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Norfolk and the Suffolk Brecks, 17-19 May 2017

Broads, beaches and birds

An early meet and start to make our way through the traffic and heavy rain allowed us to reach our first natural birding stop of the day. The rain had eased but not the anticipation, this was more of a twitch as not a single one of us wanted to miss an opportunity to study a ‘trip’ of breeding plumaged Dotterel that had once again this year gathered on the fields near Choseley Drying barns, now a regular stopover.

We first spotted them as a Marsh Harrier flew over and flushed the party of eight, the birds flew about before disappearing into dead ground out of view. Patience and scanning was rewarded, Dot re-found the birds at the far end of the field so we all moved to a better spot near the road to watch them feed. The Dotterel looked marvellous, females being the brightest and in neatest plumages as this species has a role reversal, the males undertake incubating and tending the young.

Dotterel Dotterel 2

What a great start, one of the reasons this trip was timed on these dates and hard to top despite some great days to follow  it turned out to be the highlight of the trip for all. We also noted Whitethroat and Yellowhammer along the hedgerows before a loo and brew stop at Titchwell RSPB.

The rain still fell but we walked out to the superb fresh marsh to see what could be found, a Bittern boomed, up to five Marsh Harrier could be seen over the reeds. Cetti’ Warbler blasted out song and a pair of Bearded Tits gave us rainfall forgetting views atop the reeds. Reed Buntings also ignored the wet stuff and sang on. The hide offered shelter and more good birds.

Bearded Tit 2 Bearded Tit

Two male Ruff in breeding plumage, small numbers of Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover with a Turnstone, Barwit and Redshank and larger flocks of Black-tailed Godwit and breeding Avocets. The Black-headed Gull/Common Tern colony also had a few Mediterranean Gulls hanging about. Red crested and Common Pochard were in the deeper water and a brood of bold or foolhardy Shoveler ventured from the reeds. Back on the seawall we saw a breeding plumage Grey Plover and Little Egrets on the salt marsh. A wander about the car park and wood was productive for birdsong but it was as we were leaving that a Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat sang,  the former showing well as we were in the car.

Moving on our next stop was at Cley next the Sea at the NOA watch point to search out an Iberian Chiffchaff, this subtle bird gave itself up immediately but was initially silent, it did decide to sing for us to confirm id. Singing Blackcap, Reed Warbler and Common Chiffchaff were also present. A short drive away was the Cley and Salthouse NWT reserve so we scanned over the marshes from the car park seeing a variety of typical wetland species before heading back to Hunstanton to check in and settle down for the night or have a drink and meal before retiring.

We all woke to a sunny and warm day, no rain. After a 0730 breakfast we loaded up and drove down to the Broads. First stop was at Potter Heigham for food supplies and soon after a long walk in the sunshine. We passed singing Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers along the hedges, woodland and broadland path.

One of our target birds for the day was a long staying Savi’s Warbler and it was singing nearby but sadly didn’t show for us. Looking over the Rush Hills scrape we abandoned birds for the magnificent Swallowtail butterfly that was showing off!

Swallowtail, Hickling Broad, MJMcGill

A brisk walk along the bank watching  plenty of Common Terns and Marsh Harriers were seen plus 2 Buzzard,  3 Hobby, 1-2 reeling Grasshopper Warbler and up to 5 bugling Cranes as they soared over Hickling broad. Another of the days target birds loomed into view, a giant Caspian Tern flew past.

Approaching Potter Heigham marshes we noted two Whimbrel, breeding Lapwing and got more great views of Marsh Harrier. The floods were busy with wetland birds,  a drake Garganey was pick of the ducks. A Black-winged Stilt made a short flight and came in to view briefly and the place was alive with Avocets. This new site warranted more time and exploration as reports of Spoonbills and Little Stints on the far marsh would have been a welcome addition. We retraced our steps at a slower pace seeing another Swallowtail and many other butterfly species including Small Copper, Painted Lady and Brimstone.

Once again the Caspian Tern appeared, this time it flew back and forth giving all good views over Hickling Broad, it was good to see this often difficult to catch up with species, they are well known for being mobile and heading off on long feeding forays. Another wait for the Savi’s Warbler simply proved it was taking a break. The Reed Buntings and Sedge Warblers could still be seen and heard.

