Saturday, 31 December 2011

The end of year round-up!

December has not been the best month for photography, as we've often been birding in poor light. Nevertheless trips to Burwell Fen and the Norfolk coast have given us some memorable birds.
We had a very pleasant days birding which started at Strumpshaw with Marsh Harriers, Coal and Marsh Tits on the feeders but nothing else of note. A seawatch at Winterton produced Gannets, Guillemots, Common Scoters, Red-throated divers and a brilliant Grey Phalarope fly-past. A cold vigil at Stubbs Mill resulted in 20+  Marsh Harriers, 10 Common Cranes and a few groups of Pink-footed Geese - not our best visit there but still enjoyable.
Of course we had to try for the Western Sandpiper at Cley. Along with many others we watched this charming little bird busily pottering along the shoreline of Simmond's Scrape from Avocet hide.

We drew a blank at Holkham looking for the Rough-legged Buzzard and apart from flocks of winter geese there was little else about.
A visit to Welney to catch up with the Bewicks and Whoopers gave us some good views, although the birds were distant.

Four trips to Burwell Fen in the past few weeks have yielded some good views of the Short-eared Owls that are wintering there. Today we had some of our best views, though not easily photographed.

The afternoon sun showed the varying plumage of the birds at their best. There were at least two dark birds, one with russet 'infill' on the upper wings and some on the body. The other with very little russet. The other birds were all paler to varying degrees. We saw at least six but as they are not inclined to fly simultaneously it's difficult to say if there were more.
    Wishing everyone a Happy New Birding Year in 2012!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Great and Greater weekend in Northumberland

After our weekend in Northumberland in June we decided to return to see the Autumn/Winter visitors to the NE coast. On the way we stopped off at Prestwick Carr to view a Great Grey Shrike which seemed to like the area close to Newcastle Airport. We had reasonable views before it moved too far away to see clearly. A Peregrine, a small party of Bullfinches and a flock of Fieldfare and Redwing were also seen.
Great Grey Shrike (distant)

After lunch we went to Low Newton, where despite very blowy conditions, we saw a number of Purple Sandpipers, Oystercatchers and Turnstones on the shore and Eider ducks, Red-Throated Diver and a Merganser in the shelter of Long Nanny. 
Highlights of a pre-breakfast birdwatch on Budle Bay - increasing light revealed large numbers of Pink-foot, some Brents and a few Barnacle Geese accompanied by two very white Snow Geese (later put out on Birdguides as Ross's). There were also large numbers of Shelduck, Wigeon, Oystercatchers, a few Godwit, Goldeneye and a Merganser. A couple of Mistle Thrushes in the trees behind us and a beautiful male Hen Harrier hunting across the fields.
After breakfast we spent the day on Lindisfarne, checking out Straight and Crooked Lonnen, the sea, shore and harbour and anywhere else for birds. Thrushes were bountiful, Fieldfare, Redwing and Blackbird. 
A young Blackbird - very confiding.


Gannets, Eider, Kittiwake, Guillemot and Red-throated Diver were on or above the sea, whilst Starlings and Turnstones busied themselves along the shore.

There were a few Water Pipit scavenging along the shore opposite the castle. 
Two Water Pipits 

Groups of Eider, some males looking very smart, gathered in the lea of the island, just outside the harbour.
A group of Eider

The sunset was beautifully displayed behind the Priory with the purple and pink skies over the Cheviots viewed from the Lonnen. 
Sunset behind the Priory
Fading light over the mainland

We watched as numbers of Starlings wheeled and swirled into a good sized roost over the fields, slowly heading towards the reed beds. Keeping our eyes out for Short-eared Owls, which have been reported regularly in the area, we re-traced our steps along Straight Lonnen until we had views over the dunes and banks. Just as the light was fading we spotted at least one SEO out hunting across the fields and dunes.
Sunday was dull and damp. A pre-breakfast trip to Fenham Flats yielded more Geese, mainly Brents, Twite and Yellowhammers. 
The mouth of the River Tweed held Eider, Shag and Red-throated Diver. 
Red-throated Diver on the River Tweed

