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Brittany-Finistere and Islands, 12-17 October 2015

Finistere and Islands, 12-17 October 2015
All images M.J.McGill unless stated.

Sunset at La Faou, Brittany

Sunset, La Faou

Lighthouse, Pointe de Raz  Sein lighthouse Sein

Black Redstart, Ile de Molene

Black Redstart, Ile de Molene

Delightful Firecrests, L’Ile de Sein (following five)

Firecrest, MJM

Firecrest, Sein, 2, MJMcGill Firecrest, L'Ile de Sein, 3, MJMcGill

Firecrest, Sein, MJMcGill Firecrest, L'Ile de Sein, MJMcGill

Goldcrest, L’Ile de Sein

Goldcrest, L'Ile de Sein, MJMcGill

Goldcrest, Sein, MJMcGill

Zitting Cisitcola (Fan-tailed Warbler) L’Ile de Sein

Zitting Cisticola, Sein, MJMcGill

Blyth’s Reed Warbler, L’Ile de Sein

Blyth's Reed Warbler, L' Ile de Sein, MJMcGill 1 Blyth's Reed Warbler, L'Ile de Sein MJMcGill, 2 Blyth's Reed Warbler, L'Ile de Sein, MJMcGill

12 October

A very early departure at 0445hrs from Whitminster allowed for regular pick-ups along the way. The route was via rather slow moving Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset lanes to the Poole ferry terminal for a 0830 sailing. The traffic made things tight but as always the smoothly run ferry company loaded us in time. Once aboard Barfluer it was time to get on deck to see what could be seen on Poole Harbour’s Brownsea Island as we cruised past. The ferry provides a very high vantage point albeit a fast moving one.

On the lagoon birds of particular note included c34 Spoonbill, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwits, Teal, Avocet flocks, 7 Dark-bellied Brent, Dunlin, Little Egrets and a roost of Oystercatcher. It was not long before we were leaving the chalky stacks ‘Old Harry and his Wives’ behind and heading into the channel. Flocks and singles of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and a few Swallows were all noted crossing the sea to the North, a winter plumaged Black Guillemot in flight was a highlight but generally seabirds were scarce. Only a few Guillemot, 2 Razorbill, Great Skua and Gannets were seen on the crossing.

Arriving in Cherbourg we made our way through Normandie passing many historical WW2 sites to Brittany with a stop along the way. We reached  our destination, La Faou and were rewarded with a stunning sunset and a few birds- Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher, an Egret roost and a couple of Great Crested Grebe.

13 October

An early start to catch the boat to the Ile de Molene  which departed from Le Conquet at 0945. A brief stop to look over the estuary at low tide gave us Greenshanks, Curlew, Redshank and Grey Wagtail. All aboard the ferry for a pleasant crossing with few birds, only Guillemot and Gannet were noted. The sun was shining again as we stepped onto the island, it was breezy and we were soon watching birds. It seemed to take a while to get very far as we looked over a vantage point and noted Ring Ouzel, Blackbirds, Redwings, Chiffchaffs, Swallow, Siskin, Stonechat, Blackcaps, Cetti’s Warbler and common passerines in the scrub. At the nearby beach a few Rock Pipits were on the strand, I noticed one bird sporting a darvic ring and eventually managed to read it. P3A yellow ring, black letters/no’s. It seems to be from a Norwegian ringing scheme!

Other species that were seen included Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and a Marsh Harrier. We stopped at the Creperie for coffee and a sit down, a Firecrest soon joined us along with a few Goldcrests. Refreshed we spoke with a very helpful French birder and looked for the Red-eyed Vireo that had been seen on the preceding days before our arrival. No luck there despite him showing us every bush it had been in and some great pictures of it, we did note 2 Firecrest and a Black Redstart or two in the area. Looking over the uninhabited island adjacent we watched 2 Marsh Harriers together and scoped the waders in the harbour, Sanderling, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Dunlin joined the Curlew and Oystercatchers.

Deciding the follow the coast path a dog had adopted us and followed, it was something of a pain as it was flushing birds before we could scan them. A bunting flew up and away with the Meadow Pipits. Rounding the island to the South a Ring Ouzel appeared near to the standing stones and gave us views on the ground and perched up. Careful searching of the pipits was in order, a few Chiffchaff were found.