Caspian Tern 2 Caspian Tern 3 Caspian Tern

Back at car we made the short drive to a busy broadside cafe for a break and sat out in the sun for a coffee and cake, one attendee also had an ice-cream. Refreshed we headed back toward North Norfolk stopping at Weybourne, Kelling Quags and Salthouse with another short scan from the Cley and Salthouse NWT car park. Plenty of birds seen. We tried our luck with drive-by listening on Salthouse Heath for Nightingale but they were having a rest, nearby at Wiveton bridge we watched a lovely Barn Owl hunting in daylight. A well timed stop for an early-ish evening meal at the Anchor at Morston provided a very good meal and allowed time to get to an evening session with Nightjars.

Barn Owl 1

A short stop to watch a pair of Grey Partridge was a must but we arrived at Wolferton on time to walk out to Dersingham bog. We had over forty fly-pasts of Woodcock with many of them being close encounters, it was raining but it didn’t put us or the Woodcock off. The Nightjars weren’t flying but up to seven churred from the trees, it was still a wonderful experience before ending the birding day, we got back to the hotel late and probably fair to say we were all ready for bed.

Our final day arrived breezy and showery, after loading up we stopped nearby at Hunstanton cliffs, the Fulmars put on quite a show on the strong updrafts, a stalwart Whitethroat sang it’s heart out on the cliff top. We headed along the coast to Thornham Harbour where Curlew, Redshank, Grey Plover, Meadow Pipits and flocks of waders were out on the shore, a Peregrine harassed them briefly. It was nice to see flocks of Brent Geese still around, maybe sensibly they were in no hurry to get to the Arctic circle just yet. Gannets mooched about offshore.

Another stop of Brancaster beach was made hitting home how cold and strong the wind coming in off the North Sea was. A couple of Med Gulls flew over calling, more Dark-bellied Brent Geese were on the saltmarsh and a Great-crested Grebe was the best bird on the sea. It was sensible to leave the exposed coast so we headed toward the Brecks to finish of the day.

First stop was at an undisclosed site, Stone Curlew was nesting, Stonechats on show and Mistle Thrush quite visible. A short drive away was a chance to scan wires and explore the lanes for Turtle Dove without luck, a stop at another heath allowed time for a walk. Stonechats, Yellowhammers and Great -spotted and Green Woodpecker were all heard. Another pair of Stone Curlew was seen at the nest with a pair of Woodlark also giving great views. It was a great end to the birding before leaving for home and a drive back to Gloucestershire.

Stone Curlew, MJMcGill

I’ve had great feedback from everyone who attended, thanks for the pleasing comments, it was a good trip with plenty of excellent birds.

Martin J McGill

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at 3:40 pm

Grousing in Denbighshire, 6-7 April 2017

Who’s hiding in the heather ?

Red Grouse and heather

A= Red Grouse

Having decided that a trip to N Wales could be of interest to an Anser group I began making some plans. A date was selected and after some adjustment to the original plans most of met at 2.30pm, with another along the way, this allowed time to reach the hotel and do a bit of birding before dark.

We stopped off just E of Telford along the way to listen out for an Iberian Chiffchaff, our visit was brief and the lost migrant was not in the mood to sing despite Willow Warbler and Common Chiffchaff singing away. Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Kestrel all soared or displayed over the wooded site, Little Grebe trilled from the pond but best of all was an incubating Mistle Thrush on the nest. This was spotted by Ruth who proved rather alert, calling out birds during the trip.

We left in the sunshine but some cloud was rolling in as we reached our final birding destination for the day. The western slopes of Cyrn-y-Brain gave us a few birds as the sun set, it was quite chilly though. What was probably a Red Grouse was seen in flight by some, there were plenty of Meadow Pipits and a couple of pairs of Stonechat in the heather and gorse. Best bird was a Goshawk that arrived from some distance away and flew along the hillside giving us glimpses as it went through.

A comfortable night with a pub meal at the Hand Hotel rounded off the night before bed as we had an early start. Up well before the lark in the dark and we had assembled to make our way to the Black Grouse lek site, this being the main focus of the trip. Passing below the Eglwseg mountain a Tawny Owl flew across the car and landed in a tree to give us all views albeit in silhouette.

