This happened to be another sun trap so the chance to soak up a bit of heat was taken before finishing for the day.
10 June 2016
A travel day to make our way home with an iffy forecast on the cards, we decided to get going and take in a site on the way. The weather was not great on the homeward drive, we abandoned any notion of looking for Honey Buzzards in Yorkshire so planned to visit another new site- Potteric Carr YWT. Approaching the reserve the rain had stopped and sun was out, we made our way through the visitor centre and walked the whole route taking in a stop at the cafe along the way. The reserve was superb.
Species seen on our interesting route included a large variety of wetland birds but the highlights were Pochard, Mediterranean Gulls, breeding Black-necked Grebe with chicks and the dragonflies and Roe Deer , it says it all that we didn’t even mind not seeing the Hobbies and Bitterns. This was our last stop before getting home. Thank you to all five for joining me on this very productive June tour.
A few more images from the trip follow.
Martin J McGill
Roseate Tern (left)
Roseate (left) with Common Tern
Bonaparte’s Gull, River Wansbeck.
24 November 2015
Our small group assembled in Gloucestershire to load up our baggage and take on the drive to Scotland. Conditions were none too favourable but we carried on and made a couple of stops along the way to break up the journey and have a hot drink and a bite to eat. Our first birding stop was at Silloth which situated on the south side of the Solway Firth mouth, it was windy here too but at least the rain has eased. Flocks of Oystercatcher headed out of the Firth as the tide dropped no doubt to feed on the sandbanks. A Rock Pipit skulked under the seawall and a few Redshank picked about in the rocks. After leaving Silloth for Anthorn we saw a small flock of Pink-footed Geese along the way.
Driving back east we stopped at Anthorn Harbour where we found our first flock of Barnacle Geese grazing the saltmarsh, among them was a fine leucistic bird, completely white! A pair of Red-breasted Merganser fed in the river channel with two female Goosander on the sand and mud were Curlew, Redshank and Lapwing. It was a busy spot but we had to press on to our hotel for the night near Tarbert. After getting through Glasgow we were soon in the countryside.
Nearing our destination the moonlight beams were fabulous as we drove along the loch side, the blue light was constantly flickering as we drove through the trees at the water’s edge. The hotel was fronted by a castle, they offered comfortable rooms, a tasty menu and the first whisky bar of the trip. Some participants sampled a nightcap before retiring for the night. Although brief, a Woodcock was noted by a vigilant IH in the moonlit grounds from the dining room!
25 November 2015
Up for breakfast at the earliest time available, it was still windy out we would have to see if the ferry would be running, on arrival at Kennacraig the staff seemed unconcerned, gave us the tickets and loaded us aboard. We found the most sheltered part of the ship ready for the voyage and recorded 20+ Red-breasted Merganser, 2 Slavonian Grebe, 2 Little Grebe, 6 Goldeneye, a male Long-tailed Duck, 2 Black-throated Diver, 5 Red-throated Diver, 30+ Great Northern Diver, 15+ Eider, 4 Shelduck, 2 Kittiwake and a Black Guillemot that took flight as we entered Islay’s Port Ellen harbour.
Once ashore we scanned the harbour again and saw a Great Northern and 2 Red-throated Diver and c 10 Shag. We followed the minor road out to the rugged Mull of Oa, stopping and scanning we saw a distant male Hen Harrier ghosting its way across the moor. A large bird, possibly a Golden Eagle was seen distantly on the sea cliffs which encouraged us head in its direction. A male Stonechat and Mistle Thrush were noted as we stopped at the RSPB car park as well as large numbers of Redwing nearby before a squall came through. This meant we could only bird from the car but certainly enjoyed some very close flocks of Greenland White-fronted, Barnacle and Greylag Geese were seen before we left.
A stop at Bowmore town was welcome for snacks and facilities before making two brief stops to look over the south shore of the impressive Loch Indaal. At the head of the loch bobbed a very close raft of 53 Greater Scaup, among them a single male Tufted Duck courtesy of RG. A nice diving duck role reversal for what many of us are used to in the West Country. Heading back to a shelter belt at Bridgend we scanned the mudflats on the rising tide to watch the Barnacle Geese arriving, c3000 had dropped in before we had to leave. Other species included 40 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, a Red-throated Diver, 8 Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Shelduck and 5 Red-breasted Merganser. This concluded our day in the field so it back to the hotel for the evening whisky tasting and a hearty meal.
