BOC Holidays

BOC Holidays

  • Club Weekend, 18-20 October – Kent Leader: Jane Cumming Friday October 18th, 2019

     

    Sixteen club members met in Gillingham on Kent’s north-west coast. Weather was generally mild and dry.
    Day 1: Oare Marshes is 81 hectares of grazing marsh with freshwater dykes, open water scrapes, reed bed, saltmarsh and seawall, on the north Kent coast facing the Isle of Sheppey across the Swale. (It was thought too early to visit Sheppey for Harriers and Owls – though a Hen Harrier was reported the day after our return). We concentrated on the modest pools next to the access road, that had a full selection of waders in close view, including eight Spoonbills standing together with heads tucked, 180 Avocets who took off to wheel around in a magnificent show of flashing white and black, some large flocks of Lapwing, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Bar- and Black-tailed Godwit who could be heard ‘muttering’ together, Turnstone, Knot, Ruff, Sanderling, Dunlin, Snipe, Common and Spotted Redshank (the latter showing a fairly unmarked back but much spangling on the wings, and clear white round the eyes), and Greenshank. Bearded Tit and Cetti’s Warbler were heard in the reed beds and Marsh Harrier and Swallows seen. However, amidst these successes, our first target species ‘fail’ was for Curlew Sandpiper
    Day 2: Dungeness is on Kent’s south coast, Europe’s largest area of shingle habitat, with miles of beachline and extensive areas of scrub and gravel extraction pits behind, including the large RSPB reserve. Our sea watch by the nuclear power station produced Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Great Crested Grebe, Auks, Mediterranean Gull – and ‘bird of the day’ if not ‘of the trip’ – a close-up juvenile Sabine’s Gull flying low along the surf line and showing how small it was when sitting in the waves. It hung around on the beach for the next two days. Further along at the power station’s warm water outfall, gulls fished in a frenzy or gathered in species groups on the beach – including the extraordinary sight of about 100 Great Black-backed Gulls all together with Cormorants, (Leader’s factoid: GBB Gulls are only found in the North Atlantic, unlike many other gull species which have a much more extensive range). Again we saw a few Swallows – mild weather and plenty of insects probably keeping them here. The RSPB reserve has a large circle of hides overlooking a series of pools surrounded by dunes and scrubland. Our watches there produced Greylag and Egyptian Goose, a selection of Ducks including Pintail, Pochard and Long-tailed, a Red-throated Diver in close view clearly showing its fine uptilted bill, Common Tern (easily mistaken for Sandwich as its bill goes dark in winter), Little and Great Crested Grebes but not a reported Black-necked, Cattle and Great White Egret (not yet expected in Kent), majestic views of Marsh Harriers – particularly a boldlypatterned female, a Little Stint in a small woodland pool, a flying flock of 40 Stock Dove, and lots of Cetti’s Warblers. Another birdwatcher surprised a Short-eared Owl literally outside one of our hides, We also missed Ring Ouzels, searched for in the shingle dunes of the ‘Moat’ by the lighthouse buildings, also Tree Sparrows which nest at the reserve entrance but weren’t currently being fed to keep their interest there!
    Day 3: Driving in towards Cliffe Pools Reserve, we passed 27 Red-legged Partridge in a field. The reserve on the south bank of the Thames estuary below Tilbury, is an extensive area of semi-industrial gravel extraction lakes and scrubland with ponies and showing huge cranes and ships visible in the distance. The large lakes held scattered treasures, including large flocks of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Ruff and Greenshank, Greylag Goose, many Little Grebe, Pintail and Pochard, a charming flock of Avocet running to keep closely together as they fed, and Common Gull, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker and Marsh Harrier. As we had seen elsewhere, groups of Starlings were gathering into larger flocks to perform ‘mini-murmurations’. Returning home, we did a final twitch at Runnymede near the Thames, for the Ring-necked Parakeets that have made this their home. We walked to the meadow site of the historic signing of Magna Carta where three slender green Parakeets squawked as they flew over, and we admired two Mistle Thrushes high in a tree. Many thanks to Jane for her usual inspiring and informative leadership, and to our gallant drivers Keith Williams and Chris Neale for the long distances covered. Lois Pryce

