After a pleasant journey spotting numerous Buzzards, several Kestrels, and of course the occasional Red Kite as we entered Wales, we arrived at Gronant near Prestatyn. Here on the beach is a breeding colony of Little Terns but sadly only the day before, due to a severe gale causing a tidal surge, the colony had been devastated. There were plenty of Terns to be seen in the air and an army of volunteers who were repairing the security fences. They reported that there were a few surviving chicks and some of the pairs had started nest building again so hopefully all is not lost. Skylarks were much in evidence on the surroundings dunes and Shelduck, Mallard, Moorhens and Little Egret were seen on the marsh. A Marsh Harrier, not common here, was also spotted. Those lucky enough to have good hearing were entertained by a Grasshopper Warbler. Many orchids were among the flowers blooming. We then continued our journey along the North Wales coast, the Menai Straits and finally to our destination near Holyhead.
We woke to heavy rain on Saturday but dressed for the weather and headed to South Stack. Here a gale was blowing and the foghorn was wailing in the low cloud. We took the path along the edge of the cliff but there was no sign of Choughs. The writer, for one, wished she was wearing lead boots to keep her tethered to the ground. It was not ideal birdwatching weather with rain on spectacles, binoculars and the windows of Elins Tower. Nevertheless, a good bird list soon built up including Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills. Manx Shearwaters were also seen. The first Choughs were seen by those who headed towards the cafe for a comfort stop. We descended the steps towards the lighthouse battling against a wind that felt like a hurricane but were rewarded by the sighting of a Puffin. The rain then started to come down more heavily and we retreated to the cafe for a welcome coffee. Hearing reports of a Snowy Owl on Anglesey we made enquiries about its location and set off to look for it. Amlwch Port proved to be an attractive sheltered spot for birds and birders to eat their lunch. Sadly it was to be a ‘it was here yesterday’ occasion. However, we were rewarded by good sightings of about six Harbour Porpoises just offshore. Our next stop was Cemlyn Bay where there was much activity in the tern colony. It was a good opportunity to sort out identification of Common and Arctic terms as they were here side by side. Sandwich Terns had their own territory and were present in good numbers. Oystercatchers were also breeding there and two Curlew flew over. A female Red-breasted Merganser fished on the pond near the car park. Seals were singing on the rocks towards the Wherries.
The next day started very well with a flyover of about four Choughs before we had left the car park of our accommodation. Holyhead harbour was our next stop where we quickly spotted Black Guillemots. We had excellent views of at least six birds including one in its nest hole in the harbour wall. A male Red-breasted Merganser was seen in the distance and more seals. After a drive to the North East corner of the island via a very attractive Beaumaris and coast road we arrived at Penmon point opposite Puffin Island. Here in lovely weather was a raft of Eider off shore and Cormorants and Shags for us to practice identification. More Harbour Porpoises went by. After lunch we strolled through the sheltered clifftop habitat and soon saw Bullfinches, Rock Pipits and Whitethroat and heard Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. We next headed to the South Coast at Malltreath, returning to the wet and windy weather. After an excellent view of a Sparrowhawk with prey we saw a Little Egret, Ravens, Moorhen, Oystercatcher and heard Reed and Sedge Warbler.
On Monday morning we reluctantly left our excellent accommodation at Blackthorn farm and travelled south through lovely scenery. We arrived at the Osprey nest site at Cors Dyfed just as the rain started making viewing through the glass of the treetop hide less than satisfactory. There were big screens showing live footage which were the clearest pictures I have ever seen. Some of our telescopes were set up where there was no glass and good views were had of both adult birds. We ate our lunch in hides by the bird feeders and saw Siskins, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Coal Tit and brightly coloured Redpoll. A Snipe flew over. We then moved on to Bwylch Nant yr Arian Kite feeding station. Red Kites were already circling overhead waiting for the three o’clock tea time. The attractive lake gave us Tufted Duck and Little Grebe to add to the list. At 15:00 precisely the feeding frenzy started and what a sight it was with around 200 birds gliding in to snatch a morsel of the meat provided. It was an amazing finale to a great weekend. 93 bird species were recorded. Many thanks to Judy for making all the arrangements and to our two leaders and stalwart drivers Alastair and Keith. Thanks also to Jeff for sharing his detailed knowledge of all forms of wildlife. Margaret Gorely
Friday 16 February. A number considered unlucky for some left Bristol for this trip, but on arrival in Kent we were joined by BOC member Lyn and her partner Ray, who stayed with us for the whole trip and whose local knowledge proved invaluable. But before we got to Kent our trip list was already around 40, due partly to an injunction to keep a look-out for Red Kite between Junctions 13 and 11 on the M4 (in fact we saw several); and partly because we made a small diversion to Staines Reservoir en route, having been advised of the presence of a “Horned Lark”. Information on which race was ambiguous (hardly surprising since there are around 40 races of this species). Suffice it to say that it was not the race we call Shore Lark, so there was considerable excitement about this bird, which had evidently arrived from North America, or possibly Asia. We duly found it, but sadly not everyone saw it, since it flew off after showing really well for a few minutes. All this meant that we didn’t reach the Isle of Sheppey until after 15:00. Here we saw Merlin, Marsh Harrier, Barn Owl, Stock Dove, Red-legged Partridge and Hooded Crow before Ray and Lyn took us off to the Swale NNR, where we added Greylag, White-front, Brent and Barnacle Geese to our list – plus Fieldfare, Kestrel and, best of all, a gorgeous male Hen Harrier.By then the light was fading, so we set off towards our hotel; we screeched to a halt when Ray discovered Corn Bunting. But most of us assumed that we were just getting better views of Barn Owl, so dipped out on that