27 November 2015
After breakfast we headed back to the Bridgend roost to watch the Barnacle Geese, c3500 were present along with a similar assembly of species as the day before so we moved on to Loch Gruinart RSPB. Passing many flocks of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese along way we realised that their behaviour toward vehicles had changed from all previous visits. It was impossible to stop the car adjacent to a flock, as soon as you slowed they became nervous and flew off. Perhaps they are now being shot at or scared from vehicles?
Looking over the wetlands and fields from the vantage point we could see plenty of birds including Whooper Swans. Around the farm buildings were flocks of Chaffinches and Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Next stop was out in the Ardnave Point dunes, we scanned the wild and windy loch and got really close to nine feeding Whooper Swans, they looked fabulous in overcast or sunny conditions. Also on the loch were 5 Goldeneye, a male Pochard, female Tufted Duck and Teal and Wigeon.
Plenty of Jackdaw were foraging the dunes, IH saw a female Hen Harrier in the distance. As were leaving Ardnave a pair of Chough finally flew by calling, they carried on up the loch and out of sight. We made for Loch Gorm and surrounds still dodging the heavy showers. In one large field a flock of 200 Rock Dove demonstrated just how beautiful a bird they are as they fed in the stubble. A female Merlin was spotted clinging onto a fence post next to the car so we turned around to allow the other side of the car to have close up views too. Large flocks of geese were feeding in the area, 2000 Barnacle and 4000 Greenland White-fronted were estimated on our drive around this stunning setting. The hill tops were shrouded in low cloud which ruled out eagle spotting. Another scan of the Chaffinch flocks did not reveal any Twite. At Bruichladdich we stopped for a hot drink to scan this section of Loch Indaal, a single Common Scoter drake and a few Dunlin were seen as well as a dead first winter Kittiwake. Unfortunately no Purple Sandpipers were seen.
Returning to Loch Gruinart we watched a Peregrine hunting and all got good scope views of at least three ringtail (female/juvenile) Hen Harriers as they hunted the low ground, one was watched interacting with a Buzzard. Some great birds but we had to leave to catch the ferry from Port Askaig to Kennacraig (2 hour crossing) and drive an hour north to Oban where we would be staying immediately on the seafront. The crossing produced a few birds but was it dark not long after departing. At the hotel the sea was splashing over the harbour wall road due to the high tide and the storm, indoors you wouldn’t know anything was going on at all, quiet, cosy and warm.
Another windy and wet dawn greeted us. I don’t think I have ever studied the weather so intensively as on this trip. I was relieved that we had got on and off Islay without any interruption, the rain and wind had certainly affected bird behaviour and made everything more challenging, a good group spirit and positivity fended off the conditions. I had made alternative plans to go birding on the mainland as we headed to the ferry terminal at Oban not expecting to sail. Picking up ticket from the Caledonian Macbrayne office was as efficient as ever, everything was going ahead as normal! The staff in the office and vessels were so helpful and friendly.
Another crossing ensued with plenty of birds seen especially Great Northern Divers and another Black Guillemot or two. Making port at Craignure on Mull it was not long before we were on our way. A stop to scan over the channel produced Ringed Plovers on the beach, Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers, I spotted an Otter running along the top of a long rocky island but it went over the other side before anyone else got to a scope to see it. Further on a more sheltered wooded bay (which is good for Otters) was scanned from the hide as well as the next bay with no luck, it would be worth trying again on the way back.
Pressing on to Loch na Keal we got out to scan the bay at low tide, giving instructions to scan everywhere to see if we could locate the local White-tailed Eagles. A number of birds were seen but the first of our eagles was located by IH, two young White-tailed Eagles sitting up in a sheltered spot in the trees. This was a good start and the weather was improving, the cloud was lifting and it was even becoming brighter. Another eagle was located at the mouth of the loch, it looked to be a White-tailed, further scanning turned up a second eagle, this looked to be a Golden so after enjoying the two nearer WTE we moved off to get closer.