  • Scotland 04 -11 May – Glenloy Saturday May 04th, 2019

    Eleven club members joined this trip which was centred around the Fort William area of north west Scotland. We stayed at Glenloy Lodge which had very peaceful surrounding and a bonus in the form of two Pine Martins which would visit in the evenings to feed on snacks put out by our host Jon. We were incredibly privileged to be able to see these beautiful animals so close totally unconcerned. We explored a range of habitats which included sea and freshwater lochs, mixed woodland glens, moorland and mountains and the islands of Eigg and Muck. The weather was quite cold but mainly dry but with overnight snow frequent on the mountains. A group total of 114 species were recorded. The highlights were: Golden Eagles, Sea Eagles, Ospreys, three species of Divers, a Black Grouse lek and Slavonian Grebes. Mammals included three Deer species, Red Squirrels, Pine Martins, Otters and Common Seals. The scenery was in places spectacular in the clear light conditions and was enjoyed by all. Places visited included the Ardnamurchan peninsula, Lochs Shiel, Arkaig, Linnhe, Ruthven, and Glens Loy and Roy.
    On our first day looking around the Ardnamurchan area we saw twelve Great Northern and five Red-throated Divers, all in summer plumage, Red-breasted Mergansers, Eiders, Black Guillemots breeding on the Corran Ferry pier and twelve Purple Sandpipers. Raptors included two Sea Eagles and a Peregrine. The next day we took a boat trip to the islands of Eigg and Muck. Before joining the boat we stopped at a freshwater loch near Arisaig to watch a close pair of Black-throated Divers which gave great views. Very few seabirds were seen on the island crossings. A brief stop was taken at Eigg, then two hours were spent on Muck. Looking over a damp meadow we saw Snipe and a few people heard a brief Corncrake call but it was not located. A male Hen Harrier flew overhead and while looking over the newly arrived Arctic Tern colony a Sea Eagle flew low and out to sea. The views of the four surrounding islands were spectacular, Rum in particular. Two local Glens were visited the next day with a wide mix of habitats. The woodlands held lots of Siskins and Redpolls, Willow Warblers everywhere with smaller numbers of Whinchats, Tree Pipits, and Cuckoos while the streams contained Common Sandpipers and Oystercatchers. Two Black Grouse were perched high up in nearby trees and our only Ring Ouzel gave good but brief views. Over the moorlands a male Hen Harrier, Buzzards and two distant Golden Eagles put in an appearance. The next morning we took a steady three hour boat trip along the whole length of Glen Shiel (15 miles). There were the usual Mergansers and Grey Herons plus a Red-throated Diver. Three Golden Eagles soared over the mountains and the boat stopped to enable us to view a Sea Eagle sitting on a nest situated in the top of a large tree. Just before disembarking we watched an Osprey eating a fish on the shoreline. After lunch we took a very pleasant walk around the oakwoods of Ariundle which had a splendid display of Bluebells along with sightings of Willow, Wood and Garden Warblers, Tree Pipits and a Treecreeper were seen. Next morning, after a 05:00 start at a spot close to Fort William, we watched eight male Black Grouse at a lek which was situated very close to our vehicles and gave great views. After breakfast we visited Loch Arkaig stopping at various spots. We were hoping for Eagles but, unfortunately, none appeared but we saw a pair of Dippers at a waterfall, feeding young in the nest, and on the Loch a pair of Red- throated Divers and Mergansers. Our last day was spent visiting the western side of the Monadhliath Mountains above Loch Ness. The lochs and moorland held a pair of Black-throated Divers, Slavonian Grebes, an Osprey flying past carrying a fish, several Red Kites, Peregrine and a few Red Grouse. It was a very good end to the trip. Many thanks to Alastair for organising the trip and to the members of the group and the owners of Glenloy for making this a very successful club holiday.
    Jeff Holmes

  • Club Weekend, 15 – 18 February – Cornwall Leader: Jane Cumming Friday February 15th, 2019