Up on the moor it was only just getting light, we could hear the display calls of the Blackcock, taking great care we birded using the car as a mobile hide. A lek of seven males came into view but we heard more. Moving further up the mountain we settled on another lek where up to 17 birds gathered. This species is very interesting to watch and also listen to when displaying and battling for dominance. This wonderful experience is essential for all birders as long as it doesn’t disturb the birds.

It was zero degrees so a frost had formed but we were so lucky to have a sunny dawn, the birds looked superb. Everyone had decent views so we moved on to a spot where we could scope them from distance and look over the area. A Curlew bubbled in the distance.

Red Grouse were also calling and displaying among the heather but some also flew up and glided down. Male Red Grouse pursued each other through the heather with their combs blazing. Meadow Pipits were numerous and we had closer views of Black Grouse near our watch point. It was simply superb but we had a date with our breakfast. Taking in the lek once again we tore ourselves away to a decent full ‘Welsh’ and a hot drink or two. The breakfast room looked over the River Dee and up to the Castell Dinas ruins which was a bonus. Ruth saw Grey Wagtails and two Mandarin on the river.

After recharging with a good meal we headed back out to carry on birding up on the moor. The grouse still performed, both species giving us great views. Scanning from a watch point a female Hen Harrier came through giving us all excellent views as it hunted over the heather. A selfish but typical Ring Ouzel dropped in from high and disappeared into a valley without letting anyone else see it.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier

We carried on stopping and scanning from the car to the Eclusham mountain seeing more Grouse. Another good vantage point and grassier area near the farms gave us five ouzel imposter Blackbirds, three smart Wheatear and a selection of other birds. Ruth called out a raptor that whizzed through, it was a male Merlin hunting pipits but the view was brief.

Wheatear

Wheatear

Fortunately we had another encounter with the male Merlin as he had isolated a Meadow Pipit, the small passerine was looping and stalling to prevent capture by the raptor. It’s a technique often used by pipits and larks, the outcome wasn’t known but it was a close and spectacular encounter.

Moving down to the woods and valley we stopped to watch a Goshawk soaring before it dropped into the woods. A Redpoll was flying about calling. A few more stops were made in the warm sunshine with a near predicted Peregrine on the cliffs (the sixth raptor species of the trip) and pairs of Buzzards above Eglwseg. Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff and Green Woodpecker were seen and heard with alternative views to the ruins of Castell Dinas. A Wheatear bathed in a puddle next to the car with another on the slope nearby. This ended a brilliant morning, just about perfect birding.

Bathing Wheatear

Wheatear, male bathing, Eglwseg

We called in a Llangollen and then began our journey home across country, it may have been prudent to keep up to date with news as a Night Heron was showing at the Venus Pool but even without this bird we had done rather well.

A great trip and thanks to everyone who joined me.

Martin J McGill

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at 7:48 pm

South Devon, 24 March 2017

A cold and grey day dawned, all six of us were not put off in the slightest.

Our first stop of the day was at Powderham Church where the first bird of the day award went to two Cattle Egrets. This winter, especially late winter/early spring has seen an influx of this species involving record numbers in the SW. Our egret du0 had a couple of Little Egret and a flock of sheep for company. Walking down t0 the railway bridge we used the height advantage to scan the Exe at low tide. Flocks and small parties of Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Shelduck, Dunlin, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Redshank, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret, Cormorants and various gull species were on show.

Next stop was nearby at Powderham park where c15 Sand Martin fed over the pools, Shelduck and other common wildfowl were also roosting or perhaps sheltering from the cold NE wind. We made a couple of stops at Cockwood/Starcross to scan the estuary. Highlights included 3 Greenshank, a drake Goosander, 2 Shag, 2 Slavonian Grebe and Turnstones among the wader flocks.

Moving on to Dawlish Warren we had a short lunch stop and then scanned the sea from the seawall. A party of 3 and 6 Common Scoter, 2 Great Crested Grebe, a few Shag, two flyby Fulmar, Guillemot and a Red-throated Diver were noted albeit distantly. The six scoter flew in closer which gave us a better view. Parties of Meadow Pipit and an alba wagtail flew in off the sea. Turnstones did a tightrope walk act along the groynes.