opportunity. Saturday 17 February. Our first experience on arriving on the Dungeness peninsula was to fail to find a Caspian Gull, which should have been mingling with a large group of gulls. It wasn’t, so we went for a 45 minute sea watch, where we added Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet, Kittiwake and Red-throated Diver to our list. From there it was a short journey to the Power Station where an immature Glaucous Gull had been seen for some while. Since there were about 200 gulls in a tightly knit gathering, finding the target bird needed hard work and patience. But finally we all got good views of this spectacular bird. Before lunch at the RSPB Observatory we took ourselves off to Scotney Gravel Pits in the hope of seeing Bean Goose. We failed in this but compensation was rich because we saw Raven, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Buzzard (which surprised us this far east, but the following day we saw many more, so it was no accident); also Gadwall and Wigeon, which had been thin on the ground before this. After lunch, we spent the afternoon touring the RSPB Reserve.At the feeder station we encountered Tree Sparrow, which pleased us, and Greenfinch which have become scarce in recent years. Most of our time on the Reserve was devoted to viewing waterbirds in flooded gravel pits from hides. Between hides we discovered a Great White Egret (OK, so it’s common in the West, but still a rarity here) and a large flock of very colourful Golden Plover. The first two hides treated us to a feast of so many birds that we gloried in the number and variety and didn’t bother too much about listing individual species. That tendency disappeared in a flash at the third hide where we were treated to a male and two female Smew, plus a Slavonian Grebe, a Black-throated Diver and hundreds of Cormorant with all-white heads. Thus sated, we returned to Gillingham and our hotel. Sunday 18 February. Today we first went to a small village called Eastling, which had a mixture of woodland and farmland habitat. On arrival a Little Owl flew into a Yew tree. Not many of us saw it, but the small birds did and they proceeded to emerge and mob the tree in large numbers. This was good for our I/D skills of Blue and Great Tit, Goldfinch, Chaffinch etc., and fortunately the “defenders” included a splendid female Hawfinch, which gave all of us excellent views. There was also much birdsong to be enjoyed – possibly because we were basking in the third successive day of fine, spring-like weather. On the subsequent walk through woods and farmland, we added Yellowhammer, Sparrowhawk and Mistle Thrush to our list, and we also passed close to an active Rookery. Finally, we stopped and were treated to a distant view of three more Hawfinch, including a spectacular male. We heard the repeated sound of a Bullfinch and a lucky few managed to see the bird. The rest of us had to be content with a repeat viewing of a Red-legged Partridge. By now most of us were suffering from WWS (Wader withdrawal symptoms), so after lunch we went to Oare Marshes to solve this problem. And how! We saw Avocet, a large flock of (probably) Knot, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, hundreds of Golden Plover and several Ruff. We also saw three Bearded Reedling feeding at the top of a small reedbed. And after a long, hard-working search we finally managed to connect with the Long-billed Dowitcher which has been at Oare Marshes for several weeks but had not been seen for some days. Flushed with success, we went off in search of some Water Pipit, which had been reported recently. What we saw was a Green Woodpecker! Lovely bird, but….. Well you can’t win them all! Nevertheless the consensus was that it had been a brilliant weekend – weather, birds (106 species), company, hotel – and in Alastair Fraser and Keith Williams two of the most skilful and dedicated drivers you could ever hope to meet. Along with Jane Cumming our leader, the rest of us owe these three and Ray and Lyn, an enormous debt of gratitude. Brian Roberts-Wray
Based at Hope Cove – 20 members; weather – squally with periods of bright sunshine interspersed with showers, driven by a blustery NW wind. Species total: 90
Day 1: We started at Matford Marsh, an informal newish reserve for flood relief between main roads just south of Exeter, to look for an American Wigeon – not there; though Eurasian Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Black-tailed Godwit and Snipe were.
Next, Labrador Bay, a coastal farmland reserve just south of Teignmouth, for Cirl Bunting. We found abundant Linnet and Chaffinch, and Skylark and Meadow Pipit as well as up to 20 Cirl Buntings sunning on a sheltered hedgerow waiting to be fed. It was many people’s first view of these lovely birds with striped heads with olive surround, and they became the favourite ‘bird of the trip’.
Next, a sea watch on the calm seafront by Paignton Pier, finding Gannet, Shag and Great Northern Diver.
Finally, the Clennon Valley Reserve, Torbay, a modest urban-fringe reserve with woodland, stream and lake, to look for Yellow-browed Warbler. We didn’t find it, though it was there earlier and would be seen later; but we did find a Firecrest and Kingfisher.
Day 2: The early morning beach at Hope Cove had Oystercatchers, Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails and Kestrel, Guillemots and Gannet flying close in.
Next, to South Molton Reserve, Thurlstone, a mile west of Hope Cove – a modest wetland area behind the beach and dunes, with Wigeon, Snipe, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwits, Stonechats, and a Kingfisher balancing in the reeds. The large sea stack off the beach had Cormorant and Shag, with a Grey Heron huddled high on the sheltered side.Next, to the long flat stretch of shingle beach at Slapton Ley, where on the sea side were Shags, a diver which photographic scrutiny resolved to be a Red-throated Diver; and, surprisingly close inshore, a raft of 25 female and two male Common Scoters (Jane’s ‘birds of the trip’…) bobbing on relatively calm waters and easy to view even with bins; with a dolphin diving further out. Then, into the reserve round the Ley (lagoon) behind the beach – strikingly calmer and warmer. We saw or heard a good list of water and woodland birds including Water Rail, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Song Thrush, Redwing (one of only a handful of winter thrushes seen on the trip), Treecreeper, Cetti’s Warbler and Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Bullfinch; with Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Coots and Moorhen on the Ley.