    We were 15 participants, based at Bosavern House just below St Just. Weather generally fine and relatively mild
    with some strong winds, and overcast.
    As tradition dictates, we stopped in Hayle for pasties and scouted Copperhouse Creek, dockside Carnsew Pool, and Ryan’s Field RSPB reserve and the estuary bay, getting over 20 wetland species including Mediterranean Gulls (one pair posturing to each other with necks stretched up), Greenshank, Grey Plover, and a strapping Spoonbill with head plumes. We compared Bar-tailed Godwits clearly showing prettily streaked brown-grey backs in comparison with the Black-tailed’s plainer backs.We twice visited the Drift Reservoir near St Just to look for Cattle Egret, finding four on our second try in a field ofcattle (at one point joined by a Herring Gull who followed them in a line, showing its surprisingly larger size…), aswell as Great Crested and Black-necked Grebe, and over 100 Canada Geese. Each subsequent morning we visited the dramatic cliffs of Cape Cornwall with south-westerly winds and great breakers rolling in. The most tantalising glimpse was two member’s sighting of a pale beige first-year Iceland Gull on our first visit, amongst rock and beach roosts of mostly Herring Gull, though subsequent persistent trawls through the roosts failed to find it again. However, where a descending stream formed beach waterfalls and pools, a delightful ‘gull spa’ was revealed with much splashing and preening in the freshwater – as Jane said, you could almost hear the cries of ‘pass the soap’! We were lucky enough to spot groups of up to 16 Choughs calling and airily bouncing in the wind, as well as rafts of Guillemots and Razorbills – the largest at least 500 – around 100 Gannets, Fulmars, Shags, an unidentified diver (our only one of the trip – probably Red-throated), Kestrels, Ravens and seals. Later, walking down the sheltered road from the exposed Coastguard station above Porthgwarra, small birds created a wall of twittering sounds in the dense scrub and Sycamore woods: Chaffinch, Linnets and Goldfinch with a Bullfinch heard.
    On the second day we also visited Sennen Cove, Pendeen Watch, and Carbis Bay with seals and a porpoise. Then back up past Hayle to the Gwithian Sands Nature Reserve created from old sandpits in the dunes south of Godrevy Lighthouse, with a nice selection of ducks and waders in the lake, including a Pochard. Then south to Marazion Reserve at dusk for a possible Starling murmuration that did not arrive.
    On the third day we drove to Helston which has a nice public park and boating lake (with a smart pinioned Ferruginous Duck amongst gulls and Tufted Ducks), fed by the River Cober which carries on to the sea via Loe Pool (Cornwall’s largest natural body of fresh water). By the car park is a sewage works where we hunted for Yellow-browed Warbler in the surrounding patchy hedgerow/woodland – finally locating one as it moved restlessly about with Chiffchaff and Goldcrest, though most of the group never got good views; and we also got our first (singing) Greenfinch, and Grey Wagtails. We then searched without luck along the valley for a reported Glossy Ibis. Back at Marazion we looked for Glossy Ibis and Bittern but only found more common species – and an extraordinary coup for driver Keith who whilst filming a Grey Heron, found he’d caught an adjacent Snipe flying up into the picture! At Penzance’s dockside Jubilee Pool, we looked for Purple Sandpiper and found them in force – over 20 of the delightful birds scurrying amongst rough waves or jumping up onto the rough granite wall where they nestled in the tiniest indents (becoming Bird of the Trip for many members). Further along the jetty scores of Turnstones scuttled and scavenged amongst the humans with their cheeky air. Then a first-year male Eider flew fast and low from open water, looking large and heavy with white front patches visible on overall dark plumage.
    On our last day we returned to the Hayle Estuary, adding a Common Gull and Yellow-legged Gull to our list. Our final visit was to the pretty village of Chapel Amble just past Wadebridge, where a Temminck’s Stint had settled into the wetlands formed by the River Amble making its way to the Camel Estuary via the new wetland reserve of Walmsley Sanctuary. When we read our instructions correctly, the group soon found this small but very rare wader in a wet field with the tiny river flowing through it, with Teal, Green Sandpiper, and Meadow Pipits – for some discriminating members the Bird of the Trip!
    Many thanks as always to Jane for her excellent leadership, and to Alastair and Keith for driving. Our stay was also memorable for the wonderful food and comfortable accommodation. Even with a surprising lack of divers, scoters, shearwaters etc, and our failure to find Bittern or Glossy Ibis, we achieved a total of 89 species. Lois Pryce

  • Sunday 09 – Thursday 13 September – Pelagic trip to Spain and Asturias Organised by Jane Cumming Tuesday September 11th, 2018

