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