Next, to Bowcombe Creek, a quiet inland arm of the great tidal Kingsbridge Estuary, to see Shelduck, Little Egret, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Common Gull – and strikingly, a Cormorant catching and swallowing an eel whose writhing progress down the neck we followed… it became one member’s ‘bird sight of the trip’.
Finally, to South Efford Marsh Reserve by Aveton Gifford (on the tidal headwaters of the River Avon which debouches at Bigbury on the coast west of Hope Cove) – a relatively new reserve with a path running betweenenclosed wetlands on one side and the river on the other. We saw Mute Swan, Heron, Little Egret, Common Sandpiper, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Wigeon, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Reed Bunting, Bullfinch, Stonechat, an LBJ that resolved to a Water Pipit, and Otter prints.
Day 3: Through the beautiful wooded lowlands of Dartmoor Forest national park, to Steps Bridge and Dunsford Nature Reserve on its north-east edge – ancient woodland along the River Teign. Two Goosanders on the river and a Dipper calling loudly as it patrolled up and down. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Mistle and Song Thrush, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal and Marsh Tit, Goldcrest, Siskin – and for a lucky minority, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker showing fleetingly in low tree growth.
On the drive back we returned to a less obvious area of wetland at Matford Marsh, where kind locals pointed out the American Wigeon sitting with Eurasian Wigeon on the banks of a stream, its dark green face pattern almost black against a greyish face. It was here last year too – a distinctive patch of dark feathers on the creamy crown identified it to the local birdwatchers. And finally our first, and only Fieldfare.
Many thanks as always to Jane for her fun yet focused leadership, and to Keith and Alastair the gallant drivers of a minibus round the too-small, too-steep Devon lanes. Lois Pryce
Club Trip: 7-14 May – Wild Herzegovina Leader: Denis Bohm
We arrived in Dubrovnik, Croatia on 7 May and drove across the border into Bosnia-Herzegovina. A three-hour drive took us to picturesque Mostar (although many of the buildings still show chunks missing and peppered shrapnel holes from the brutal war this town endured in the 1990s). The scenery was extremely unspoiled, with rivers meandering through rocky valleys and views across to islands dotted about the Adriatic Sea. The weather was moody, ending in torrential rain with dramatic cloud formations. Our first birds seen were several Alpine Swift, hundreds of House Martins (so this is where all ours are) and cracking views of a Nightingale.
On 8 May, from our balcony, we watched Red-rumped Swallows and Pallid Swifts hawking insects above us. We soon noticed a large Honey Buzzard movement along the River Neretva. We headed South to the banks of the River Buna just outside town and what a treat it was. There was no-one else there, the woodland purred with Turtle Doves and Bee-eaters, trilled with Wood Warblers and the sound of bill-snapping Spotted Flycatchers. Six species of Woodpecker were present with Wryneck and Lesser Spotted common, as were Golden Orioles who chased each other around vying for nesting sites. After lunch, we went East of the city and up into the foothills of the Dinaric Alps where Subalpine Warbler and Black-eared Wheatears were numerous. We were around 600 Metres above sea level. This subalpine region is inhabited by a mostly Muslim population, so one can see mosques and minarets dotted around the plateaus of limestone Karst. The star bird though, after a gap of 43 years for me and a lifer for the rest of the group, was Rock Partridge – we had a couple of sightings of this limited-range bird and were able to study its call which is completely different from Chukar. Our attention was also caught by a male Montagu’s Harrier that drifted past us.
At the end of each day in Mostar we dined in a lovely old restaurant in the historic quarter of town near the Old Bridge.
Male Golden Oriole
9 May. A day spent in two countries: the morning Bosnia-Herzegovina and the afternoon Croatia. After breakfast, we visited a Pallid Swift colony under the New Bridge in Mostar. We then headed North-east out of town to the fabulous Blagaj Gorge which is the source of the River Buna. Here we enjoyed nesting Rock Nuthatch, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, and a Dipper on a cafe table! Before crossing the border, we visited a small section of Hutovo Blavo Nature Park where there were large numbers of Bee-eaters; we also found a Penduline Tit weaving a nest and several Pygmy Cormorants. Our sortie into Croatia took us to the Neretva Delta, a great place for water birds with wonderful views of some of the Adriatic Islands that were dotted around the sea. Birds seen included Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Spoonbill, Honey Buzzard, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Kentish Plover, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Great Reed Warbler, Black-headed Wagtail, Serin and Spanish Sparrows.
Great Reed Warbler
10 May, Bosnia-Herzegovina is the best value-for-money country that I have been to in recent times, one’s money goes far here. Lyn and I rose at 6am to head down to the old town, the Stari Grad district of Mostar, and to the Old Bridge famous for its divers. Since the 16th century folk have dived the 24 metres off the bridge into the raging waters below. Just looking at it was frightening enough, yet they even had a divers club!