    Day 1; Sunday 9 September
    We met up with the group by the Downs Water Tower in Bristol and boarded the coach to Plymouth. We got to
    the Ferry Terminal in the afternoon and our tour guide, Paul Burley was waiting for us. We then boarded the
    Brittany Ferries, Pont-Aven for the overnight sailing to Santander.
    Day 2; Monday 10 September
    After breakfast, we went up on the deck to look for whales and dolphins in the Bay of Biscay. We saw lots of
    Gannets flying past along with Sooty and Great Shearwaters. A few Short-beaked Common Dolphins were seen,
    but sadly no Striped Dolphins. Our guide, Paul, said it had not been a very good for cetaceans this year, due to
    the lack of plankton moving northwards, although we did see a few Fin Whales. We docked in Santander about
    lunchtime and boarded the Spanish coach to take us to the hotel. We stopped for lunch at the port of San
    Vincente de la Barquera. The birds of note here were Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Curlew, White Wagtail,
    Great White and Little Egrets. We continued our journey to our lovely hotel in Playa de la Franca, overlooking a
    beach in an unspoilt cove. In the evening, we went for a walk around the area. We saw a few Yellow-legged
    Gulls, Kingfisher and Crested Tit, as well as a Mediterranean Speckled Wood butterfly. A juvenile Black Redstart
    was hopping around in front of the hotel. Chris Perry also managed to see and photograph a Long-tailed Blue
    butterfly, which most of us missed. In the evening, Paul introduced us to a local guide called Javier, who told us
    what to expect for the next two days.
    Day 3; Tuesday 11 September
    After breakfast we headed towards Panes and then along the stunning Cares Gorge to Covadonga. We dropped
    the tourists off at the impressive Basilica and Holy Caves, while we headed up to the feeding station. The rangers
    waited for us to arrive before putting the food out for the vultures. The skies were full of Griffon Vultures coming
    down to feed and there were three Lammergeiers in the area. Two birds were seen perched on the hills, but
    sadly due to lack of wind they didn’t fly over to the feeding station. A few Wall Lizards were seen around the
    viewpoint. A few butterflies included Mountain Small White, Clouded Yellow and Chalkhill Blue. We headed to
    Covadonga Lakes, where we had lunch. Around the picnic site was a juvenile White Wagtail, Black Redstart and
    Spotted Flycatchers. In the afternoon we walked up into the hills looking for raptors, we saw more Chalkhill Blues
    and Clouded Yellows on the way, I managed to see a Humming-bird Hawkmoth feeding on some of the flowers.
    The views were stunning and we saw lots more Griffon and Egyptian Vultures and Lammergeiers on the way up,
    along with Short-toed Eagle. As we sat at a viewpoint, listening to the cowbells ringing in the valley, a Booted
    Eagle flew towards us giving brilliant views. We saw and heard lots of Red-billed Chough. Afterwards we made
    our way back down the hill to our coach to pick up the tourists, before heading back to the hotel for dinner. The
    juvenile Black Redstart was still hopping along the lawn in front of the hotel. A few Yellow-legged Gulls were
    foraging on the beach.
    Day 4; Wednesday 12 September
    On our final morning in Spain, we left the hotel and headed through the beautiful Hermida Gorge to Potes. We
    continued to Fuente De, where we took the cable car up to the Picos de Europa mountain range. At the top
    station, a Black Redstart was feeding near a tractor. We walked further up the mountain and heard some Chough
    calling overhead. A Water Pipit was feeding along the path. A few more Chalkhill Blues and Wall Lizards were seen along the way, a Rock Grayling was resting by the path. We managed to see some Alpine Accentors
    foraging on the ground and on the rocks, until they flew over the top when an Egyptian Vulture flew through the
    valley briefly. We walked further along the rocky track to see if we could see any more alpine birds. We stopped
    for lunch at a good Wallcreeper site and soon had fantastic views of them foraging around the rocks and the cliff
    face. While we were having our lunch, a couple of Alpine Choughs flew in and landed on the rock in front of us, so
    we shared our sandwiches with them. An Alpine Accentor also came down, giving excellent views. Afterwards,
    we started to make our way back down the mountain. Another Egyptian Vulture soared over our heads. By the
    top station, there were lots of Alpine Choughs perched and flying around, unafraid of all the people. We then took
    the cable car back to our waiting coach at Fuente De, where we said our goodbyes to Javier and the other guides,
    and headed back to Santander to catch the ferry.
    Day 5; Thursday 13 September
    We had an early start at 06:30 to get on deck for a seawatch. We saw an impressive number of Great and Sooty
    Shearwaters passing by along with a few Manx Shearwaters. Plenty of Gannets were still flying about and we
    also saw some Common Dolphins. After breakfast, we went back for some more seawatching, we saw a couple
    of Sabine’s Gulls close to the ship and a ‘Bonxie’ (Great Skua) chasing a Sandwich Tern. As we neared the
    Ushant Islands we saw a few Manx Shearwaters and Common Dolphins. A Mediterranean Gull flew by and more
    Sooty, Manx, Great and the odd Balearic Shearwater, four more ‘Bonxies’ were seen along with another Sabine’s
    Gull. Also, Common and Bottlenosed Dolphins, Tuna and a Blue Shark.
    Huge thanks to Paul Burley and Javier for guiding, and to Jane for organising the trip. Chris Teague

  • Friday 15 – Monday 18 June – Anglesey Leaders: Keith Williams and Alastair Fraser Friday June 15th, 2018

    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

  • Weekend in Kent, 16-18 February Leader: Jane Cumming Friday February 16th, 2018

    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

  • Friday 24 – Sunday 26 November – South Devon weekend Leader: Jane Cumming Friday November 24th, 2017

    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

     

  • 07 to 14 May – Wild Herzegovina Sunday May 07th, 2017

    Club Trip:  7-14 May – Wild Herzegovina                                                           Leader: Denis Bohm

    Rock Partridge

     

    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).

    Rock Bunting

    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.

    Squacco Heron

    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 ...

  • Norfolk 24 to 27 February Friday February 24th, 2017

    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

  • Monday 07 to Friday 11 November – Dumfries Monday November 07th, 2016

    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

  • 21 – 28 April. The Isles of Scilly Thursday April 21st, 2016

    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 ...