Whilst we were lucky enough to have two Snow Buntings fly in close by. Only minimally disturbed by dogs and walkers.
Snow Bunting

North of Berwick we found a young seal that appeared to have stranded itself, high above the tideline. The rocks held Purple Sandpiper and the only Ringed Plover of the trip (seen by the 'boys').
A trip to the Kyloe hills in the afternoon proved an enjoyable walk and hill climb but not many birds. Treecreeper being the only addition to the list.
On Monday we re-visited Lindisfarne briefly for a pre-breakfast birdwatch. Nothing new but it was good to check it out. Finally we set off for home via Druridge Bay. Starting at Hauxley we were amazed at the number of cars around - until we found ourselves in the middle of a twitch for a Greater Yellowlegs and a Grey Phalarope! Sometimes it's really good to be 'in the right place at the right time'. We had good views but not good photographic opportunities. Fortunately a very kind, local birder who had managed to get a reasonable shot of the two sent us a copy and agreed to allow us to put it in this report. So many thanks to Len Waterworth for the photo.
Greater Yellowlegs and Grey Phalarope at Hauxley
(Courtesy of Len Waterworth)

A Slav Grebe at Druridge Country Park was our last bird of note and having failed to locate the Green-winged Teal we set off back home. 

Monday, 31 October 2011

Fairburn Ings

On the 23rd October we joined the Bedford RSPB Local Group visit to Fairburn Ings in Yorkshire. Travelling along the A1 we had views of at least 5 Red Kites and a few Buzzards. We arrived just before 10am and our first interesting birds were Tree Sparrows, a party of at least 20 were close to the visitor centre making the most of the feeders. Then someone spotted a Willow Tit and all eyes were trained on the feeders! It was a very active bird but we all had good views, eventually. At the feeder on the other side of the path a pair of Bullfinches were feeding. The male was a bit of a poser!

Tree Sparrows
Willow Tit


We enjoyed a walk along the Riverside spotting flighty groups of Long-tailed Tit, Siskins and a small number of Bullfinches. There were several waterbirds on the lagoon including Goldeneye, Black Swans and 2 newly arrived Whooper Swans amongst the usual species.
After lunch we went to the Lin Dike car park and had views of Snipe and Curlew flying in to join the Pintails and other birds on the shallow pools. We also went looking for Long-eared Owl that had been seen earlier in the day but with no luck.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Snettisham high tide!

On Saturday 1st October we went with Gen to Snettisham to see the wader spectacular. When we arrived at 7.30 for the 9.30 high tide we were taken aback by the number of cars parked along from the entrance gate to the car park where surprisingly we found space to park (people must have panicked and thought that the car park was full!
There were a couple of hundred people waiting eagerly, just beyond the first hide, for the tide to rise to it's fullest and drive the waders from the mud. As usual there were several short forays of Oystercatchers and Knot and much shuffling along before the final 'lift off' and swirling displays.
Once the majority of the birds had left the mudflats we went round to one of the hides to see the birds roosting there. The hides were rather full but it was still possible to see through the gaps! There were large flocks of Knot and Oystercatcher with small numbers of Dunlin, Curlew Sandpipers and Redshank on the nearest scrapes.
Wader flocks on the scrape

Wader mix
View across the lagoon

It was a magical start to our days' birding in Norfolk which unfortunately was dogged by crowds of weekenders and packed car parks.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Algarve Autumn Adventures: Part 2