In 1992 the bridge was destroyed by shelling and reconstructed after the war in 1997 with materials from the quarry originally used in 1566. We walked along the river valley to the mosque. Golden Oriole’s songs reverberated around the valley echoing off the walls and we had great views of some adult males. After breakfast, we all headed up into the Dinaric Alps on Prenj Mountain to a height of 1300 Metres. The alpine meadows were beautiful with myriads of butterflies such as Duke of Burgundy, Queen of Spain Fritillary and Clouded Apollo and spring flowers such as Gentian and Star of Bethlehem. Several nice birds were observed: Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Sombre and Crested Tits and Ortolan Buntings. After dinner, we finished the day off listening to my first ever Slavac Punk band (don’t knock it until you have heard it).
11 May we had a great finale from Mostar on our last night. Lyn and I were treated to a pair of Scops Owls mating on a minaret next to the old bridge in the Stari Grad district. The whole group previously saw the male bird. We spent the day at the picturesque Hutovo Blavo Nature Reserve. In the morning walking alongside the Krupa River looking over the reed-fringed lake. Birds here included Pygmy Cormorant, Collared Pratincole, White-winged Black and Whiskered Terns, Crane, a variety of herons and many Ferruginous Duck. It was also a great place for dragonflies.
In the afternoon we took a small motor boat onto the lake and explored some of its reed corridors, Ferruginous Duck and Garganey gave good views. The lake is fed by mountain water from the Dinaric Alps that flow underground and rise at that spot forming a pristine habitat and a lovely place to be. We saw not another person while out birding all day.
12 May. Our last day in Herzegovina. We arrived in Dubrovnik back into the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Before that though, our first stop in the morning was at the Buna Quarry where there were thousands of Sand Martins and hundreds of Bee-eaters nesting. We also saw a Little Owl with a Sand Martin in its talons. The site was alive with wild flowers and very colourful indeed. We then moved onto the Popovo Polje Karst Fields, these flower-covered green meadows were a perfect place to have lunch and go for a walk, although an inquisitive Short-toed Eagle made us forget our sandwiches. We later stopped at a rocky outpost to buy some honey made by bees that solely pollinate sage. Many of our group had a shot of mead while watching some subalpine birds there. Our final site in the country was Postaja Zavala which is famous for its cave. It was here that the remains of a Leopard were found. There is also a redundant narrow-gauged railway. The old station is now a café, festooned with Spanish Sparrows. We saw several legless Glass Lizards here, very strange creatures indeed. We now looked forward to two days’ sight-seeing in Dubrovnik before heading home late Sunday.
13/14 May were spent relaxing around our resort at Cavtat, Croatia and catching a 45-minute boat ride across the Adriatic Sea past some pine-forested islands to Dubrovnik Old Town. This is a fortified city where one can walk around the top of the wall overlooking the town and the sea. Many Common and Alpine Swifts screamed overhead and came in quite low; one could hear the wind in their wings. We saw a folk band and singers and traditional dancers all put on for the tourists, but the participants genuinely seemed to enjoy performing acts that were deeply rooted in their culture; their faces beamed. At lunch, we were serenaded by the excellent gypsy swing band Gadjo Monouche. Dubrovnik is still a beautiful ancient city. Cadvat was an excellent base on the sea front with coastal walks through pine woods and scrub where we found some migrant Glossy Ibis, Sardinian, Icterine and Wood Warblers, Red-backed Shrikes and black morph Red Squirrels. The village itself is spread out but delightful, apparently, it was once part of Ancient Greece.
Our trip was arranged and expertly led by Denis Bohm who grew up as the only birder in Herzegovina. He now lives in London but returns to his homeland for a couple of months each spring to explore this under-watched country further and introduce its delights to visitors.
For further information, see his website: www.wild-herzegovina.com.
Thanks to Jane Cumming for organizing the trip and to the rest of our BOC travel companions for making it so enjoyable.
The first club trip I went on was to Norfolk and it was one of the best weekends I ever spent. This one more than lived up to the previous high standard. The weather was kinder to us than the forecasts predicted. We got a bit wet on Saturday, Sunday was windy but sunny and Monday’s storm hit us on the drive home leaving us to do the birding in relative comfort. We explored the Norfolk coast using Hunstanton as our base visiting Holme, Thornham, Titchwell, Cley, Holkham and Sculthorpe Moor as well as Welney WWT, Roydon Common, Flitcham, Sandringham and the mysterious Wolferton Triangle, Lynford Arboretum and points in-between. The group saw 116 species, I won’t list them all! The highlights were: Hen Harrier and Marsh Harrier roosts; seven types of Geese including one White-fronted in a group of Pink-footed; Shore Larks only metres away, a beautiful bird that instantly disappears when it lands – a whole flock of 40 could vanish before your eyes; a close fly past of a Bittern at Titchwell; Crossbill, heard in two locations and a small flock seen at Lynford; Hawfinch at Lynford just as we were giving up and heading back and a Little Owl at Flitcham which was another well-behaved bird that flew in just as we thought we would not see it; Bramblings and Redpoll, including a Mealy. Bad news for listers, Mealy Redpoll is merging back into Lesser Redpoll. We also saw Red-legged and Grey Partridge. The Grey is no longer stocked for shooting and is not supposed to be shot. So these should be proper wild birds rather than tame target practice for shooters. There was a huge raft of Common Scoter offshore from Hunstanton and more Scoter off Titchwell. Patient observation (by Ken and Jane, let’s be fair) turned these into Velvet Scoter with the not too obvious flash of a white wing patch. The van flushed two Woodcocks sitting in the road and we had a Sparrowhawk in front of us for a few hundred metres down a narrow lane. Several turns round the Wolverton Triangle looking for Golden Pheasant were ultimately successful for two minibus passengers who spotted one in the bushes heading for cover. So they do still exist! There was also a futile attempt to find a Glaucous Gull with a report that one was at a pig farm just past a Methodist chapel. We found a Methodist chapel but no pig farm. There was a pig farm, and no chapel, but a large flock of gulls, in a field, some distance away plus another huge flock on the next field, hundreds more circling above and even more among the pigs. Time to move on! The one disappointment concerned Barn Owl. We had no sightings in spite of multiple visits to favourite haunts. They were seen about by others but there is a concern the numbers may have taken a hit due to poor weather in the breeding season. Ken is also a fund of knowledge about the area from local celebs (Nelson and sea captains rather than Stephen Fry) to Norfolk round tower churches and the stained glass window at St Margaret’s church, Cley with an image of a White-crowned Sparrow in celebration of a famous twitch in 2008 and the generous collection to the restoration fund by twitchers. There are so many other good sightings to report but space won’t allow. So, you will have to go and find out for yourself, preferably on the next club trip. Many thanks to Ken for leading, his expert knowledge and enthusiasm. Thanks also to the rest of the group for being so helpful and such good company. Alistair Fraser
Dumfries: the destination. These are the voyages of the BOC Tardis. Its five-day mission: to explore strange new reserves, to seek out birds and new experiences. Ably piloted by Ken and Alistair the BOC team headed north to the WWT reserve at Martin Mere. Here the team got their first views of this winter’s wildfowl – Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans, some waders including Ruff, and a Tree Sparrow. From Martin Mere it was then north to Dumfries, the home of Robert Burns.