  • Cornwall Weekend – 29 to 31 January 2016 Friday January 29th, 2016

    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.
    BIRD HIGHLIGHTS
    Sea:
    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

  • Club Holiday – Finland 04 to 08 June 2015 Thursday June 04th, 2015

     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.

    Keith Williams

     

  • Sunday 22 to 26 February – France – Lac du Der, Champagne Region. Sunday February 22nd, 2015

    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

  • 10 – 13 October 2014 – North Norfolk Weekend Friday October 10th, 2014

     This trip was billed as “something of a twitch fest” but it didn’t often feel that way, partly because most of the rarities we sought, either fell into our laps or else defied long and painstaking efforts to locate them. En route to Norfolk we saw a large number of Red Kites from the minibus, but our first birding stop was just outside Bedford, where, within minutes of arrival, we were all enjoying close-up views of a very confiding Hoopoe. When we reached East Anglia we had a bit of a problem finding Lynford Arboretum, but once there, Jay, Siskin and Goldcrest showed readily enough, but not our target birds, Hawfinch and Crossbill. We reached our hotel about 1800 hrs and had an excellent dinner – indeed the excellence of the food was a feature of the whole weekend!
    Saturday dawned bright, and after breakfast our first port of call was Thornham, where the tide was high and birds were everywhere. Twite was the only scarce bird seen, and that by only a minority of those present but all of us saw Skylark, Wheatear, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, Grey and Golden Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck and great skeins of Pink-footed and Brent Geese – a wonderful place! Then on to Burnham Norton where a Steppe Grey Shrike had been seen for several days – just follow the walkers and when you see a large crowd, stop and admire! Which is just what we did – the admiration being at a distance of less than ten metres. Nearer the sea we located White Wagtail and Redshank, whilst two lucky folk saw a Jack Snipe which flew about 30 yards and disappeared. We then went on to Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham where we had our picnic lunch accompanied by several flocks of incoming Redwings passing overhead. After lunch we set off in search of Yellow-browed Warbler. Two hours later we had seen lots more Pink-footed and Brent Geese and added Kestrel and Marsh Harrier to our list but no Yellow-browed Warbler. Never mind – there’s another one at Titchwell! That one was eventually heard by a few but seen by none. Our search was cut short by an approaching thunderstorm but there was always tomorrow.
    Sunday’s pre-breakfast excursion yielded Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Knot, but viewing was hampered by fog. This cleared after breakfast as we went east towards Cley, but at Cley itself the fog was still present. Undeterred we set off along the East Bank, admired a perched Marsh Harrier with a very yellow head, and then spent a happy 20 minutes being entertained by half a dozen or so Bearded Tits. Later we added Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit and Water Rail to our list. We lunched at Burnham Overy Staithe and surprised a group from Birmingham by our lukewarm reaction to the presence of a Great White Egret about 400 metres away! We were far more enthusiastic about an enormous flock of Pink-footed Geese flying overhead, with a smaller skein of Greylag Geese going in the other direction. Back to Titchwell, where we were rewarded by Common Scoter, Sanderling, Common Tern, Red-breasted Merganser and Razorbill from the beach and Avocet, Little Stint and three Spotted Redshanks from the fresh marsh hide. A few of us managed to spot Firecrest here, but, of course, we searched unsuccessfully for Yellow-browed Warbler!
    Monday greeted us with gales and heavy rain, which persisted all day. We decided to go back to Titchwell, being the only birding spot with plenty of indoor hide space. We saw 14 Little Gulls (at times being pushed backwards by the wind), Pintail, Gadwall and Greenshank but after two hours we gave up and returned to the car park where we saw our first Grey Wagtail (but still no Yellow-browed Warbler!). We returned to Bristol via Hunstanton where we searched unsuccessfully for a reported Great Grey Shrike; and made a second diversion round the Wolverton Triangle, where we failed to find Golden Pheasant. Never mind – the weekend species count was 110 – not bad for a “twitch fest”! Particular thanks are due to Jane Cumming for her planning and leadership of a most enjoyable weekend, and to Nick Hawkridge and Alastair Fraser, who drove impeccably – sometimes in really horrible driving conditions.

  • Tuesday 03 – 10 June – Club Holiday to Iceland (pics to follow) Tuesday June 03rd, 2014

     A group of 16 led by Wendy Dickson flew from Heathrow to Keflavik, with a bus journey to Reykjavik’s domestic airport introducing us to the blue lupin-covered rocky landscape. We then took a further flight north to Akureyri and drove through rainy, misty conditions to Husavik, a fishing and whaling town on the north coast. There were good views of Ptarmigan and Black-tailed Godwits on the way.

