Members Trip Reports in 2017

Four Go Adventuring Again – to India  Jan 2017

reporter Lucy Topsom (ably assisted by Glenn, Mary & Keith)

Our morning walk took us to tracks behind our accommodation at the wildlife resort called Jungle Hut, Mudumalai.  It was hot and sunny when we walked the tracks in a wooded area.  We saw elephant droppings and luckily for us they were old as we ad been warned by our guide just how dangerous they could be and they had to be respected. We saw numerous common birds which would soon become familiar to us.  I had wanted to see the white form of the Asian Paradise Flycatcher with its black head and crest and long white tail streamers after seeing pictures in our Field Guide Book.  We walked from the thick woods into a clearing and Peter our guide suddenly became very excited.  There in front of us was a beautiful white bird with a very long tail, the bird on my wish list.  It gave us several fleeting glimpses within the wooded area and a few record photos were taken. Happily we walked back to base in the knowledge that we had seen this very special and beautiful bird. The next morning we walked within the same area only to find that the giant bamboo present the day before, had been totally demolished by elephants overnight. How exciting to realise that we had elephants within our Hotel grounds.

There had been torrential rain overnight and we were relieved to find that all was dry when we left Soma Birds Lagoon, Tapovan in Thattekkad at 6am.  The air had been close and very humid the day before so we were relieved to feel fresher air,  but unfortunately it was misty with poor visibility. Peter our guide took us to a place a short distance away from a reserve in Thattekad where we hoped to see target birds such as Rusty tailed flycatcher, Trogan, Crimson backed sunbirds and Frogmouth. We attempted to walk up a steep boulder which had become very slippery from the rain the evening before and the heavy mist so we had to pick our way to the viewpoint.   The visibility was very short as we waited for the sun birds to wake up with the sunshine.  When the sun broke though the mist, suddenly mountains appeared as a back drop. Here we saw Crimson backed sunbirds, Tickles flycatcher, Black headed oriole, Grey hornbill, Imperial green pigeon, Malabar parakeets, White headed starling, to the background sound of White cheeked barbets. We then descended from the viewpoint to a sudden “STOP” as Peter our guide beckoned us to stay quiet and stationary due to him hearing the cracking sound of vegetation broken by nearby elephants. Our guide was very wary of elephants, with good reason, as his escapades revealed how dangerous they could be.  After further investigation the path was clear for us to proceed. We crossed over a stream and were cautious not to fall in as the ground was still very slippery.  Peter took us to a special spot where we were then offered magnificent views of a female Frogmouth roosting in the quiet of a darkened bush.  She was very well camouflaged and it took a while to get your eye in even though she was 6 foot away.  Photos ensued.  Further up the track another roost was shown to us with even better views as it was more out in the open. We then returned to our vehicle to come back for breakfast and saw a Grey headed eagle circling close above our heads.  Alas, no Trogan but a good tally to start the day.

A Trip to North Wales 

reporter Alan Hughes

I am ashamed to say that some males, when consumed by testosterone, and desperate to woo the ladies, can look and sound rather ridiculous: I know, it is hard to believe (!), but before you immediately think Jonny Depp or Brad Pitt, I have to tell you that I was meaning Black Grouse. Earlier this month, my brother and I were taken up onto the Ruabon Moors in Snowdonia (near the aptly named village of World’s End) and there, at daybreak, we witnessed the spectacle of the Black Grouse lek: At 2 sites on the moor, 15-20 male grouse, looking both magnificent and slightly daft in equal measure, postured and posed, burbled and hissed, attacked and feinted with their competitors for an hour. Then, as the sun rose to bathe the moor they suddenly stopped as if a switch had been flicked, and resumed searching the heather for morsels of food, and pretended they hadn’t ever been completely wrapped up in this hormone-fuelled contest with each other. This is one of the weirdest natural spectacles we had ever seen in the flesh, and one we would certainly recommend to fellow-birders. Interestingly, all that energy was being consumed, and there was not a single female in sight to be impressed – perhaps there is a lesson in there somewhere for us men?

Thanks to a voluntary ban on shooting them, and some active conservation measures, Black Grouse numbers have increased significantly in recent years on this private moor, but worryingly the moor has recently changed hands and is now being managed far more vigorously for Red Grouse, which they do shoot in large numbers, earning the owners a great deal, despite the fact that most of the carcases are buried in pits after a day’s shoot as there is little demand for them as meat – what a terrible waste of life, as well as possibly jeopardising the still fragile Red Grouse population as well as any local raptors!

p.s. Our guide for the day was Alan Davies, one half of the Biggest Twitch – a lovely couple that have guided us once before on a birding trip in North Wales. The other highlight was a great view of a family group of 4 Crossbills contentedly perched only a few metres away on a small hawthorn bush – the adults appeared to be keeping watch whilst the 2 juvenile birds (we were surprised that this species breeds so early) practiced using their extraordinary beaks to attack the buds. It was so good to have more than a fleeting glimpse of this species usually spotted at the top of a tall pine, or flying overhead. Having been spoilt by Norfolk, birding in North Wales always seems quite hard work in comparison, but our 2 trips in this beautiful part of Britain have been quite productive and very enjoyable.