On the second day the first port of call was Castle Loch, Lochmaben, where Great Crested Grebes, Goldeneye and Tufted Ducks swam and dived while the sky was busy with large skeins of Pink-footed, Greylag and Canada Geese flying between the loch and surrounding fields. Leaving the loch side the team set off in search of feeding geese in the fields en route to Eskrigg, a small but select nature reserve on the outskirts of Lockerbie which seemed to be infested with large numbers of Coal Tits in the company of numerous Nuthatches, Blue and Great Tits, Mallards, a Little Grebe and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. We were also entertained by some highly mobile Red Squirrels. Returning to the Tardis the team had flybys of Fieldfares, Redwings and Chaffinches. We then visited the WWT’s reserve at Caerlaverock; as at Slimbridge it has a swan feed, but here it is for the larger Whooper Swans rather than the small Bewick’s found at Slimbridge. Also on the reserve was a Green-winged Teal that gave excellent views and much pleasure to those team members for whom it was a lifer. Walking out to the Saltcoats Merse Observatory, we found the avenue alive with feeding Blackbirds and tits, with large flocks of Barnacle Geese feeding in the fields. Once at the observatory the team were treated to the sight of a hunting male Hen Harrier – a very special moment.
A light dusting of snow had replaced the overnight rain on day three and the first task of the day was to explore Dumfries, including the banks of the River Nith where a small group of Goosanders flew upstream overlooked by four species of gull: Herring, Black-headed, Lesser and Great Black-backed. Meanwhile, Grey Wagtails flitted around the edges of the river as we searched unsuccessfully for a reported party of Waxwings. Leaving Dumfries, we headed for the RSPB reserve at the Loch Ken-Dee Marshes, which was surrounded by snow-covered hills. Here the team experienced flybys by Raven, Red Kite, Buzzards and Canada Geese. During this aerial display, a plucky trio of members went to the rescue of two sheep in distress. Shortly before leaving, a flock of 40 odd Greenland White-fronted Geese arrived at the site and distant views of a Golden Eagle on a pylon were had by some members. Another RSPB reserve was next – Mereshead, on the Solway coast. Numerous tits, finches, ducks, Yellowhammers, Goldcrest and Barnacle Geese gave splendid views. A short stop at Carsethorn on the estuary provided us with views of thousands of waders especially Oystercatchers.It’s the penultimate day and looking bright, but the forecast is gloomy! The team set forth towards Stranraer to explore the shores of Loch Ryan. The first shoreline stop was near one of the ferry terminals; first impressions were not encouraging until three Scaup and an Eider were sighted, accompanied by a wonderful rainbow. Moving on, we were hoping for the pot of gold and, despite a biting easterly wind, were treated to a flyby Peregrine, four species of gull, Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Eiders, Redshanks, Turnstones, Mute Swans and Bar-tailed Godwits.
The last stop on Loch Ryan, the former RAF Wig Bay seaplane base, was equally fruitful with a host of Golden Plover, Knot, Meadow and Rock Pipits, Oystercatchers, a large flock of Common Gulls, Starlings, Twite and a Brambling. Time was getting on and we had one more site to visit before the light faded: this was West Freugh a former RNAS in WW1 for Naval Airships. Even before the team managed to exit the Tardis, Greenland White-fronted Geese were observed feeding on the ground. Then a sharp-eyed member sighted a male Hen Harrier – one of four seen (two males and two ringtails). All four were observed for some time and then a Marsh Harrier joined them. A small flock of Skylarks flew overhead and two Merlins were spotted. This was obviously the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The list of species seen by the team in Scotland totalled 110.
It’s the last day of the mission and team is heading home, with a stop at RSPB Leighton Moss. On arrival, our leader Ken took us to a predetermined spot on the reserve. As the team gathered together, about half a dozen Bearded Tits appeared on the gravel trays – impeccable timing on Ken’s part (not for the first time). The team then split up, with some heading off to see the American Wigeon while others explored some of the hides and the new tower platform. From Lillian’s Hide, Judy saw a glimpse of a Bittern diving into the reed bed. From the tower and the hides, many Common Snipe, Wigeon and Teal were seen, along with three Great White Egrets and a couple of Little Egrets. In the wooded areas between the hides not only were the usual tits observed but also two Marsh Tits, a good number of Treecreepers and some delightful Goldcrests.