On the cultivated ground we saw a large flock of House Sparrow and Linnets and 4 Skylark. Another piece of cultivated/rough weedy ground was busy with Meadow and Rock Pipits, a bunting called and flew away to the scrubby slopes. Chiffchaff and Goldcrest were seen in the bracken and around 10 Swallow and 2 House Martin overhead whilst we waited. The bunting returned and dropped into the field again. At least three times it flew out and disappeared into the scrub, I even saw it on the ground briefly as it alighted on the coast path. We all saw it well in flight but struggled to make out much in the bright light. It called a few times and headed up the slope to the cultivations.

Following the bunting was a good move, although two locals were hand digging spuds the birds came and went around them, a Short-toed Lark flew over head and landed in the ridge and furrow but gave us scope views before moving out of view. No further sign of the bunting but on calls and size/shape it was a Rustic Bunting.

Other birds noted included five Golden Plover and a Grey Plover flying North over the island. We were now running out of time and had not got all the way around Ile de Molene so we cut through the village seeing a close Black Redstart on the way. Our final bird of this visit was a Wheatear near the port. Another quiet crossing for seabirds ensued with time on the mainland to scope the estuary again. A large Cattle and Little Egret roost had formed in the sheltered part of the creek, they were all enjoying the sunshine as were we.

14 October

Up early for breakfast and away to the next ferry port of Audierne, our destination for the next two days would be L’ Ile de Sein. Another quiet crossing aboard ENEZ SUN followed, it is not at all surprising as England and France had been under a high pressure for weeks with an easterly airflow, the calm seas were a joy to sail on, no coffee spillages.

Arriving on Sein with our luggage mid-morning we walked the short distance to the hotel and checked in, this was followed by coffee outside on the patio to enjoy the spectacular views. We were joined by a Firecrest and some very tame Goldcrests. Some great scope work by JB added Peregrine, Merlin and a Hobby to the trip list as well as a pod of Bottle nosed Dolphins, the latter leaping out of the water and tail slapping as they fished. A French birder joined us and was delighted with the cetacean show, he told us of a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and took us to the area giving detailed tips on how to locate it!

It was not long before we spotted the BRW as it sunned itself (the sun had now burned through the cloud) and preened, the scrubby area was a boatyard and heliport and storage for all sorts of things but equally doubled as a weedy, scrubby and sheltered place for tired migrants. The BRW is a plain bird, you have to look very carefully to appreciate minute details for identification but it did seem stand out in the field on plumage tones alone, it had also been trapped and ringed by the visiting birders/ringers. We had plenty of time to watch and enjoy it despite it being a very skulky, ground hugging bird.

Wandering about the island we saw plenty of Firecrest (c20) with lesser numbers of Goldcrest, Chiffchaff (c12) and commoner passerines. I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler that called once but remained unseen in gardens. The bays held feeding waders at low tide and we looked through them all. A sea pool held a Little Grebe and as the tide turned and flooded we saw Purple Sandpipers among the Turnstones. The French birders had contacted me, I had received a message that a Richard’s Pipit was on Kelaorou (adjoining island) but the tide was due to rise so we decided to leave that one for now. At the heliport a high tide wader roost was forming, Ringed Plover, Dunlin a single Knot and the Turnstones/Purple Sandpipers among them. Just behind us the BRW showed again the late afternoon sun, 2-3  Zitting Cisticola (Fan-tailed Warbler) joined it, we had again been tipped off by our French birding crew about the latter.

More exploration of the gardens and bays gave us good views of other species, c20 Mediterranean Gulls were ever present in the bay and I managed to read a ring from one of them, BS27 green with white letters/numbers. A Common Gull lingered briefly but flew off over the town. The day was rounded off with an hour or two at the west end of the island, a few Redwings, Blackcaps, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and common birds were eclipsed by part of the group seeing a Short-eared Owl  very well overhead! A Kingfisher flashed east from the lighthouse and we strolled back to enjoy close views of the Lapland Bunting and dozens of other birds on the high tide strand near our hotel.   It had been a good day on the island, that night we ate at a restaurant down on the harbour as it was the hotel staff’s night off.