We visited the Parque Ambiental at Vilamoura where a group of bird ringers from Staffordshire were on an annual ringing trip. It was great to see birds 'in the hand' which included swallows, martins, warblers and a lovely Bluethroat.
Unfortunately we missed seeing a juvenile Booted Eagle close to but did see it fly off.
At the Casro Verde visitor centre we had good views of Wheatears and a rather hot Tawny Pipit before Pete identified a juvenile Bonelli's Eagle being mobbed by a couple of Ravens. 
Northern Wheatear
Tawny Pipit
On a pelagic out of Fuseta, organised by Georg, we had good views of Audouin's and Slender-billed Gulls at the entrance to the lagoons.
Audouin's Gull
Slender-billed Gull
Out at sea we were pleased to see Cory's, Balearic, Scopoli's, Sooty and Great Shearwater, as well as European Storm Petrel, Common Terns, Gannets and Great Skua.
Cory's Shearwater
Great Shearwater
And finally we had our last visit to Cape St Vincent where we visited the raptor watchpoint and ventured off the main roads in search of Rock Doves on the cliffs. We found a party of Little Bustards feeding in the short scrub.
Little Bustard

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Algarve Autumn Adventures: Part 1

In mid-September, Gen and Pete M and ourselves returned to the Algarve to see passage birds and residents a bit earlier than we have before. Our ten days were full of interesting birds as we returned to our favourite birding sites to see what they held. Our first stop was the Tavira saltpans where we saw the usual waders and an unusual Egret.
Hybrid Western Reef X Little Egret?
Around the cottage, where we stayed, we were pleased to see Whinchat and Wheatear on the fences and Pied and Spotted Flycatchers feeding on the insects.................
Whinchat in the garden
Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Crimson Speckled Moth
......... and some cheeky Azure-winged Magpies having a wash and brush up next door!

Azure-winged Magpies 
Some of the insects seen included Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Crimson Speckled moth and Swallowtail butterfly. 
We also saw Two-tailed Pasha and Plain Tiger butterflies on our travels.

Two-tailed Pasha

Plain Tiger
 A Praying Mantis was a new sighting for us.
Praying Mantis

We had three trips to the Raptor Watchpoint near Sagres, which wasn't as busy as we've seen in the past but still gave us brilliant views of Honey Buzzards, Booted and Short-toed Eagles and Egyptian Vultures.
Short-toed Eagle
Honey Buzzard
 At Ludo Farm we met up with June & Peter and spent a very pleasant day birding together around the Ria Formosa. We would recommend anyone wanting a day's guided birding to contact them through their website -, they are very friendly and experienced bird guides with an excellent knowledge of the Algarve and Baixo Alentejo.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Summer summary!

A quick summary of the highlights of our birding during Summer 2011.

View from Staple Island to the mainland
Arctic Tern on Inner Farne

In June we visited Northumberland with fantastic weather on the day we were on the Farne Islands but very wet the following day when we ventured on to the Moors and to 'Happy Valley'.

We also had another garden event with Scarlet Tiger moths putting in an appearance for a few days and Privet Hawkmoths emerging from pupae.

Scarlet Tiger moth

Privet Hawkmoth
At the end of July we spent a week in Scotland, at Aigas Mains, next door to the Aigas Field Centre. The highlights of the week were a visit to the top of Cairngorm, alas no Dotterel in view, and then on to Spey Bay where we had fantastic views of Dolphins and Little Gulls.
In August we had a great day out in Lincolnshire starting with a trip on the Boston Belle out into the Wash to see waders and seals, then on to Frampton Marsh where the bird of the day was Wood Sandpiper.

Friday, 13 May 2011

What a cracker!

Yesterday we, like many others went to see the Spotted Sandpiper at Caldecotte Lake. When we arrived it had gone for a wander but Malcolm spotted it flying back into the bank nearby. We watched as it made it's way past us to the slipway where it dodged about for some time before moving along to the landing stage. What an elegant little bird it was!
The Caldecotte Lake Spotted Sandpiper   
..........Spotted Sandpiper.........

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The North-east wind doth blow...

On Saturday Gen and ourselves went to Lynford Arboretum to try to catch up with the elusive Hawfinch. Sadly we were not there when the single Hawfinch was sighted later in the day but we did get good views of Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Coal Tit and heard a Tawny Owl calling.
From there we made our way to Cley for lunch and then went looking for the Shorelark which were reported to be found between the East Bank and North Hide.We were in luck as far as the birds were concerned but the weather had turned to fine rain which did nothing to enhance our view through wet lenses. The poor Shorelark were looking a sorry sight when we caught up with them, there were 10 altogether.