All good things must come to an end so it was back on the road south in the Tardis homeward bound (many thanks for the smooth driving guys). Over the five days the Team recorded and sometimes photographed a total of 118 Species. Many thanks to Judy for organising the holiday and keeping the team in order, and to Ken for leading us and organising the birds and to Ken and Alistair for driving. Rich Scantlebury
After threats of unusually low tides and easterly gales, the majority of the group set sail very early in the morning on the notoriously unstable Scillonian. As it turned out, we were pleasantly surprised to experience the calmest of seas you could hope for! Others joined later having taking the shorter route of flying to the small airport on St Mary’s. In total, we were 17 with an array of experience from newish birders to those with vast knowledge and awareness of the birding world. Sadly, the group was one down at the last minute due to a very unfortunate accident that put our 18th member into plaster from ankle to thigh.
A good number of seabirds: Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Shag, Cormorant, Razorbill and Guillemot were on the list before the beautiful islands appeared in view. Once landed, we walked around The Garrison above Hugh Town on St Mary’s en-route to the wonderful Mincarlo B&B. Bryony and Ella and the team were extremely accommodating and coped marvellously with all our needs.
We were given such a privileged tour around the Scillies courtesy of Jane who, having visited the Scillies about 25 times, was an expert leader knowing all the routes and best birding places on all five inhabited islands (including the local refuse dump on St Mary’s). Jane’s local contacts put us in good touch with the birdlife each day and we too were able to report into their network of communication about what was being seen and where. These contacts and the daily list on the birding record chalkboard led us to see the Snowy Owl on Bryher, the Iceland Gull on St Mary’s golf course and the Iberian Chiffchaff on Tresco. Had we not used modern technology to listen to the diagnostic call of the Iberian Chiffchaff the night before we may well have missed it, but Nick’s excellent listening skills meant we caught it by sound before seeing it.
Of course we concentrated on the bird life, but we also saw many things of interest including historical sites such as Neolithic burial chambers and the last resting place of Harold Wilson. The flowering plants were beautiful, with many we recognised but challenged ourselves to name. Many of the flora such as the Mesembryanthemum (Hottentot Fig) and Oxalis (Bermuda Buttercup) were introduced from South Africa. All the islands have bulb fields, with Daffodils and Ixias being grown commercially. The pollution-free environment of the islands meant many trees, granite walls and rocks were covered by amazing grey-green lichen which gave an eerie feel to the landscape.
There wasn’t a lot of animal life but we did have close views of the Grey Seals on the uninhabited rocks of Annet and saw six seal heads bobbing in the water off St Martin’s. We also saw Rabbits and Red Squirrel in Tresco Abbey Gardens and a bat out in broad daylight plus some suspected Hedgehog footprints. It is really impressive and important that the islands are now free of Brown Rats that would normally eat eggs and kill chicks of birds that nest on the ground and in burrows.
The inter-island boats provided a fantastic opportunity to see seabirds including all the auks but the tiny Puffins were few and far between. On a number of rocks, a Cormorant sat alongside a Shag giving the ideal opportunity to compare the size of these two related birds. Shags were far more abundant with over a hundred individuals in one raft (described comically by Lois as a ‘Shag-Fest’) all showing off their bright yellow eyespots. Other seabirds included the Great Northern Diver and the majestic Gannets that dived into the water at such speed as did the Sandwich Terns seen plunge-diving off the coast. On St Agnes, we had eye-level views of two Kittiwakes flying along the cliff edge where they were probably nesting. Song Thrush, Wren and House Sparrows were everywhere. On all islands there were more Collared Doves than Woodpigeons. Lower Moors on St Mary’s gave us some newly hatched Mallard chicks and four Moorhen chicks visible through the blind. Over the week we witnessed Song Thrush parents busily feeding their chicks in an eye-level nest close to the path.
Other less common birds included the Ring Ouzel, Water Rail and Hoopoe but not everyone saw these. We searched in vain for a Wryneck on The Garrison and for Rook at the north of Tresco but they were not to be for this trip list. After spotting the male Snowy Owl who stood out like a sore thumb on the dark heather moorland of north Bryher, it flew east and landed on a more prominent point. From there, we were all able to get great views of this magnificent bird. It was flushed by a couple of dog walkers who were oblivious to this spectacular bird flying just above their heads on its way to Tresco! We had excellent views of a very noisy Cuckoo and, for those who chose not to race to the top of St Martin’s but instead take a leisurely rest, a Montagu’s Harrier in flight. The St Martin’s pub claimed to have the best view in the world – and indeed gave a great view of the only Ravens seen all week.
In all, the group saw 88 species which perhaps isn’t a vast number for a week’s intensive birding but it was the nature of the birdlife and the rarity of some that made the week so very special. The intensity of the migratory falls of Blackcaps following a foggy morning was amazing with behaviour never before seen by any of the group (feeding on the ground in a field on St Mary’s and grazing for sand-flies on the beach at St Warna Cove on St Agnes). On Wingletang Down on St Agnes we had a view of more than ten Wheatears, whose white rumps we all became familiar with during the week and, with so many Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers about, we were able to focus on their small diagnostic differences. The weather remained sunny for most of the week but the winds were chilly. We had only a couple of very short showers so we were lucky. The winds changed to north and north-easterly by the third day so the crazy numbers of migrants were no longer evident and the resident Sparrows, Song Thrush, Linnets and Wrens took over. The Snowy Owl was the ‘bird of the trip’ for most of the group but others gave that special token to some stunning species like the Gannet, or more humble species including the very tame Song Thrush or the ubiquitous and very noisy Wren whose explosive song is out of all proportion to its size.