More Great Northern Divers were seen close inshore including the spot where we parked to scan. A pair of displaying Golden Eagle were on the wing over the island and gave good, constant views, a second pair did the same over the high sea cliffs. Eventually a White-tailed Eagle flew the length of the loch to give a comparison. That was a special half hour or so. We had been so lucky with the weather to allow this window.
With CalMac staff earlier advising that it may be wise to come of Mull on the 3.30pm ferry I was mindful of time, one or two last stops were on the cards before leaving Loch na Keal but before departing this special place we checked the gull flocks feeding where a stream flowed into the loch. A spectacular flock of Goldeneye were jostling just offshore. Our last stop on Mull was a chance to check the bay that we had scanned earlier, IH immediately spotted an Otter feeding just offshore and everyone had great views of it before we had to catch the ferry.
Back on the ferry to Oban we noted yet more Great Northern Divers before it got dark so we retired below for a coffee and bite to eat and were soon ashore after the 45 minute crossing. Back on the mainland it was time to head back south to the borders, we were staying at a hotel in Lockerbie for our final night.
28 November 2015
Another comfortable night and good breakfast and it was back on the road in horrendous conditions, we really were not having much luck with the weather. One nearby site offered much needed sheltered birding and was well known to me and some of the other party members.
At WWT Caerlaverock we passed large flocks of Barnacle Geese on the way in, it was too wet to stop as the roads were flooded. At the car park we donned out waterproofs and made for the Whooper pond. A flock of Icelandic Whooper Swans were sheltering in the lee of the hide along with a variety of wildfowl.
A first winter female Greater Scaup bobbed about among the Tufted Ducks. After half an hour or so one of the local scarcities finally flew in from a sheltered ditch and joined the fun. A first winter male Ring-necked Duck, apparently a first for the reserve was giving us all brilliant views, all from the comfort of the hide. Perhaps the current gale was similar to conditions it faced when crossing the Atlantic. We listened to Joe’s excellent commentary at the feed and enjoyed being inside.
It was time to brave to weather again, we stopped briefly to watch the Tree Sparrows among the passerines at the feeding station before scanning the Folly Pond wildfowl. Snipe were spotted and the Wigeon and Teal flock scanned for another rarity. Changing view from the hide to the tower was rewarded with the American Green-winged Teal feeding right under us. Not a bad set of birds and worth celebrating with a hot drink in the cafe before getting back on the road to head home.
The weather did not improve in the afternoon so we made a group decision to press on for home eventually arriving in good time after a stop to refresh. Thank you to everyone who joined me for this winter tour, despite the challenge of the weather we logged some great birds, scenery and had a good time.
Next Page »
Above- (L) Snow Buntings over Cley Beach and (R) Lapland Bunting Blakeney Marsh
Below- Shore Larks in a sandstorm at Holme Dunes and the Pallid Harrier at Flitcham.
Below-Pallid and Hen Harrier at Flitcham
A small group gathered at Whitminster for a 0700 start out on the road, a bit of traffic slowed progress but we made it to the usual stop near Kettering and were soon seeing a few Red Kites on what turned out to be a very sunny day, in fact despite the gales on Friday and Saturday we recorded three near full days of sunshine. Our first port of call was at Downham Market, we saw flocks of Whooper Swans in fields prior to reaching the town and after leaving. The reason for taking this route was to visit the Serin that had been present during the week.
It was rather confusing actually finding the right spot but we eventually found the muddy, weedy mounds it had been visiting. Two small parties of people were present, one group of contractors who may have been involved in placing the mounds there originally and some birders/photographers, some of which had seen it drop into cover. We moved away from this spot, one or two of us heading for slightly higher ground to scan. Not long after the bird flew in over me (MJM) calling as it went and dropped behind us.
A careful shuffle and repositioning in two groups made sure that we could all see it at times, this small finch fed among the ground hugging plants. It was mostly a dull brownish individual but some yellowish feathering was appearing around the face. We were able to scope it for a prolonged period as it showed on and off, the mild winter perhaps responsible for this bird and others being seen during January.