Birding on a South India Tea Plantation   –    Jan 2017 

reporter Mary Walker

The rich, mournful, low pitched whistles coming through our patio doors were very human like. We knew the culprit of course. He’d been at it since long before dawn. The beautiful blue and black MALABAR WHISTLING THRUSH. Glenn had found a pair the night before, roosting on our verandah.

We were  at the Hill Station of Valparai, a tea plantation high up in the Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu in Southern India, staying in a vast and luxurious property that had once belonged to the Plantation Owner. We were the only (rather grubby and well travelled) guests, but the birds were varied and plentiful.

This morning I had the Estate to myself. After one too many visits to the little girls room, I had decided not to accompany Keith, Glenn, Lucy, and our guide Peter, and our house “boy” for  pre breakfast birding. Settling down with a large pot of finest tea, I watched the pink dawn break over the hills. With it came LONG TAILED and BROWN SHRIKES sitting side by side right in front of me, several BRAHMINY KITES, their chestnut bodies with white heads glinting in the early morning sun. COPPERSMITH BARBETS “tuk, tuk, tuked” from the treetops. PEAFOWL strutted about waving their tails for admiration.

Several hours passed before five weary figures wound their way up the hillside. I tried not to sound envious as they reeled off their morning riverside sightings, ORIENTAL HONEY BUZZARD, BLACK EAGLE, WHITE EYED BUZZARD, WHITE THROATED KINGFISHER, LITTLE HERON, CRESTED SERPANT EAGLE. I also missed a lifer in CHESTNUT-WINGED CUCKOO. Blast!

After breakfasting on Dosas, a sort of enormous thin crispy pancake, lathered with local honey (we tried but could not do curry for breakfast), we took a little time off to visit the local tea factory. This was a working factory, not for tourists, so no one took any notice of us, but we were not allowed to take any photos. Tamil and a few ladies imported from Assam pick a minimum of 40KG of tea per day. Whilst they are paid a pittance their employer looks after their needs well, with schooling, medicine and housing provided.

Eucalyptus trees are grown to fuel the furnaces to dry the tea leaves, of which only the top two leaves  are picked once a fortnight from each bush. It’s graded and packed in 35KG sacks, the best (Superfine) being kept for their own use.

After lunch we were travelling along the narrow roads and we suddenly came across an old school bus full of children. They were excitedly pointing out of the glassless windows. Peter pulled up behind them, and we leapt out of our vehicle, bins and cameras at the ready, not knowing what we were looking for. But what a joy. 19 elephants on local migration were delicately picking their way in single file through the rows of tea bushes, the matriarchs shielding several tiny babies. They do no damage, but are simply looking for water. Scarcely able to believe our luck our cameras clicked away.

The birds still dash about amongst the elephants. We found several “needed” RUFOUS BABBLERS, to add  to our growing list of ten different babblers. A LESSER YELLOWNAPE (woodpecker), was a new bird for the trip, as was DUSKY CRAG MARTIN. BLYTH’S REED and TICKELL’S LEAF WARBLERS were never far away, and it seemed strange to see GREY WAGTAILS turn up everywhere.

Soon the light began to fade and we reluctantly made our way back to our accommodation, ready for a good night’s sleep, because as they say :- “Tomorrow is another bird filled day.”

Northumberland with the Grandsons

Reporter – Ray Gribble

Chris and I took our two grandsons, Herbie 11 and Ivor 8, to Northumberland for a week. We stayed in a caravan at Cresswell, c.20 miles north of Newcastle. It was primarily a holiday for the boys but we wanted them to experience the spectacle of the breeding seabirds on the Farne Islands. This we duly did, taking the short trip that lands on Inner Farne after sailing around the other islands. Getting close up to Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shag delighted the boys but they were less enamoured by the Arctic Terns which repeatedly dive-bombed us.
I knew what to expect of the Farnes but Druridge Bay, just a mile from the caravan site was an unexpected bonus. As I walked through scrub to a hide overlooking a flooded field the first birds I encountered were Tree Sparrows on feeders made from drinks bottles hanging in the bushes. This was only my second sighting of Tree Sparrow for the year, the first being on the WVBS visit to Vine House Farm. The flooded meadow had most of the species we might expect to see on the North Norfolk Coast with Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Ringed Plover and breeding Snipe, Lapwing and Redshank plus Teal, Shelduck, Shoveler, Gadwall and a pair of Garganey. Two Red-breasted Geese must have been of dubious origin and I missed a couple of Spoonbill by an hour or two.
A follow up visit in the evening produced the birding surprise of the holiday when Herbie spotted an owl sitting on a post in the dunes. Not a Short-eared as I expected but a Long-eared Owl. My first for many years. What a gem! Not only did we see it sitting on the post but it flew over our heads towards a wood where we were later told it was nesting.
When asked what was the highlight of their holiday Herbie said finding the Long-eared Owl and Ivor the ice-creams and sticks of rock Granny had bought him! More work to be done there to change priorities.