    Day 2 of the trip dawned – a beautiful sunny day – (similar weather stayed with us for the whole trip) with views of the magnificent sea bay bound by snow-capped mountains. The sound of the Redwings singing like Sedge Warblers competed with the many Snipe drumming above our heads. We had excellent views of two Short-eared Owls flying high overhead. Half the group went on a whale watching trip and saw Minke and Humpback whales and Harbour Porpoises, with a good range of seabirds, whilst others birdwatched from the harbourside seeing Eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers, Glaucous Gull, Common Scoters and a pair of Harlequin Ducks. During the afternoon we explored the Tjornes peninsula, picnicking near cliffs with good views of nesting Fulmars and with rafts of Puffins on the sea. We also had our first Gyrfalcon sighting. We then drove inland to Lake Myvatn, a large inland lake sitting in a partially farmed tundra-like plain. The lake is famous for its flies and the breeding wildfowl they attract.

    Day 3, the morning was spent around Lake Myvatn and we had abundant views of Red-necked Phalaropes, Tufted and Long-tailed Ducks, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Scaup, Slavonian Grebes and Great Northern Divers. A short drive from the Hotel we found a part of the Laxa River with large numbers of Harlequin Ducks. The afternoon was spent at a local nature reserve where the highlight was a sighting of a male Crossbill. We also found an American Wigeon on the lake near Reykjahlid.

    Day 4, we drove inland across miles of lava moonscape to Dettifoss, a spectacular waterfall, with Selfoss, another one just up river. We lunched by a small river where we saw our first Dunlin in summer plumage and a pair of Pink-footed Geese nesting. We visited Namafjall – sulphur springs with bubbling black and yellow mud springs and fumeroles. On our return to the hotel via the nature reserve we had another Gyrfalcon sighting, this time a juvenile.

    Day 5, we returned to Husavik to gain a day’s respite from the flies! (Insect nets to protect your face were a must at Myvatn!) An enjoyable day was spent exploring – some members visiting the Whale Museum. Further good views of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. On the return journey we visited Godafoss, another beautiful waterfall, and had handsome views of Snow Bunting.

    Day 6, a few members climbed the 900 foot volcanic peak of Vindbelgjarfall, whilst others searched for birds and plants below. We visited the Fuglasafn Bird Centre and a short walk away had beautiful views of a pair of Red-throated Divers and their single chick. Following the warm weather, the flies were particularly abundant and irritating. At times the air was filled with a loud hum as new hatchings erupted forming eight-foot-high columns of dense insects.

    Day 7, we had an early start to return to Akureyri for our return flight to Reykjavik, but still added to our trip list with Bullfinch seen and a Goldcrest heard. In Reykjavik the group split, with some meeting friends, others exploring the city and a group exploring the foreshore of the Reykjavik Peninsula. At last – a Purple Sandpiper was seen and Turnstones in summer plumage. We then went to our final hotel, the Northern Light Inn, set in a rocky landscape, sited with a power station on one side and the Blue Lagoon geo-thermally heated pools on the other. Some members enjoyed the luxurious Blue Lagoon ‘experience’.

    Day 8, we explored the coast near to Grindavik, searching unsuccessfully for the elusive Brunnich’s Guillemot. But some of us had fleeting glimpses of Orca whales .

    The Bird count for the trip was 69 species, with 66 plant species identified.

    Thanks to:- Wendy Dickson for leading. Alison Levinson and Judy Copeland for organising. Alistair Fraser & Andy Senior, Sue & Nigel Kempson for driving. Julie Evans for photography. Lois Pryce, Sue & Nigel Kempson, for trip notes. Jean Oliver for plant ID and everyone else for their company. Also thanks to Richard Belson, Tony Scott and Thordis Gudmundsdottir for their great help before and during the trip which was invaluable.

    Sue Kempson & Lois Pryce

     

     

  • Friday to Sunday 14,15 & 16 February – Kent Friday February 14th, 2014

     We left Bristol early Friday morning in a gale. Our first notable birds were Red Kites as we drove along the M4. After a brief stop at Services on the M25 to meet up with the rest of the group travelling by car we carried on to Cliffe Pools. We met Lynn Griffiths, a member who had recently moved to the area, who guided us round the pools. The rain and gales worsened but despite this we had good views of Pintail, Shoveler and Goldeneye at our first stop. Further along on a strip of land not under water there was a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits with Dunlin, Redshank and Lapwing. Upon reaching the Thames side there were Avocet and Shelduck on the foreshore.
    Saturday proved to be slightly better weather-wise, but there were still gales. We first went to the Riverside Country Park where after leaving the minibus we had to dive for cover due to a hailstorm which passed through quickly. Along the riverside were Meadow Pipits and Grey Plover. At the point there were more Grey Plovers, Oystercatchers, Wigeon, Teal, Shelducks, Godwits, Redshanks and Dunlin. We went on to Bedlams Bottom where there was a nice flock of Avocet and more waders.