15 October

All day exploring the L’ Ile de Sein beckoned so after a good breakfast, we set off west toward the lighthouse looking down on the many Rock and Meadow Pipits, Wheatears and waders along the way. A few Stonechats were in the bracken and once again we were seeing Firecrest and Chiffchaffs. Once again the Lapland Bunting gave us good views as well a smart juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. It was interesting to see the Blackbirds foraging with the Turnstones, pipits and Wheatears.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper, Sein Curlew Sandpiper, Sein 2,

We headed for the Phare de Goulenez to check the bushes and sit, listen and watch for migrants and a Snow Bunting that had been seen, we logged a Serin through, 5 Wheatear, Siskin (c15) and JB spotted the dolphins again. BE put up a Snipe as we wandered through the bracken.

Checking the bay during a dropping tide we picked up 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Seals, a Whimbrel, another birding break and as we enjoyed a coffee at the hotel repeated sightings of many of the birds we have seen previously. JB picked up a distant Marsh Harrier flying West across the bay. The scenic spot is hard to leave as we had Firecrest with us once again but we headed for Kelaourou as the tide was now low. This small uninhabited island is covered with bracken and bramble, it has a neolithic chamber on the east end and a large area of reef exposed at low tide. As with the rest of the island, evidence of shipwrecks are obvious. On the island we noted two Merlin, a Short-eared Owl, 2 Fieldfares and 8 Redwing.

Back on Sein we had time for another sunshine ‘brew’ before exploring the boatyard again, the BRW showed fairly well at times as did a Zitting Cisticola, the Kingfisher showed again fishing from the rocks and a Swallow flew over the area. Back at the hotel we stopped for another scan, JB spotted a Great White Egret which flew from South to North without stopping. A large warbler made its way along the beach and headed for the town, it looked like Garden Warbler but unfortunately did not stop.

We went back into town to search the gardens, at least 6 Firecrest showed very well near the church and an interesting Chiffchaff was seen nearby, it was rather scruffy and looked rather out of condition. The day finished up with us all checking  bushes and likely cover and the birds that appeared. That evening the hotel provided a great meal in the evening to top off another good day.

16 October

The final day on L’Ile de Sein again greeted us with yet another light easterly breeze, we set off for the Phare checking everything very carefully, we began racking up Firecrest again (40 by the end of the day), a few more Chifchaff and Goldcrest were about too. The Curlew Sandpiper was still present but and additional three Knot were also seen, a few Fieldfares/Redwings were at the lighthouse, a Serin went through, a single Swallow fed and I heard a Penduline Tit calling high above (one was seen by the French birders at the boatyard not so long after). A single Reed Bunting and a couple of alba Wagtails flew through and a good candidate for a Scandinavian Rock Pipit fed near the chapel. We saw the Short-eared Owl again and 6 Skylark flew West.

Short-eared Owl


There were more Chaffinches and Linnets on the island and over 10 Blackcap seen during the day. In the town we watched a Garden Warbler and other species feeding on apples. Nearby a  Snipe was put up in the boatyard, it flew around the town and came back to its favourite spot. Hearing news of a Yellow-browed Warbler near our hotel we naturally went to look for it. At least seven Firecrest were noted in the small gardens, a few were feeding on the lawns. Intense searching of the tamarisk was rewarded when KL located the bird for us all to see well. Concentrating on gaining views of  the YBW we ignored the Greenshank in the bay.

It was time to take our luggage to the harbour and snatch a little more birding, back at the boatyard we saw one of the Zitting Cisitcola and a few finches and crests but had to call time on the island and board the boat for the mainland. Yet another quiet crossing was brightened by the appearance of a Balearic Shearwater.

With the sun dipping we made for the Baie de Audierne, to be precise the Etang de Trunvel and adjacent Kermabec beach, the former is a well known spot for migrants, especially for Aquatic Warblers during August. The beach hosted a large roost of gulls and Oystercatcher and a couple of busy flocks of Sanderling. Overlooking the lake we picked up 2 Marsh Harriers that were waiting to go to roost, another flew in as we left. One or two pairs of Mallard were seen and where the scrubby slopes met the reed bed and yet more Firecrest and Chiffchaff. Water Rails and Cetti’s Warbler were certainly heard, a large roost of White Wagtail, Greenfinch and Reed Bunting. A Crested Tit called as it went to roost. This gathering concluded the day for us.