“A tale of two Chats” by Paul Adams

As most of you know of the agreement with WVBS and Pensthorpe country park, a few volunteers from the society carry out a bird count a couple of times a month. This is a tale of a couple of sightings from the days out.

During May a pleasant bimble around the park was undertaken, as with any birding anywhere the possibility of seeing something unusual or of note is always a treat. As part of the walk we visited the scrape, adjoining this area is rough grassland with wire and post fencing, always a good area to scan, you never know what may turn up. After a while movement was seen and setting up the scope we found a bird flitting from a post to the ground and back hawking for insects, an LBJ ? . After viewing for a while noting the markings and checking Collins guide for ID it was agreed it was a female Whinchat (not ringed), a bird of upland grasslands and passage ,not seen every outing but a very pleasing find.
During June our next visit a month later we were keen check out this area again to see if the little Whinchat was still around. At first all that was found a pair of Reed buntings , Linnet, always a treat to tick , more scanning found Lapwing, Green woodpecker, Jackdaw, Carrion crow, but then on the wire fence again an LBJ , very dark rusty almost chocolate in colour with a few light fecks in the wing and head, dark bill and legs . Could this be the Whinchat? , again consulting Collins guide, it was agreed that it was a different bird, a juv Stonechat, a good tick and a smile on face. Particular note was that it was heavily ringed (right leg green over metal, left leg black over red), possibly a bird of a ringing study.
This sighting was noted and information sent to WVBS recorder for society records and also more learned members were consulted to get their views.
Follow up investigations found that the bird was ringed at Dersingham bog on 21st April this year by NW Norfolk ringing group. So, a juvenile Stonechat of approximately 8/10 weeks old, unsure if male or female, a well-travelled bird for its age, some 30km from nest site, hope it sticks around and set up territory of its own.
It is good to be able to get a little background information of the birds we see on our walks, makes our hobby even more rewarding.
Many thanks to Bob Hunter and Ray Gribble for gaining the ringing information which enriched this tale.


7th-13th May 2017 – Norfolk to Cairngorm and thereabouts

Report compiled by Lin Pateman

Setting up a holiday……..
After several years of debating how much more building work to complete, who would look after the garden and “we can’t possibly leave Norfolk in May”; it was agreed we would really like to go back to Scotland, birding in spring and why not organize another club trip!
A discussion meeting for WVBS club members took place in October 2016 to gauge the interest; twenty three at first and by my reckoning, there is usually about a third take-up. Many locations and accommodations were considered and even a two-part trip was on the table; however the most highly regarded areas for the desired species, were definitely Cairngorm and the Moray coast. As severaI of us had enjoyed the club trip in 2010 staying at The Grant Arms Hotel, home of the Bird Watching & Wildlife Club; it was well recommended and they offer a discount for groups. Eight of us agreed dates and booked our places.
Phil and I spent several sociable evenings in the delightful and knowledgeable company of Chris and Gordon Hamlett (Best Birdwatching Sites, Scottish Highlands) before using a great deal of their advice to formulate the draft itinerary.
Getting there…….
Setting out early on Sunday 7th May to meet Josh and Eileen along the A47/A17 we wondered how we made it to the first comfort stop ahead of them, with only our trusted maps and mobile phones to guide to us. Surely their in-car computerized satnav/gps system would prevail? After they had to make a detour back home, they met us and we successfully achieved a two car convoy to RSPB Saltholme by 9.30am. It was my choice to visit en-route as I had read so much about this reserve and it was amazing to see so many tree sparrows feeding and dashing around the hedges and nest boxes on arrival. Ever helpful RSPB staff welcomed us as we made a dash for the facilities, before showing our membership cards on the way out; they provided a site map and shared the latest sightings. Visible from the main hide, we were debating the current use of the famous Transporter Bridge (bungee jumping) when Phil rather casually mentioned a male marsh harrier (common to us in Norfolk) flying in from the left. This almost caused a stampede when the warden and visitors present, rushed over to view this rare sighting for the reserve. The rustic wooden sculptures around the site were remarkable and the whole reserve is very family friendly with a super café. What a very pleasant comfort stop, although Josh missed out on the bacon rolls by the time we had wandered around for two and a half hours! Needless say there were plenty of nourishing supplies in our “magic car-boot café.” We agreed not to do a bird list until we got into Scotland.
The journey to Edinburgh was uneventful and John’s plane was in on time and although the satnav sent us around the wrong block, we were soon all heading off to our overnight stop. Visibility was great over the Forth Bridge and the new one is near completion. As we pulled into the car park at the Premier Inn, Whimbrel Place, Dunfermline, we saw Eric had arrived beside us; now six of the group united. The food at the pub next door was basic and in one case inedible, which resulted in a more than substantial discount for us all! A call was received from our other two birding friends, Lucy and Glenn to say they were a few miles up the road and would meet us next morning at Kinross Services. Not only had they led the club Dawn Chorus walk, at 4.15am but then proceeded to drive the whole way up to Scotland; well they are mega UK twitchers after all.