    We continued to Capel Fleet where good views were had of Marsh Harriers

    and a nice surprise was a pair of Green Sandpipers disturbed by the harriers. When we arrived at Elmley Marshes the wind had got up again and we seemed to be blown sideways. Along the path there were many Lapwings, Godwits, Wigeons and Teal. Approaching the hide we had to hurry as another storm was brewing. Wading across the submerged bridge to the hide the heavens opened again. We had good views of Brent Geese, Marsh Harriers, Golden Plover and Grey Plover plus many more Lapwings. Leaving the hide the sky was as black as night and the rain came down again. The rain relented and the wind almost dried us off by the time we reached the minibus.
    Sunday, and what a difference! There were blue skies and no wind. What a relief! We travelled to Dungeness with a promise of Penduline Tit which had been reported the previous day. On arrival we went straight to the hide where they had been seen but, alas, they were not there. But we had good views of Smew and Little Gull. We left and continued to the beach for lunch where Kittiwakes,

    Guillemots and Great Northern Diver were seen. On returning to the reserve two Black-throated Divers were seen on the pools by the road. The missing Penduline Tits were reported at another pool so we went to look for them. After an hour there was no sign of them but we were treated to good views of a Bearded Tit on top of a reed. At the gatehouse our last sightings were of Tree Sparrow and Reed Bunting which was a nice end to the trip. The weekend tally was 95 species which was a pretty good count for a wet weekend.

  • Saturday and Sunday 25/26 January – Poole and Wareham Forest Saturday January 25th, 2014

     The ground might have been water-logged but the air was dry on Saturday morning when we met at Sherford Bridge to begin our walk through the varied habitat of Wareham Forest. We saw a Moorhen walking the river bank and Song and Mistle Thrushes were singing. As we progressed we saw a Goldcrest, a pair of Ravens, a Carrion Crow, Buzzard, Grey Heron and Cormorant and a Kestrel. Further on we noted Robin, Dunnock, Treecreeper, Grey Wagtail, Coal Tit and Bullfinch for our list. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were photographed and in the open heathland Dartford Warbler and Stonechat hopped in and out of the gorse. We enjoyed our lunch break at Lawson Clump, where a Peregrine obligingly circled above until seen by just about everyone. On to Middlebere Farm where a male Hen Harrier treated us to a wonderful display, followed five minutes later by a female Marsh Harrier. The lower hide added Teal, Shelduck, Little Egret, Lapwing, Dunlin and Grey Plover plus a probable Yellow Legged Gull. From alongside the hide on the hill above the farm we looked down on Little Grebe, a Green Sandpiper, and a flock of Brent Geese. We were grateful for the good weather as the forecast for the Sunday was dire.
    On Sunday those who took a pre-breakfast walk along the coastal footpath stayed dry, enjoying the song of several Blackbirds, Wren and House Sparrow while Gulls, Crow, Pied Wagtail and Sparrowhawk flew by. But after breakfast the heavens opened and so we set off for the comparative shelter of the hide at Brand’s Bay on Poole Harbour. Huddled together in the middle of the hide we were rewarded with two Sandwich Terns, one adult and one first winter, a Great Northern Diver, Bar-tailed Godwits, Wigeon, Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin, Avocets, Oystercatchers, Ringed Plover, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, and a pair of Red -breasted Mergansers. Having decided to abandon Poole Harbour and the torrential rain, we took the Ferry across to Sandbanks, adding Shag, Mallard and Turnstones to our list, with a possible Red-necked Grebe, then on to Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve. By now the rain had stopped and on the feeders outside the Visitor Centre Siskin and Greenfinches were busy. From the Woodland Hide we watched Lesser Redpoll visiting the feeders just outside the large glass window, soon joined, to the delight of everyone, by Mealy Redpoll, giving clear views of their distinctive features, while a tiny Vole scurried around in the leaf litter below. This Reserve was new to many of us and well worth a return visit. Also seen here were Black-necked Grebe, Goldeneye (displaying males), Pintail, Great Crested Grebe, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Reed Bunting, Pheasant, Collared Dove, Rook, Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Gadwall, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Tufted Duck, Pintail, Egyptian Goose, Goldeneye, Jay, Long-tailed Tits, and Coal Tits.