17 October

A later breakfast and visit to the supermarket meant we were on the road by ten o clock, a new destination awaited-The Crozon peninsula. With Red-billed Chough being a target bird on this trip the first stop did not disappoint, the Pointe de Penhir delivered a pair mobbing a pair of Raven as soon as we stepped out of the car. A Wheatear, calling Cetti’s Warbler and a few Stonechats were also seen, another pair of Chough were flew over a WW2 German bunker that was converted into a museum. Also visiting the nearby Pointe de Toulinguet and carefully checked the cover for migrants, our last port of call was the Pointe des Espangnols which turned out to be quiet other than common passerines. Our time was up, we had to drive to Cherbourg to catch the ferry to Poole.

A smashing sunset over Alderney with a couple of Gannets for company rounded of the birding, World Cup Rugby was a distraction for some and time in a reclining chair with feet up a priority for others.

Finistere is a brilliant birding destination, we were kept very busy checking every bird that appeared in front of us and gained some memorable views of a number of sought after birds. The scenery was wonderful, feedback certainly proved it was a popular trip, thank you to all for your company and sharp eyes.


Other participants on this trip took some stunning images that were enjoyed by all, it would be great to share these.  I will publish a selection when/if they are submitted. One ‘culprit’ is depicted in action below.

A selection of Bob Radford’s images can be seen here

Bob Evans and the Sein  lighthouse


Filed under: Trip Reports


at 4:27 pm

Lincolnshire and Norfolk 1-3 October 2015

 Dark-bellied Brent Geese

Dark-bellied Brents arriving, Frampton Marsh, MJMcGill

Lincolnshire and Norfolk 1-3 October 2015

1 October

The fine forecast for the few days that we visited the east coast played out correctly, non-stop sunshine, even  I was wavering on wishing for overnight showers. A reasonable run up to Lincolnshire partly in fog with a stop on the way saw us arrive at Gibraltar Point NNR. The windows were down on the car as we cruised toward the car park, a Yellow-browed Warbler called along the way!

A party of noisy Pink-footed Geese arrived from the north and continued south looking spectacular in the sun, a few Siskins and Meadow Pipits passed over in the same direction. As it was midday, drinks, a bite to eat and the opportunity to use the temporary visitor centre facilities was taken. Our first stop was to seek out one of the five Yellow-browed Warblers that was present, one chap had seen three together. It wasn’t long before we were watching one of these little gems as it skipped through the canopy of a very mature sycamore. It also played chase with a Pied Flycatcher, such is the magic of migration.

A variety of common passerines were noted in our search for more Yellow-browed Warblers. Stiff necks forced moving on to the wetlands we all got amazing views of 5 Spotted Redshank that seemed very reluctant to leave each other’s sides. In addition three Greenshank, a couple of Black-tailed Godwit, a party of feeding Avocet, a Lapwing flock (70) and even larger flock of Teal (200) with Wigeon made the site much busier. A single Snipe sunned itself. One or two Chiffchaff were heard plus overflying Linnets, at the next hide and pool within the dunes we added a showy Goldcrest, more Teal, Wigeon and Pochard to the day list. A Kestrel was ever present and it was nice to see a flock of Greenfinch fattening up on berries.

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks, Gib Point, MJMcGill

The dunes were rather quiet, the warm day was probably to blame. The sea was miles away as it was low tide, not really worth battling with heat haze. Crossing back to the VC via the saltmarsh we took refreshment again before having another search of the wooded area, a few Goldcrests were seen but no further YBW views. It was time to move on and we made our next stop RSPB Frampton Marsh.

As soon as we arrived on the reserve we could see hundreds of birds thanks to the open vistas. Making for the 360 degree hide we had excellent light and lots of birds, large numbers of Teal and Wigeon, a few Pintail represented the ducks. Golden Plovers flew down to the marsh in numbers and looked brilliant in the sunshine. A few Snipe fed in sheltered spots and c20 Black-tailed Godwit probed belly deep in the mud. Whilst scanning the back of the marsh I noticed a Jack Snipe as it whizzed through my binocular view only to disappear on the other side of the reeds. A Ruff came in with the Goldies.

We left the hide to get on the west side of the marsh and try to relocate the Jack Snipe, a scan of the likely spots and we managed to spot  it, the bird bounced along to whatever tune it was listening to and gave us all good views. As if on demand a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese came in from the Wash, circled a few times before dropping in, such marvellous birds.