Monday 8th May saw us gathering a car park list at Kinross; house sparrow, blackbird, lesser black-backed gull, swallow, sand martin, chaffinch, robin, starling, wood pigeon, common buzzard, magpie, jackdaw and then setting off as a full group of eight up the A9 to Dunkeld through Perthshire. Our first raven sighting took place just above the car before we stopped for a coffee break close to the River Tay. Common buzzards were floating around in bright blue skies and I noted green lambs in a field, (someone had been generous with the spray when numbering them). At Scotland Wildlife Trust’s Loch of the Lowes reserve we parked in the woodland resounding with birdsong in continuing hot sunshine. Excellent views of siskin, reed bunting, blackcap, linnet, long-tailed tit, whitethroat, garden warbler, willow warbler, dunnock and nuthatch. We paid a discounted entry into the visitor centre for being NWT members, to use the hide for guaranteed views of osprey and added lesser redpoll, goldfinch, sedge warbler, grey heron, carrion crow, with only great crested grebe, mute swan, mallard and goldeneye on the loch. The female osprey was visible in the nest and the male was nowhere to be seen despite scanning every tree in sight. Phil rather excitedly called a red kite over and the warden came up from below and asked our group to keep our voices down Although we enjoyed watching the adorable red squirrels racing around the woodland and saw great spotted woodpecker, yellowhammer, red-legged partridge; the exclusive highlight of the morning was a singing male pied flycatcher in a tree just above our heads on the trail. This was a golden opportunity for Phil to practice his “phone- scoping” and gain some rather good shots. We also discovered that this is a great site for seeing beavers and discussed whether we could fit in a dusk trip.
Travelling on to Killicrankie north of Pitlochry, we checked the sightings board in the visitor Centre and the warden said she had only heard wood warblers and not yet seen any. On the steep path down to Soldier’s Leap we heard the constant song and eventually saw at least four birds. From the comfort of the bench at the top of the granite quarry, we enjoyed a great vista, with passing trains alongside and dippers, grey wagtails and common sandpipers feeding along the shallow shingle banks of the river. Along the trail down to the bottom we had closer views and added coal tits, great tits and pied flycatchers. After returning to report our sightings and buying ice cold drinks, it was soon time to head up to Grantown-on-Spey to check-in and make our choices for the evening meal. The three-course dinners at the Grant Arms are always delicious and the group made a good start on the wine list. We held the relaxed evening meeting in the coffee lounge, to agree tactics for the next day and certificates of mock excellence were awarded to members of the group by the secretary!

Tuesday 9th May
After a luxurious three course breakfast and trip to the renowned bakery in the Square to stock up the car boot café, we set off for RSPB Loch Ruthven to search for Slavonian grebes. En route we stopped near Moy at Funtack Burn for a scan and found curlew, meadow pipit, redshank, grey heron, siskin, redpoll, common snipe, mistlethrush, lapwing and common gull; no golden plover. At Loch Ruthven it was scorching hot sunshine, so we had to peel off the morning layers; it was a sign of days to come. Surrounded by singing willow warblers, meadow pipits, siskin, chaffinch, stonechat, lapwing and cuckoo calling constantly beyond the morning chorus and watching red deer just above the car park and little grebe on the nearest pool; we were just enthralled. Ravens calling and then an osprey over the loch, we headed down the path to the hide; behind the boathouse was a very convenient comfort stop for the girls and suddenly we were being buzzed by two ravens directly overhead. I was in the hot-seat and have never been so relieved (pardon the pun) to catch up with the pair again, as I ran to the top of the slope for stunning views; they were not in a hurry either. The Slavonian grebes were very distant in the heat haze and we chatted to the RSPB warden who suggested driving up the mountain road to the other side. Lingering over the willow warblers and bullfinches in surrounding vegetation, we met a photographer from Italy who said he visits Scotland every year as he loves the birds and he was stood practically beside a bullfinch posing for its picture. The views from the hill the other side of the loch were superb and although we scoped the grebes again, they were difficult to see clearly in the heat haze. We continued on our planned route to the Farr Road south towards Strathdearn (Findhorn Valley), high up through the moors. Stopping at the woodland area, to admire the trees and rhododendrons in full flower, there were no birds visible on Loch Farr. Along the Farr Road we had spectacular views of two golden eagles, red kite, common buzzards and four ravens. In such good light and clear blue skies, we were able to study the shape, size, colour and flight of all of these magnificent birds as they soared overhead and in no hurry. In fact we just kept commenting to one another, how brilliant it was, Scotland was already giving all we had gone for! Here we saw cuckoo, whitethroat, bullfinch, mallard, stonechat, wheatear, tree pipit, common snipe, chiffchaff.
A chance meeting with our friend Chris from Norfolk Birding gave us a chance to swap sightings thus far, as they were two days ahead of us. Late afternoon we made it to the Findhorn Valley car park, where we chatted to one of the guides from the hotel; his groups were just driving off, having not seen any “goldies”.Suddenly the hills were alive….. with golden eagles, white tailed eagles, common buzzards, ravens, red kite, kestrel and goshawk. They just kept appearing, we had timed it right and we shared excellent views. Red deer, mountain goats and mountain hare all graced the mountainsides along with red grouse, lapwing and red-legged partridge lower down. We really did not want to leave, however we had a dinner table booked and I had to phone and delay. We still did not locate any golden plovers.