  • 15 – 18 October 2013 – Brandenburg, Germany. Tuesday October 15th, 2013

    We found ourselves in a spirit-level landscape of vast horizons, towering cloudscapes and pastel colours, where the acres of tilled fields are lined by hedgerows or punctuated by picturesque clumps of trees, like something out of a painting by a Dutch or German Old Master. To put it in English terms, imagine the Levels or Holkham Freshmarsh, but on a colossal scale. Water is never absent: slow-flowing rivers, reed-fringed lakes, boggy fields beloved by wild geese. This countryside has so far escaped being tidied up, so everywhere there are welcome patches of unregulated ground – huge mushrooms on the verges, distant Roe Deer dotting the fields, bouncing flocks of finches and larks. Here survive agricultural ecosystems in what feels to us like Arcadian abundance, though in fact the management of them is unobtrusively thorough. A network of reserves has been carefully designed to safeguard the many special species which still occur, including a small population of Great Bustards and the Cranes which use this area as a migration stopover.

    11 club members had the privilege of being introduced to this ornithologically rich region, some 50k west of Berlin, by Roger White. He has been coming here for a decade, but became aware that there was almost no birding material published in English, and so to pass on his accumulated experience wrote his own guidebook. This is evidently a resource so invaluable to any visitor that Roger’s own copy was snapped up by the grateful leader of a Berlin-based tour group with whom we overlapped. Following the outline suggested in A Birdwatching Guide to Brandenburg and Berlin, we explored West Havelland, visiting a number of the main sites – Havelländisches Luch, Gülper See, Linum Ponds and Strengsee in particular.

    As soon as we emerged on the first morning, we could tell that things were different: the majority of Sparrows in the gutters of our hotel were Tree, the crows on the roof Hoodies. Carrion Crows were almost non-existent, and we saw no Collared Doves. But the sheer number and variety of birds to be seen at all times was uplifting. As we drove around geese and cranes were omnipresent, whether as distant chevrons in the sky or foraging in the fields in groups. The most numerous were Bean and Greylag, though we had plenty of Whitefronts and the odd Barnacle,

    We made forays into patches of woodland, often an unrewarding habitat to work in autumn, and were able to add both Common and Short-toed Treecreeper as well as Crested Tit to our list. Exciting woodpeckers largely eluded us, apart from a flyover Black Woodpecker. Roger knew the exact location of a Penduline Tit’s nest, an astonishing miracle of construction. A bonus was that in several places we saw evidence of the presence of beavers in the gnawed or felled trunks of trees. The total number of bird species seen was – again as advertised – just over the 80 mark.

    The special moments? Of the many, I will focus on those involving just three species.The Great Bustards were primeval creatures picking their way through the fields of growing rape that they favour at this season. We saw 55 birds, virtually a third of the entire German population. They spend most of their year in single-sex groups several kilometres apart, wary and unapproachable in their chosen terrain. Through my scope they looked awkward and startled, the relics, really, of another age, ostriches amongst the cabbages.

    We notched up a double-figure count ...

  • Trip report: Suffolk Weekend (17 – 19 May 2013) Monday May 20th, 2013

    There were eight of us on this venture to Suffolk. We started out from Jane’s house in Portishead in misty weather and the day continued cool and overcast but our spirits were lifted with excellent views of three Stone Curlews from the hide at Weeting Heath. One male and female were clearly a pair. The heath was busy with rabbits, hundreds of corvids and a Mistle Thrush sat on a pile of sticks and serenaded us. We drove to Lakenheath where a Red-footed Falcon had joined with the Hobbies. He gave excellent views flying around and sat in a tree. The photographers were kept very busy! A lucky few briefly saw the male Golden Oriole in the Poplar grove. Unfortunately, he was too quick for me. Cuckoos called and we managed to see two. Bitterns were booming, 12 Reed Warblers were very noisy and further up the path a Crane flew out from a field of oil seed rape and across the reeds. Early next morning saw us out on Westleton Common. All the birds were singing well and we enjoyed Nightingale and Garden Warbler in the same Sallow with both showing well. Woodlarks were elusive but over three visits several of our group got good views; unfortunately Jane and I both missed out. Saturday was mainly spent at RSPB Minsmere where we visited all the hides and walked along the beach. Common Terns, Black-headed Gulls and Avocets were nesting on the scrapes. Turnstones flew over the sea. Bitterns boomed and Bearded Tits showed well and the usual warblers were singing. Next we went to Hen Fen where Hobbies were being mobbed by Black-headed Gulls and then we walked two miles along the River Blythe to see the reported Spoonbill. It was fishing in a shallow pool demonstrating its technique very clearly. Along the river we also saw Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Redshank. In the evening we went to Westleton Heath for Nightjars but no luck, perhaps it was too cold. We did hear Stone Curlew and Tawny Owl and saw four Red Deer. Our last day took us to Dunwich Heath where we added Dartford Warbler, Stonechat, Whitethroat and another Hobby and there were lovely views of Minsmere reserve from above. The sun was finally out and it was warm. A return visit to Lakenheath was made but no luck with Golden Oriole. Thanks to Jane Cumming for all that driving and leading so well.