We decided to leave a rather bleak Cley and see what was about at Titchwell. On our way there we spotted a couple of Buzzards flying above a stand of trees to the west of Holkham, we stopped long enough to get good but distant, views of a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard. Unfortunately the second Buzzard didn't stay around long enough for us to check it out. As we drove towards Burnham Overy we passed a couple of birders who were watching 3 Marsh Harriers, 2 males and a female as they patrolled the skies.
At Titchwell we were told there were Snow Buntings on the beach so we went directly there, expecting to spend some time searching. They were actually only 4 or 5 metres from the end of the boardwalk busily searching in the sand for anything worth eating and only moved away when walkers got too close.

While we watched the Snow Buntings, with a very chill wind in our faces, this Sanderling dropped by to see what was going on.

A quick look at the lagoon from the new Parrinder Hide revealed the usual wader species - Dunlin, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Golden Plover, Lapwing plus some very smart Pintail.

Of course the weather had improved dramatically by the time we left, driving into a rosy sunset. 

Monday, 28 February 2011

Sunshine and Showers

Yesterday we joined our Beds Birds friends on a visit to Draycote Reservoir and Brandon Marsh Nature Centre. Sadly the sunshine didn't last much beyond 10am. We set out along the eastern side with views of Goosander, a smart male Smew and displaying Great Crested Grebes.
Female Goosander

We had a good variety of the usual ducks and views of Buzzard and Sparrowhawk passing over. There was a flock of 30+ Fieldfare sunning themselves in a tree.
By the time we reached the north-western side the rain had started, gently at first but steadily for the next hour. A small flock of Siskins and handful of Long-tailed Tits were seen in the trees alongside the path. Midway along the dam we saw a male Goosander with a harem of 12 females. As we got close to the sailing club we spotted a pair of Bullfinches, a single Redwing and a Goldcrest.
After lunch we went to Brandon Marsh in the hope of seeing a reported Long-eared Owl. Views over the East Marsh Pool gave us a group of @ 6 Snipe but when they took off there were nearer 20 in the air and at least 3 left behind. Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Shoveler and Shelduck were amongst the occupants of the Pool. Despite braving the flooded paths and trying to second guess where the LEO might be roosting we .... dipped!!
So we all retreated to the lovely tea room at the centre for a warm drink before the journey home.
Following our President's advice, Gen and ourselves stopped off at the Gull Watchpoint on Stewartby Lake to catch up with the Glaucous Gull and, thanks to Steve B, the two Peregrine on the Stewartby chimneys.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Northern Delights

Last weekend six of us ventured to Dumfries and Galloway to see what birds we could find.
On the way to Kirkcolm our first stop was Annan bridge, the best bird there was a Goosander huddled into the lea of the bank. Next stop - WWT Caerlaverock. There were lots of cars in the car park and we wondered if we'd stumbled on a major twitch but it turned out to be Swan census day and they had rounded up the Whoopers to be checked, weighed, ringed etc. before they took off for their breeding grounds over the next few weeks. Very fleeting and distant views of Harriers but the main highlight was the thousands of Barnacle Geese feeding on the marshes, almost as far as the eye could see.
After lunch we made our way to Loch Ken where there were fewer birds than expected but delightful views. We had our first views of the Red Kites that have been reintroduced into the area. As we left the Loch to make our way further west we came across the Red Kite roosting area and watched 40+ Kites coming from all directions towards a wooded hillside.
Lighthouse at Corsewell Point