There were no real photographers in our group, so Phil and I managed to focus few shots on our phones but we were all so engrossed in excellent views wherever we went. The weather was magic, never before had any of us been on a trip to Scotland and not worn a raincoat! Simply finding the birds and ensuring everyone shared good views was extremely rewarding. John had not seen a lot of these bird species before, so it was double the pleasure all round, to share new birds with him and have the leisurely opportunity to discuss the details while enjoying clear, scoped views.

On Wednesday 10th May we decided to go to Cairngorm mountain whilst the forecast remained good and planned to catch the first train up the funicular. Arriving early at the Coire na Ciste car park, we scanned for grouse and enjoyed very close views of ring ouzel. In beautiful sun, with a few patches of snow near the tops, we had no trouble finding snow bunting and ptarmigan as they were calling as soon as we stepped out onto the viewing platform. The hunt for dotterel proved unsuccessful, despite the excellent visibility of course they had been seen yesterday!. Lucy caught a glimpse of one beside the railway, though it flew off before she could call it. One of the staff told us there was dotterel nesting in the garden behind the café, so we had to investigate; this turned out to be a perfectly hidden ring ouzel! A day ticket covers any number of trips, so we ventured up the railway again to enjoy prolonged viewing of the ptarmigan, wheatear and ring ouzels. Heading back to the car boot café, as we had plenty of supplies to use up, Phil pointed out the herd of reindeer on the mountain. Whist we were enjoying these and more ring ouzels close by, Phil continued to scan and called a golden eagle; this huge bird was soaring down the mountainside with a large prey that appeared to be a hare and being mobbed by a raven. We watched them fly all the way down to a forest below. Driving through the Glenmore Forest Park to park up at Allt Mhor, we searched for crossbills and Glenn quickly heard and located two crested tits. Walking the trail, we stood awhile at the fast flowing burn scanning for birds, it was so very peaceful and a beautiful spot to relish the warm sunshine and surrounding pine trees. At Loch Morlich, we stopped to scan and it was busy with cars and pick-nickers, no birds on the water; so we continued on the B970 to Loch an Eilein. We had to include this spot for our namesake member, Eileen as together; we enjoyed a great deal of laughter at our pronunciation of Scottish place names on the map. On arrival we had great views overhead of an osprey carrying a fish just caught in the loch and then went on to find a female redstart, otherwise this site was quiet for birds. Back along the
B970 we took a break at the highly recommended “The Potting Shed”, at Inshriach Nurseries for afternoon tea and a mouthwatering choice of cakes! From the edge of the woodland, close to the car park, we enjoyed brilliant views of great spotted woodpecker and a passing white tailed eagle, followed by close views of the red squirrels on the many feeders in the garden. Exploring the spectacular plant collections, Phil suddenly called a raptor overhead and as we rushed to see a splendid goshawk, the owner came out to ask what the excitement was about (just as I spotted a sign saying “No Running”)…oops!. Time was running away from us again and we had to hurry back for dinner, there was a date tonight at a private fishing lake with a permit from the Hotel The group travelled back via Aviemore to check the crags for peregrines to no avail. During the evening visit to Avielochan, we had fantastic views of the Slavonian grebes from a safe distance to avoid disturbing the nest building. In the bright evening light we also saw two pairs of goldeneye in glowing summer plumage, wigeon, common sandpiper, swallows, sand martins, greenfinch, mistle thrush, dunnock, blue tit, and a smart hooded crow perched up, keeping an eye on proceedings.