Strolling down to the Wash seawall we passed a Spotted Redshank, Ruff and a tame Greenshank on the grazing marshes. I returned to the car to bring it down closer whilst everyone else scanned over the area. I saw a Barn Owl near the visitor centre so collected everyone so we could watch it hunting over the reserve as the sun set, perfect. 

Staying near King’s Lynn was a good move as it was more central, we had a short journey to end the birding day.


Greenshank at sunset, Frampton Marsh, MJMcGill

2 October

A glorious morning greeted us, we set off at 0730 for the North Norfolk coast, a bank of mist over Roydon Common was burning off, no doubt this also pleased the pumpkin pickers who were busy crating up the autumn harvest. Another short journey and we arrived in the picturesque Cley next the Sea village making straight for the beach. Whatever the weather a short seawatch here will reward the watcher with twice as many seabirds as you usually see during a Gloucestershire gale. A steady passage of Gannets and Red-throated Divers with small parties of Common Scoter and a few Guillemot, Kittiwake and un-identified auks. Wigeon, Teal and Gadwall were also going about their business but one that slipped through the net was probably a Scaup.

A short walk along the beach shingle to scan the marsh was rewarded with outrageously close views of a confiding Snow Bunting. The bird fed a few feet away and even decided to come closer. A nice start to the day which deserved a coffee and cake at the Cley Marshes NWT visitor centre, we passed a hovering Stonechat along the way.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting, Cley next the Sea, MJMcGill


Snow Bunting, Cley, MJMcGill


The balcony and indeed the VC  commands great views across the marsh so we scanned the birds to pick out Knot and Ruff among the godwits and goldies. A Red Kite circled overhead which was a bonus. A brief visit to Salthouse beach allowed another short sea watch as well as Skylarks on the pebbles and a few Redshanks on the pools. As per usual we continued along the coast to call in at various sites. Our next stop was at the Wells Woods migrant hotspot called the Dell.

Coal Tits were calling from the pines, Goldcrest doing the same from the thorns, we were very lucky to walk into a father and son who had located a smart Firecrest. This bird showed initially but then gave us a game of hide and seek until we all managed to gains views as it worked its way through the undergrowth and scrub. This area was a suntrap, plenty of Migrant Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies were present.

Next stop was at RSPB Titchwell for lunch (except John B, who walked the reedbed trail) and then to search the area. From the path we scored with a pair of Bearded  Tits that pinged and posed briefly, Cetti’s Warbler called and  another duck-filled marsh greeted us.  On the brackish marsh we saw two Ringed Plover and a few Grey Plover, 15 Dunlin fed in the distance. On the walk back we added a Chinese Water Deer, Water Rail and Kingfisher. We spent a bit of time in the car park looking for the Yellow-browed Warbler seeing plenty of common passerines but not it.

Moving on to Holme next the Sea we searched the scrub and dunes near the golf course but found it to be rather quiet,  a few Chiffchaff and Greenfinch as well as House Sparrows. A final destination for the day was Roydon Common, the heath provided a large gathering Meadow Pipit roost, two Stonechat and Green Woodpecker. It was also a great spot for the amazing sunset before heading back to the hotel.


3 October

We departed on our last day a little bit later and once again began with a visit to Cley beach for another seawatch. The Red-throated Divers and Gannets were still on the move but we added Razorbills, Sandwich Terns and overflying Rock Pipits. Reports of a Marsh Sandpiper on the nearby marshes did not come to anything, we had walked past the showy Snow Bunting but this time it had attracted quite a crowd.

Another stop at the Cley NWT visitor centre for refreshment was brightened by a flock of arriving Pink-footed Geese, this was followed by a search of the poolside scrub at Walsey Hills NNT. A Yellow-browed Warbler called a few times but never showed for us, some compensation in the form of a Bullfinch. The still, calm and sunny weather was perfect for seeking out Bearded Tits, the East Bank did not disappoint us, great views of four or more we gained out in the open along with a much sought after Tufted Duck.

We moved on from Cley to Hunstanton cliffs, it was low tide and the Wash was a millpond, Red-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes were easy if distant to pick out and Bar-tailed Godwit showed among the Oystercatchers on the beach. Two Peregrine scrapped noisily overhead. This was our final stop for birds as we made our way back to Gloucestershire to conclude a good few days, over 100 species were noted in a relaxed birding trip. Thank you to everyone who accompanied me and special thanks for the messages, I am glad you enjoyed it.


Filed under: Trip Reports


at 2:16 pm