A short drive beyond Teignmouth and we were able to park and then scan the clifftop fields at Labrador Bay RSPB, we located a flock of 25+ Cirl Bunting as they fed close to the hedgerow. It was great to watch them and listen to the contact calls. A nervous flock of Linnets proved why when Sparrowhawk went through. A few Chiffchaff were also grubbing about in the fields and hedgerows for insects, no doubt newly arrived. From the lower path we enjoyed listening to singing Cirl Buntings and watching a pair of Kestrel below us. Attention was drawn to the sea, a party of six Long-tailed Duck, 111 Common Scoter also harboured two larger and darker 2cy Velvet Scoters. A few Gannets streamed by and  Peregrine had a look at us before it cruised along the cliffs.

Back up at the car park we saw a Sparrowhawk over sea before it headed inland. A group decision was to reject plans to look for the Humpback Whale that was resident in Start Bay the preceding month. It had got itself tangled in crab pot ropes a couple of days before and needed a rescue party to cut if free. It wasn’t seen the day before so we stuck with the birding.

Our last stop of the day was at Bowling Green Marsh RSPB which also had c30 Sand Martin as well as 4 Little Grebe, Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Shoveler, Black-tailed Godwit flock, Redshanks, a Green Sandpiper, Sparrowhawk and calling Cetti’s Warbler. At the Clyst viewing platform we had a large flock of Redshank but it was clear many of the wader species had departed for the summer, especially the Avocets, we saw none!

To top the day off the group saw their first two Swallow of 2017 in sunshine as I was off collecting the car.

Thank you to all who joined me, it was a very good day out. Some images of the day follow.

Martin

Cirl Buntings at Labrador Bay RSPB

Cirl Bunting, Devon, MJMcGill 2 Cirl Bunting, Devon, MJMcGill, 4 Cirl Bunting, female, MJMcGILL Cirl Buntings, Devon, MJMcGill

Long-tailed Ducks in Labrador Bay

Long-tailed Duck, Labrador Bay, MJMcGill LTDUCKS 4 LTDUCKS, 3 LTDucks 2

LTDucks

Velvet Scoters (1s male and female, top two) with Common Scoter

Velvet and Common Scoter, Labrador Bay Velvet and Common Scoter

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at 5:20 pm

Forest of Dean, 4 March 2017

Another late winter ‘FoD’ visit saw nine of us meeting up (many thanks to Keith for giving Jeanne a lift). It was a fine chorus that greeted us, numerous Song Thrush, Robin and a variety of tits singing and calling. Coal Tits and Nuthatches were seen down to ‘our level’ thanks to some seed. A Mistle Thrush was busy collecting moss from the upper branches of an oak, something insulating to add to its nest.

Out on the field we had good views of the flocks of Redwings along with the common thrushes. With a little patience and quiet stalking a couple of Hawfinch were located, unfortunately these birds were very secretive and refused to show for us. Great spotted Woodpecker was also noted.

We relocated to take in a walk up to Crabtree Hill, our first birds were a pair of Crossbill atop the larches, we had reasonable scope views before these birds dropped in to feed out of view. Goldcrest were singing in the firs and many pairs or small parties of Siskin were mobile as they flew over or stuck to the canopy. A trio of Redpoll stopped for a short time in the top of the trees but flew away before we could ‘scope’ them. The finches were not going to make it easy for us!

At the trig point we scanned the heath, our target bird was present as we watched the wintering Great Grey Shrike from a safe distance, this is a popular bird, I must thank everyone for accepting scope views only, we had left it the whole heath to hunt in peace. A Reed Buntings was also skulking in the gorse and grass before flying off over us. A distant Goshawk soared over the valley along with a Buzzard. Four Lapwing flew down the valley in the distance.

We wandered back to take in a refreshment and comfort stop in Parkend. A take out coffee and cake was followed by a walk through the woods and a search of the stream. The brook was in spate after heavy rain the day before, we couldn’t locate any Dippers but a Treecreeper gave us good views. Back at the car a flock of 6 Hawfinch flew over us and landed  in the canopy, one or two showed through the branches until they all flew back over us and away.

Moving on to New Fancy View a female Goshawk flew across the road just after leaving the village but only for the driver (me), at the viewpoint it was rather busy with people so we went for another woodland walk with a few common species noted (a party of Raven the pick of the bunch) before we dropped in at the Cannop Valley. Grey Wagtails were about the ponds and a Cormorant came in.