An early start on Thursday 11th May for the black grouse not very far from the hotel; the guide said look for the peculiar landmark of the large boulder painted “Jesus Saves”. We quickly located the site and scoped 7 beautiful grouse and then the fun started, they were all lekking; what a show. I could not resist a little impromptu costume dance with a black coat and a large white serviette behind the car boot café, as I shared the coffees and pastries. We added skylark singing and displaying close by and mega views of a short eared owl. Only a short drive back to the hotel for another breakfast feast, it was an effort to set off for our planned coastal day. Another visit to Lochindorb on the way,(as a previous sunny evening visit had only given very distant, hazy views). again in hot sunshine, we saw red grouse popping their heads up everywhere and then marvellous views of the red throated divers, black throated divers, common sandpipers, cuckoo, tufted ducks, mallard, mistlethrush, songthrush, greenfinch, common gull and fabulous views of two ospreys flying, one with fish. Eric said “this was pretty good, but when were we going to find the crossbills”? Ok so the challenge was still on.
The A940 took us straight on to Findhorn Bay from the car park, there was yellowhammer, dunnock, starlings, mistlethrush, collared dove, kestrel and hooded crows; and from the shore we saw shelduck, pintail, gannet, red throated diver, herring gull and common seals and our first sighting of dolphin spotted by Lucy. The wind was becoming too strong for scopes here so we headed off to RoseIsle Forest, Kinloss; this is on the Moray Coast Trail and is a Forestry Commission picnic site and a possible site for crossbill. We saw skylark, yellowhammer, hooded crow, common buzzard, chichaff, blackcap, chaffinch, goldcrest, robin, coal tit and sparrowhawk. Then along the B9089 to Burghead, adding cormorant, shag, a large flock of eiders, sand martins, house sparrows, oystercatchers, fulmar, turnstones, red throated diver, and rock pipits darting around us on the clifftop. There was a visitor centre in the Burghead Fort and we lingered for a very interesting chat with a friendly archaeologist from Aberdeen University, who kindly explained all the findings at the Pictish properties they were unearthing, in a garden next to the remaining castle ruins. Next we continued east along the B9040 to Hopeman Harbour where we watched dunlin, ringed plover, sandwich tern, kittiwake, guillemot, gannet, shelduck and wheatear. A visit to the little shop on the harbour for ice creams, found us chatting to the proprietor, a lady that knows our Norfolk friend Steve Cale and she gave us a little note to pass on, regarding some of his artwork that she has on sale there!
Spey Bay was our next port of call down to the A96 and along the B9014 to the coast, we parked up at the visitor centre for good facilities and information, home to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society; also at this historical site, there is an ancient ice-house. As we strolled along the trail we heard and saw numerous birds in the low vegetation; house sparrows, reed buntings, sedge warblers and grasshopper warbler shouting the loudest in the strong breeze! After much searching a grasshopper warbler suddenly landed on a low stem in front of us, and where were the others; as Lucy and I enjoyed such delightful views, it even did a twirl before flying off. In the creek otter footprints could be seen and a whimbrel showed well before we looked up to see common buzzard and peregrine falcon in the blue sky above. At the shore we studied the birds close-in and counted over 100 goosander, common terns, sandwich terns, long tailed duck, arctic terns, kittiwake, common scoter, red-breasted merganser and ringed plovers. From here we saw the first dolphins’ surface and made our way onto the beach for closer views, they were simply magical, popping up at regular intervals as we sat in the warm evening sun in the soft shingle. Dragging ourselves away again, (after another call to delay our table) for dinner at the hotel. De- briefing in the coffee lounge, it was good to catch up with Chris again (with his group coming in for dinner). We had a quick reminder from Sue (Birding Officer at BWWC) that the talk was on in the lecture room, however we had plans to make and certificates to present; so the Capercaillie talk was missed as the group didn’t want to see them on screen. The guides had only had two chance caper sightings in as many weeks and could not recommend any sites.

By Friday 12th May we were driving along the A938 to Carrbridge not many minutes from the hotel, in early morning sunshine, quite the hottest for many years of trips to Scotland; still no golden plovers in the fields near the ancient bridge. We stopped near the old schoolhouse and there were crossbills coming down to drink in the burn before we could even get out of the cars! Up a steep incline to the forest and we had mega views of tree pipits, perching for prolonged scoping and at the same time we could hear crested tits, robins and redstarts, nuthatch and treecreeper all around us. Whilst we looked for all these species, Eric had stayed with Glenn making the most of the crossbills feeding and drinking and had great fun observing a resplendent male pecking at a piece of white paper on the ground and then proudly offering it to a female; she spat it out!

Moving on to the renowned RSPB Loch Garten site to pursue crested tits, we struck lucky on the road in. Glenn heard redstart in the trees above us and we watched male and female birds, as well as spotted flycatchers going about their feeding, however the star of the show was a crested tit zooming back and forth in front of Eric’s car. We set up scopes away from the road and it was not long before Lucy spied the nest; we felt privileged to watch the birds going and back and forth to feed the young in the nest only a few yards away. We reported our find to the wardens on site, they did not know about this one and after such cracking views we did not go far into the reserve. Next stop was to RSPB Insh Marshes and we viewed the ruins of Ruthven Barracks (1715) from the car before parking up at the reserve. This large wetland site along the River Spey was very hot and dry and devoid of birds; from the top floor of the hide, we had spectacular views for miles around across the ridges of the