Sunrise st Corsewell Point

Saturday morning, before sunrise, we were sea-watching at Corsewell Point. Cold and bright but very interesting. We watched Red-throated Divers, Eider, Shag and Common Scoter flying round to the entrance to Loch Ryan and were entertained by a couple of Rock Pipits chasing in and around the rocks and gullies. There were also hares running around in the fields close by and a Grey Seal offshore.
After breakfast we went off to explore Loch Ryan, starting with the western side where we found a large flock of Twite with some Linnets mixed in. On the shore there were Ringed Plover, Redshank, Turnstone, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Curlew feeding.
Further out we were able to see rafts of Eider, Common Scoter, Scaup and quite a few  Slavonian Grebe. There were also Black Guillemot, Guillemot and Red-breasted Merganser. It was interesting to see the Mergansers displaying. Plenty to look at and in numbers. We also spotted Harbour Porpoise making their way down the loch towards Stranraer. At the end of the day we were lucky enough to get good views of the Starling roost at Stranraer.
On Sunday, after a very wet night, we made our way to Black Head and the Killantringan Lighthouse. As we went down the single track road a Short-eared Owl flew across the road and perched on a fence within sight.

After a brief seawatch at Black Head we moved on to Portpatrick in search of Purple Sandpiper. We were unable to locate them but found more Rock Pipits and pairs of Fulmars on the cliffs.
Portpatrick Harbour
 From Portpatrick we drove to Wigtown where we had views over Wigtown Sands and across the River Cree mud creeks and saw a very distant Peregrine Falcon. On our way back to Kirkcolm we stopped off to see the Long-tailed Ducks on Loch Ryan. They were distant and it wasn't possible to get any clear photos but it was a thrill to see the males complete with long tails.
On Monday we stopped off at Carlingwork Loch for Smew on our way to Mersehead RSPB reserve. We had a quick walk to the nearest hide where we watched a ring-tail Hen Harrier hunting across the meadows as well as large numbers of Pintail amongst the usual ducks.
All in all a great weekend with lots of good birds.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Windy Welney

On the 5th February, after deciding that Lynford Arboretum may not be the safest birding spot in high winds, we went to WWT Welney to visit with the female Long-tailed Duck. We searched in front of the main hide and had decided to visit the other hides before lunch when we met two of the staff who kindly volunteered the information that said duck liked to hang out with the Pochard on the river side of the site but was easily seen at feeding times, in front of the main hide. So we returned to the hide and whilst looking at the Greater Flamingo that had migrated from Marwell Zoo via Dunstable the Long-tailed Duck suddenly appeared in front of the hide.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

January Highlights....

It was a busy start to the year with some interesting birds to add to our list. On the 1st of January we headed to the North Norfolk coast to visit Titchwell and Cley. At Titchwell we had great views of Bearded Tit and Water Pipit from the new Parrinder Hide.
At Cley we caught up with the Ross's Goose which was associating with a group of Barnacle Geese on Arnold's Marsh.


The following week on the 9th January we travelled to Strumpshaw, Cantley and Hickling to see what was around. We started off at Whitlingham Country Park where Red-breasted Goose had been reported but were unable to locate it. At Strumpshaw we had Water Pipit, Stonechat and Marsh Tit. We were put onto the Lesser White-fronted Goose at Cantley by one of the enthusiastic birders already at the site, which meant that we didn't have to stand and freeze for too long. Unfortunately the bird was too distant for photographs.
We timed our arrival at Hickling so that we could get to Stubbs Mill for the Harrier Roost. Good numbers of Marsh Harrier, male and ringtail Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Barn Owl, Common Crane and Pink-foot Geese showed well in the late afternoon sun. This Kingfisher was oblivious to it's audience as it scanned the stream for it's supper.
Kingfisher at Stubbs Mill
 Leaving the watchpoint just before dark we arrived back at the car park in time to see Woodcock flying over in every direction - a fantastic end to the day.
The following week we were in North Norfolk hoping to catch up with the Northern Harrier and Rough-legged Buzzard - unfortunately we dipped! We did manage to get good views of the American Wigeon at Cley although visibility was not brilliant.
On the 30th January we visited Abberton Reservoir and Tollesbury Marshes with the Beds Birds group. We found 3 drake and 6 red-head Smew altogether. The males displaying at times. Also distant views of a ringtail hunting.

From the bank at Tollesbury Marshes we watched a Great Northern Diver and a Slavonian Grebe on the River Blackwater.