Out in a nearby clearing we picked up a Sparrowhawk and another Crossbill flew up the valley. Back to the car for a short drive to the upper pond where we located Mandarins on the flood puddles in the woods and a Marsh Tit was added to the list. The weather was closing in with a heavy shower so we all decided to head home and take in Walmore Common on the way.

The ditches held a few Wigeon and Teal with Grey Heron and a pair of Mute Swans but the wintering Whooper Swans had probably moved on. We had run over on time getting back to Whitminster by 3pm, this concluded the extended half day out.

Thank you to all who joined me

Martin

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at 9:03 pm

Poole Harbour and Purbeck

4 February 2017

Weather forecasts didn’t look good for much of the week but with 24hrs to go the storm fronts had whipped through the English Channel and opened up the possibility of a good day ahead. Seven of us met up, some at Whitminster. We departed with a Blackbird, Song Thrush and Robin dawn chorus at 0700am. We met up with others on the way south down the M5.

A singing roadside Corn Bunting forced a reactive and brief layby stop on the Wiltshire/Dorset chalk downland. Although we could only hear the bird we soon spotted a pair of Stonechat, a Red Kite and Roe Deer and a few released Red-legged Partridges before moving on.

Out first stop was to take on the flooded lane and fields to visit RSPB Lytchett Fields which is situated on the north shore of Poole Harbour. The viewing area over the first pool held two Water Pipits, a few Teal and we heard a calling Water Rail. A female Marsh Harrier hunted over the reed bed shore of Lytchett Bay and distant Avocet, Curlew, Wigeon and Shelduck could be seen on the mud.

Moving on to the viewing areas overlooking the newly excavated pools we noted a Green Sandpiper in a ditch (JV) saw a Dartford Warbler in the gorse. At the viewpoint a bonus male Green-winged Teal was among the Teal flock. The Lapwings had a single Black-tailed Godwit for company. A Stonechat and a Long-tailed Tit flock were appreciated.

GWT 1

gwt 2

GWT 3

Keen to catch the tide our next stop was at Upton CP, the park grounds had plenty of singing and calling passerines including Nuthatches. After a hot drink and snack we made our way to the shore of Holes Bay where the waders were roosting. A large flock of Avocet could wait it out in deeper water with the ducks however large numbers of busy Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit were pushed in closer, a strange leucistic godwit sported a white head and shoulders which stood out.

Smaller numbers of Redshank and Curlew were also seen in the saltmarsh as well as Pintail, Gadwall and Shelduck, a few Little Grebe were also spotted. It actually felt warm in the strong sunshine in this sheltered part of the park.

Our next port of call was the chain ferry at Sandbanks, the ‘voyage’ didn’t last long but it was nice to be out in the sunshine. I saw two Black-necked Grebe, one in the channel and the other in Shell Bay. A quick unload of the ferry meant we had to gather everyone up at the toll, soon after we stopped at a good spot for Dartford Warblers.

A short walk from the car and we were soon watching two of these tiny long tailed warblers as they posed on the gorse and heather. Well done CC for being alert. A Sika Deer ran across the path as we walked to a better spot to scan Poole Harbour. Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebe, Brent Geese, Grey Plover and Knot were all seen.

Another short drive away was the Studland Middle Beach, a calm sea gave up at least six Black-necked Grebe, three Great Crested Grebe, two Great Northern Divers, a few distant auks (probably Guillemot) and 11 Common Scoter (inc 2 adult drakes). Two Mediterranean Gull circled offshore.

Moving on to the Arne moors we spent the rest of the day scanning from the high ground of Slepe Heath looking over Hartland Moor to Corfe Castle and back across the reeds of the Wareham Channel to Swineham Point. Our patient efforts gave us Marsh Harrier,Green Woodpecker (on call), flyover Meadow Pipits, Linnet and Great spotted Woodpecker and Greenfinch. Another Dartford Warbler from the scrub. The Grey Herons began heading off to roost which was a handy signal for us. We didn’t get to see our final target bird of the day, no Hen Harriers appeared, it was still a good day full of birds in a lovely part of Dorset.

Thank you to everyone who joined me for the day out.

Martin

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at 1:25 pm
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