Monadhliath Mountains. Along the trail and down a steep path to another hide; overall we only saw canada goose, curlew, lesser redpoll, willow warbler, redshank, long-tailed tit, garden warbler, coal tit, dunnock, sedge warbler and common snipe.
We ventured off towards Kincraig and onto Loch Insh, parking up opposite the church with famous, ancient celtic bell. On the loch we had brilliant views of a male osprey flying around and a female on the nest. We chatted to a couple from Fife who were interested in what we had been seeing and shared that they are regular visitors to Norfolk, staying at the hostel at Burnham Deepdale. They recommended walking Carn Ban More for dotterel, hen harrier and whinchat, as directed we went past the glider club and to the end of the track. A properly prepared hill walk up would take 2 or 3 hours to reach dotterel territory but as it was another beautiful warm evening we were able to enjoy scanning the hills and lower down had great views of a pair of stonechat, meadow pipits, willow warbles, swallows, grey wagtails, siskins and cuckoo and once again we were out of time to return for the evening meal! After dinner we went up the hill past the local caravan site, under the railway bridge and up onto the Dava Way footpath, where there was a commotion amongst the blackbirds which could only mean one thing; Glenn’s theory of a tawny owl nearby and sure enough some of us managed to see one taking off out of the trees above. As dusk fell, there were good woodcock sightings overhead from this high point.

Saturday 13th May saw us partake of a lengthy breakfast before checking out and venturing back down the A9 to Rannoch Moor and Loch Tummel. We parked at the visitor centre and enjoyed the facilities, with some doing the only bit of tourist shopping of the trip. It was a great spot to scope from the Queen’s Viewpoint. It was time to head south and say goodbye to John at Edinburgh Airport and then bird along the coast until it was time to make our way down to Lincolnshire for our next overnight stay. Glenn and Lucy continued to bird the coast to add jay, greenshank, razorbill, puffin, grey plover and little stint to bring our Scotland list to 140 species.
We came upon a pub called the Jolly Scotsman for a quick evening meal and then met Josh and Eileen at our hotel; what a surprise to find the rooms were set up as a replica Scottish hunting lodge! We would have time for a full breakfast the next morning, before meeting our friends from WVBS for the planned day trip to Vine House farm.

What a superb week’s holiday!

A Birding Trip to the North-West of England by Alan Hughes

My brother and I had a short trip to the North West a few weeks ago, an area that neither of us was familiar with. Our first day was spent on the English side of the River Dee Estuary, at the relatively new RSPB Burton Mere reserve and on the nearby salt marshes. The birding was reasonable, but the company was excellent as we had arranged for Alan Davies and Ruth Miller (famous for The Biggest Twitch) to guide us that day: They are a lovely couple, such good company, and both superb birders with lots of experience that they are only too pleased to share. I would thoroughly recommend them to anyone looking for trips or individual guiding, both here and abroad. The highlights of the day were several distant Great White Egrets along the river, a distant male Hen Harrier, a group of 12 Grey-legged Partridges on someone’s front lawn, and a Cattle Egret amongst a group of cattle.
The next day we visited the WWT reserve of Martin Mere and enjoyed excellent views of many wildfowl species, often in large numbers, including Pink-footed Geese, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Greylag Geese, some handsome drake Pintails, and some Whooper Swans – surely our most elegant swan, especially in flight! Other treats included a Kingfisher and a small colony of Tree Sparrows. We chose not to look around their captive collection, but it was great to see so many young families there, some dressed in their Halloween costumes, as were some of the staff – I have never been greeted by Batman at a reserve before! Instead, we drove on to RSPB Marshside – a saltmarsh just north of Southport: This is not the most attractive part of the country, but some compensation was drawn from magnificent skies as the sun set across the sea, and also a group of 5 Cattle Egrets amongst a herd of cattle, and a flock of approximately 1000 Black-tailed Godwits roosting on some flooded grazing land.
Our last day involved us travelling further north on the M6 to RSPB Leighton Moss. I sometimes hear criticism of the RSPB from members of our birding fraternity, but I am a great admirer of the organisation, and this reserve did not disappoint: After passing through their lovely visitor centre complete with shop, restaurant and some very helpful staff, we were into a garden area in which there were lots of displays and activities for children, such as bug hotels, pond-dipping, information boards and bird feeders. The latter were a particular attraction for their large colony of Marsh Tits. After clambering up the tower hide for a panoramic view of the whole reserve, we then explored the 2 sets of hides. This is a wetland site with extensive reedbeds and wet woodland, surrounded by gently rolling hills which, at this time of the year were largely covered by deciduous trees in their Autumn finery – a really beautiful and worth visiting just for its scenic beauty (oh, and its lunches!). We were fortunate enough to have great views of 2 male Bearded Reedlings (feeding from grit trays set up for this purpose), an otter as it swam and hunted in one of the lagoons (although it did frighten all the ducks away) and another Great White Egret, this time on the ground and at close range – a magnificent bird. The RSPB also looks after a nearby area of saltmarsh in Morecambe Bay, so we concluded our day with an hour in the Eric Morecambe hide (he was the area’s most famous son, and a keen birder) where we enjoyed great views of a nearby Goosander as it fished in a small dyke.
This was an enjoyable trip – not huge numbers of birds, but some of real quality, and not always in the most attractive areas, although I would definitely visit Leighton Moss again.


