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
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.
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
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.
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.
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, whose alternative German name is, charmingly, ‘Nun Goose’. We logged a good range of ducks including Pintail and, on our last stop, two female Smew. A distant white blob would invariably turn out to be a Great White Egret: we lost count of how many we saw in total, but we had several aggregations of more than 30. Buzzards were the most frequent raptor, exhibiting a far wider range of plumages than the ones we are used to. We saw plenty of Red Kites too, as well as Marsh Harrier and a fly-over Merlin, but more exciting were several Hen Harriers and Rough-legged Buzzards. We were also fortunate enough to encounter, as advertised in Roger’s mouth-watering briefing notes, a number of White-tailed Eagles.
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 of White-Tailed Eagle – spilling out of a hide on the first morning, I became aware that the others were watching a juvenile soaring overhead, accompanied by three puny Red Kites thermalling above. Next day an adult flew low over the vehicles and landed nearby in an open field, dwarfing a mobbing Hooded Crow. And on our final stop, another enormous adult swept past our hide at close range, sending hundreds of wildfowl careering into the sky.
But for me the most memorable event was the visit to the main Crane roost at Linum Ponds. The count from the previous day had been a record 93,300. We joined a hushed knot of appreciative spectators to witness parties of birds converging from all directions, planing gracefully down to gather in stately family groups spread across several large fields, their bugling cries all the while providing an evocative soundtrack to one of Europe’s great natural spectacles.
Two and a half days, however productive, could only provide a taste of the wealth on offer. This area supports a largely different (though equally enticing) avifauna in summer with a number of East European species at the western end of their range. The group, most of whom knew each other from previous BOC excursions, welcomed this first-timer with generosity. Alison Levinson put her linguistic expertise at our disposal as translator, showing the good humour and versatility needed in these situations. Nick Hawkridge was the cheery and resourceful driver of the second vehicle.
Roger White deserves a special paragraph to himself: we were all aware of our fortune in being the beneficiaries of his accumulated wisdom and knowledge. He knew precisely where to go and what to look out for, the Obi Wan Kenobe of Brandenburg.
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.