Many thanks to those experienced birders who made us feel very welcome and shared their knowledge unselfishly and we are sure the whole group would like to give special thanks to Jane Cumming for leading from the front. Alison and Jeremy Pilling
If you are interested, there are some interesting photos of the Snowy Owl and Iberian Chiffchaff on a local Scilly birder’s blog site: http://scillyspider.blogspot.co.uk
The eighteen Club members on the trip included three first time away with the club. The weather in Cornwall was forecast strong SW winds with (heavy) showers, not too bad on Saturday, windier on Sunday. Although not ideal in some respects, the strong winds drove sea birds towards the coast where we had a better chance of sightings.
Sea watching by a clifftop lighthouse, in a near gale, was a challenge but rewarded by the majesty of the crashing waves and the stream of birds passing through; Gannet, Pomarine Skua and Shearwater. On a more perfect day these birds may well have stayed far out to sea and out of sight. Base camp was Bosweddon Guest House, St. Just in SW Cornwall. Cape Cornwall is a half mile downhill from the guest house and ideal for those keen on a pre-breakfast walk (although the minibus had to fetch them back). A Kestrel and gulls hanging on the up-draught until a stronger gust blasted them back inland. Ravens were notable by their absence although two were seen here on Sunday morning. The visit covered coast from St Just to Newlyn, Marazion and Mount’s Bay up to the Hayle Estuary.
Great Northern Diver (Four), Black-throated Diver, Pomarine Skua, Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Glaucous Gull, American Herring Gull (after much study the jury is still out on this but photos were taken and confirmation may follow), Common Scoter, Gannets, Razorbill, Guillemot, Shag.
Estuary/Coast: Red-necked grebe, Spoonbill, Greenshank, Redshank, Lapwing, Golden, Ringed and Grey Plovers, Dunlin, Curlew, Sanderling, Turnstone, Rock Pipit, Shelduck, Little Egret, Oystercatcher, Cormorant.
Marsh/reedbed: One Snipe, Mute Swan, Canada Geese, nine Herons and a flying Bittern.
Reservoir: Flotilla of 100 Canada Geese with one lone Greylag and one leucistic or hybrid oddity
Raptors: Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard.
Other gulls; Great and Lesser Black- backed, Mediterranean, Black- headed, Herring, no Commons though.
Failed to see: Pacific Diver, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Water Pipit, Ring-billed Gull. No Choughs at all. Most of us missed Black Redstart but one was seen by two members travelling separately.
Dozmary Pool: On the way back we were promised a Lesser Scaup. The strong wind and drizzle/mist made observation all but impossible but we added Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and the Lesser Scaup (the bird was just visible and, in truth, identifiable as lesser only because others, including members of the party on the way down, had previously reported it). Total bird count: 86 species plus American Herring Gull and Lesser Scaup if you can count them. Oh, and a Red Kite on the M5 near the Clevedon turn-off on the way down. Many thanks to Jane for leading and doing the homework beforehand and Keith for sharing the driving. Alastair Fraser
Thirteen members travelled to Finland for an Owl Prowl extraordinaire. The main targets were owls and woodpeckers and the first evening saw us viewing Ural Owl chicks and an adult, closely followed by a Pygmy Owl perched near its nest box. The following day we added two adult and two young Great Grey Owls and a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers feeding young. A particular highlight was half an hour spent watching a Three-toed Woodpecker trying to feed a massive Goat Moth grub to its young at least ten times before giving up and trying to eat the grub itself. Even the adult struggled to cut it up to eat it.
The first hotel backed onto the Gulf of Bothnia and since it never really got dark certain members stayed out until 11.30pm and started before 6.00am to find Marsh Harrier, many Sedge Warblers, a selection of ducks, terns and gulls (lovely Little Gulls) and Woodcock. The wader list was building with Little Ringed Plover and Spotted Redshank in breeding plumage together with display flights by Common Snipe, or you could watch the Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Lesser Whitethroats and Fieldfare just outside your bedroom windows. The local Redwings were also singing rather than calling – a new sound to most. The Saturday early shift came up trumps for “One Lucky Member” – a Terek Sandpiper on the very small mud bar visible at the edge of the Gulf. Various sites in Oulu provided Common Rosefinch, Yellow Wagtails (thunbergi) and a nesting pair of Slavonian Grebes, Thrush Nightingale singing loudly and showing fleetingly and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. Liminka Bay nature reserve produced distant ducks including Smew, Goldeneye and Goosander, together with close up views of Little Gull, Marsh Harrier and just as we were leaving the viewing platform a bonus bird – a Gull-billed Tern just 2,500km north of its expected range. The Gulf coast gave at least 30 Whooper Swans and Arctic and Common Terns having a duel and the forest produced Harriers (Pallid and Hen) and two Ortolan Buntings. Once in Kusamo we headed straight off to see two Siberian Tit adults feeding young, and finally a Tengmalm’s Owl sitting in its nest box before the rain started. In the rain on Sunday we drove for miles on forest tracks (no wonder the Finns are so good at rally driving!) and various stops were made for two Black Grouse and two Capercaillies on the track. Some of the many lakes visited gave White-tailed Eagle eating its prey on the far bank and Red-necked Grebes, a distant Pochard (unusual for Finland), at least ten Velvet Scoters and three Smew quite close to us. A Dipper was feeding its youngsters and diving into a torrent of water while we tried to shelter from torrential rain –poetic justice? Our perseverance finally paid off when we had views of two Siberian Jays as they flitted through the trees by the track, a Black Woodpecker feeding its three young and at last a Hawk Owl. We all piled out and had excellent views of the owl perched on a tree before someone noticed a flat tyre on the second van. Luckily the rain had more or less stopped while the spare wheel was fitted. On the route back to the hotel we spotted a Black Grouse lek with two males performing and two other males just watching. Dinner was a traditional Finnish dish of Reindeer which was too much for some members after seeing so many in the forests.