Moving on we then made our way to another unusual and very popular wintering species at Flitcham. The target bird this time was a long staying juvenile Pallid Harrier. While we waited for it to show we were all distracted by a large flock of Chaffinches with good numbers of Brambling, Linnet and lower numbers of Tree Sparrow, Greenfinch and Yellowhammer. It was great to see plenty of Grey Partridge in the vicinity. Eventually a Hen Harrier appeared and gave a few fly-bys as it hunted, we moved to get a better view and waited. The Pallid Harrier finally decided to take flight and came up out of the stubble to join the Hen Harrier, both played on the breeze with interactions and allowed a brilliant opportunity to compare the two together.
The day was nearly done so we decided to stay local, a cruise around the Wolferton triangle gave up a spectacular if naturalised species, a male Golden Pheasant. Car views only as it was rather wary. Heading back south we headed to an area of heath to watch out for Hen Harriers. It wasn’t long before we were on to our first Barn Owl of the trip, it was followed by a pair of Stonechat and as the light faded..one, two, three, four and with the eventual arrival of a stunning male, five Hen Harriers. It was nearly dark so we went to our hotel for the night.
As forecast the day dawned with strong and strengthening winds, we made for Thornham and immediately got onto a flock of c25 Twite that fed on the ground near to us. This was as usual a good spot to start logging various wader and wildfowl, the first of many Brent and Pink-footed Geese were seen as well as Marsh Harriers. A bracing march to the Holme East dunes was rewarded with a party of three sandblasted Shore Larks on the beach. Hat’s off to this trio for getting on with it in 60+pmh winds.
The sea was rather quiet, a few Red-throated Diver in flight, a pair or two of Red-breasted Mergansers and a Sanderling so we headed back, it was tough going, three of the party forming a link and the ‘lads’ doing their best to be a windbreak at the rear. Quite a tiring walk back with a Reed Bunting or two but too difficult to use optics effectively. Our next stop was a bit more sheltered and provided a good list of birds. Titchwell RSPB gave us the following highlights..two very brief Water Pipit on the way out to the sea. On the sea were 120 Common Scoter with two female Velvet Scoters, a male flew past West, a male Goosander, two or three Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Divers. Tunstones, Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwits fed on the beach. On the scrapes we noted Little Grebes, many wildfowl species including a female Goldeneye, 29 Avocet, Knot, Ringed and Grey Plover, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, three Marsh Harriers. From the Parrinder hide a Snipe was close and a male Hen Harrier went through East. A female Brambling was on the feeders back at the visitor centre.
Nearby we searched the area around the Choseley Barns for either or both of the wintering Rough-legged Buzzards but the gale was not in our favour, we did see Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier. Moving to Burnham Overy/Holkham we scanned the marshes and dunes and noted flocks of Brent and ‘Pinkfeet’ and 7 Barnacle Geese fed among them. In the distance a Barn owl hunted with 3 Marsh Harriers and 13 European White-fronted Geese were also located. At Lady Anne’s drive we listened and watched the large flocks of Wigeon and Pink-footed Geese as the sun set. Driving back a Woodcock flew over the road at Old Hunstanton.
Our last day saw us trying for the Rough-legged Buzzards again, the winds were a lot colder and we did not locate them hearing later that they were seen after we left. We parked at Blakeney on Sea and walked out to the freshmarsh passing Brent Geese and a male Stonechat along the way. We located up to 5 smashing Lapland Buntings among the Skylarks, Twites, Meadow and Rock Pipits spending time re-finding them over and over as this mixed flock were always on the move. On the way back we saw a Greenshank.
A brief stop at the NWT Cley Marshes visitor centre for a hot drink, snack and scan allowed us to locate where the Snow Bunting flock was to be found. A walk along the East bank to the beach shingle and we were watching a flock of 24 of these popular winter visitors as they fed near a breach. Other wetland species were to be found on the fresh water marshes but as we had reached the early afternoon period it was time to head back to Gloucestershire. A good run back with just the one stop was most welcome, the highlight was seeing 30+ Red Kite coming in to roost en-route. We arrived back by 6.30pm to conclude the trip.
Thank you to all who participated.