In search of the Costa Rican Yellow-breasted Crake reporter Mary Walker    November 2017

Sitting in Norwich, almost packed and casually reading A Field Guide to Costa Rica, my phone pinged with a text. It was Ollie our Costa Rican Bird Guide. After a successful family holiday to Costa Rica last year, we were embarking on a serious dawn till dusk birding trip.
“Hi “ Ollie wrote. “How do you feel about slightly changing our itinerary?” Keith & I were happy to be taken wherever the birds were, as was Sue Gale, our travelling companion.
Ollie’s birding buddies had just found a Yellow-breasted Crake, a species with few records in Costa Rica, and he was keen “to have a try”.
So a week later, after spending three days birding in the Arenal Volcano area, where our senses were already blown away with 199 species in the bag, a dip in the natural hot springs and one of our party embarking on seven zip lines down the side of the volcano, we detoured north to Cano Negro, only a few miles from the Nicaraguan border.
Waiting on the riverside with a small motorboat was Chambitaromero, a local birder. Comfort breaks done, we clambered aboard. Thank goodness we were the only passengers. After the density of the rain forest at Arenal and all the hanging bridges to wobble over, it was such a pleasure to be out in the open air.
There appeared to be birds perched or flying over every few yards. MANGROVE & BARN SWALLOWS and GREY-BREASTED MARTINS flitted overhead. GREEN, AMAZON, and huge (16 inches) RINGED KINGFISHERS stared stoically at the water, completely ignoring us. On the banks BARE-THROATED TIGER HERONS, SNOWY EGRETS, LITTLE & LARGE BLUE HERONS stood in lines like sentry guards.
Our boat’s engines cut and we slowly edged through the Water Hyacinths. There perched on a low branch was a juvenile BLACK COLLARED HAWK . A lifer for Ollie. We quietly took some photos, but with virtually no visitors to this part of Costa Rica, the bird took no notice of us whatsoever.

We continued upsteam for an hour or so, mesmerised by the birdlife. YELLOW & PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS, VARIABLE & WHITE-COLLARED SEED-EATERS, COCOA WOODCREEPER, SLATY SPINETAILS, LESSER GREENLETS, and the so out of proportion BOAT-BILLED HERON.
A splash in front of us alerted us to the presence of an OSPREY, quickly departing with lunch caught, just leaving several pairs of CAIMAN and CROCODILE eyes peeping out of the water at us.
We moored up for lunch in what seemed the middle of nowhere. Chamitaromero’s family provided us with an excellent Costa Rican meal of Tilapia (fish), Gallo Pinto (Rice and Beans), and Plantain Fritters. Even a little bar! Children played on the dirt floor surrounded by several large screen TV’s, seemingly suspended from trees. The family were huge bird lovers. At their overloaded feeding station COLLARTED ARACARI, MONTEZUMA OROPENDOLA, LINEATED WOODPECKER, BLACK COWLED ORIOLE, RED LEGGED HONEYCREEPERS and various TANAGERS all fought for their share of the banquet. Sue declared we could leave her there for a few days, and pick her up later. It really was that good.

A quick but careful walk through the cow filled meadows produced COMMON TODY FLYCATCHER and SPOTBREASTED WREN amongst others, but the clock was ticking and we were on a CRAKE hunt.
Back on board we chugged a little further on. Coming to a large expanse of river, covered in Water Lilies and other growth the engine was again cut. We were instructed to sit completely still and in silence. Impossible it seemed when so much was going on around us, but this was a very special bird we hoped to see, so compliance ensued. Eventually we detected a little movement behind the grasses. Hardly daring to lift our bins we waited. Was this our target? Ollie thought so. Painstakingly still we sat, so fearful of scaring the bird. Our patience was rewarded. It was a YELLOW-BREASTED CRAKE , a tiny five inch CRAKE with a black eye line and white superciliary. How privileged were we? Little is known about the status of this bird as there are only a handful of Costa Rican records. For a CRAKE we saw it very well indeed, as it quickly moved under cover. Phew we could breathe again as the boat engine started up, rocking somewhat as we did a “Crake Dance”.It was a lifer for Ollie. The second of the day.

Back in the van we celebrated our good fortune with Werthers Originals, which the Costa Ricans seem to love, and set off for our next destination, Sarapiqui in the humid lowlands.

Over the course of 15 days we travelled 2000km, stayed in seven specialist birding lodges, and saw 456 different species of birds, and experienced every type of walking and weather imaginable. Costa Rica is a very safe and welcoming bird filled (903 species) country. We travelled with Olivier Esquivel of Natural Discovery Costa Rica. A first class trip with possibly the best all round birding guide we have seen.




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