Our final day dawned with blue sky and a cool wind. After more searching, our Finnature guide eventually found a Hazel Grouse walking around in the undergrowth by the track. Over the next 15 minutes it even crossed the road a couple of times so everyone had good views. Abiding memories of the trip – forests and lakes; Owls and Woodpeckers; birding until the sun set at 11.30pm and out again before 6am; Pied and Spotted Flycatchers outside the bedroom window; Hazel Grouse; good food (those breakfasts!); great company from all the participants and the rally driving along the forest tracks. Overall the group saw 134 species in the four days we spent in Finland and everyone had some life birds.
Thanks to Jane for her excellent organisation, our two drivers Andy and Gary and to Pirita, our Finnature guide, without whom we would never have found all the owls, woodpeckers and grouse.
Thirteen of us drove to Saint-Dizier in the Champagne Region of north-east France to visit the Lac du Der, noted for its large number of migratory Cranes. The lake is a flood defence and the water level can vary considerably but it was very full after recent rains. The countryside to the west is flat, chalky, intensively cultivated and not much good for wildlife but the lake is very extensive, surrounded by mixed,mainly deciduous, woodland. The woods are worked for firewood and timber, with only a few ancient trees, but it creates a varied habitat. We self-catered in the daytime with supplies from the supermarket and ate in a local restaurant in the evening. Between meals we managed a bit of birding.The Cranes didn’t disappoint. We could see small groups feeding in the fields, all around the lake and flying in larger groups overhead. Towards late afternoon/early evening thousands fly in to roost on low islands in the lake. The sight of the incoming birds is reminiscent of the winter Starling roost on the levels! During the few days of our stay large groups of Cranes, sometimes circling to gain height, were seen in flight moving further north and east with one group of about 100 birds in a perfect V-formation. Great White Egrets, a rarity here not many years ago, were very common in the fields and around the lake. Grey Herons were numerous, Little Egret almost absent – just three were seen. A lone Spoonbill was feeding in a creek, dwarfed by a nearby Great White Egret. We saw two unexpected White Storks by a small pond in a field on the way back to the hotel and the following day we saw one on a nest in nearby Eclaron. The owner of the biggest house in the village had built a nesting platform for them on the roof but the birds had ignored this and chosen to build a 1.5m stack of sticks on the adjacent chimneys. The stork was soon joined by its mate carrying nesting material and they engaged in the activities that birds do when they really love each other. The lady whose house we obstructed to look at the birds told us they are year-round residents, not migrants. Other water birds: vast numbers of Coots, Great Crested Grebes and Pochard, with a few Red-crested Pochard among the flocks. Good numbers of Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Teal, Pintail, Goosander, Shoveler, Mallard, Mute and Bewick’s Swans. Geese: Greylag, White-fronted and one Bean. Two or three Black-necked and Little Grebes were tracked down, plus some Wigeon and Shelduck. Smew should have been more numerous but we did eventually locate nine birds in one small lagoon, including some attractive white males. Waders included Curlew, Golden Plover, Lapwing and Ruff with some small, distant birds that could have been Dunlin or Little Stint, a few Snipe and a Common Sandpiper. Gulls: Yellow-legged, Common, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed. Also by the lake, we found plenty of Water Pipits with some good views of obliging specimens, Kingfishers and a couple of Reed Buntings. Raptors: White-tailed Eagle (three or four), several migrating Red Kites, Common Buzzards, Peregrine (at least three), one Marsh Harrier, and a Sparrowhawk above the park in Saint-Dizier. Marsh Harriers used to breed here but were lost when agriculture intensified, and they are a rare winter visitor.The woods were full of woodpeckers: Great Spotted, Middle Spotted, Green and Black. Great and Middle Spotted are hard to distinguish by sight (I find) as the views are often fleeting. Their calls, however, are distinctive, even to the novice. Tip: take an expert with you and they will tell you what you are looking at. We heard Black Woodpeckers in several places but they were hard to see until on the last day we returned to a woodland patch for one more look and found one high up on a bare branch. It sat there long enough for us to pile out of the van to see it, hear it and take photos. Other notable woodland birds were Short-toed Treecreeper (distinguishable by its call), Hawfinch (seen but mainly heard), Marsh and Willow Tits, Nuthatch, Firecrest, Goldcrest, Bullfinch, a couple of Siskins and the expected common woodland species. The final addition for the trip was Grey Partridge in the fields by a French service station on the way back. The species tally was 92 during three and a bit days. Thanks to everyone who attended for good company and expert advice. A particular thanks to Ken and Lys for organising the trip and for their extensive recce beforehand. Alastair Fraser