Member’s Trip Reports 2019

A Martini Hobby…      –  Tony Forster                                            March 2019

Anyone old enough to remember the Martini adverts from the 1970’s will know the catchphrase “Anytime, any place anywhere”. I just wonder if it was originally created for birding…? So it was that Tony Forster, Dolly Morley, Lucy Topsom and Glenn Collier caught a coach from Holt ( we all live there) to spend 5 days at Loch Auchray, Scotland with Lochs and Glens Coach Holidays. The trip was a bargain, with all travel, accommodation and full board, plus trips out daily, and with nightly entertainment including a piper and Scottish dancer who performed after the killing of the Haggis – , well it was Burns night when we were there! and all for less than £190. Birding at 60 miles an hour is best suited to spotting the bigger species, so it was Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, gulls and Corvids the easiest to see and the highlights of a relaxed journey to Scotland. On checking in the hotel manager confirmed Pine Marten visited the waste bins but other than that they weren’t really were not well liked. A walk before dinner at the back of the hotel was not very productive but we added Goldcrest, Wren and Robin and later Great Spotted Woodpecker. The itinerary was daily trips including Sterling Castle, Edinburgh, Loch Lomond and Pitlochry and it was during these journeys and stops that we added such delights as Whooper Swan, Hooded Crow and Raven from the coach. A short walk from the coach park at Pitlochry is the Pitlochry dam and fish ladder built to help 5,000 Salmon annually pass upstream and over the dam, peak time being April to August. The dam had small numbers of distant Goldeneye, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser. We did, however, watch locals feeding Goldeneye white bread in Callander, they were so close it was hard not to reach out and touch them. In all we saw 53 species but dipped on Pine Marten; we knew they were there because their footprints were clearly visible in the light snow, but we were either there too early or too late, I wonder if someone was tipping them off…? I appreciate coach trips conjure up a certain image in some peoples’ minds but it’s an easy way to travel, the food whilst not gourmet was pretty good, we met some really nice people and enjoyed 53 species including a couple of year ticks. Birding truly is a hobby you can enjoy any time, any place any where…

A Day Trip on Shetland!     By Tony Forster and Paul Riley  March 2019

Imagine looking out of your bedroom window and seeing a small owl looking at you – that’s just what happened to Jackie and Erik Moar in Tumblin, near Bixter, on mainland Shetland. Having no idea of the significance they posted a picture on Facebook that set off the first serious twitch of 2019.
In less than 24 hours the first of hundreds were in their garden keen to get a glimpse of the first Tengmalms Owl seen on Shetland since 1912. With restricted access and the residents to consider, it was unfortunate that some birders took to lamping, which undoubtedly didn’t help the birds roosting behaviour, or the neighbours mood, and the owl became irregular at the site as access was restricted even further.
We were planning a trip when the bird disappeared completely and as is such with rarities it was assumed it had moved on. If you’ve ever been to Shetland or are watching “Shetland” on TV you’ll know trees are rarer than people, but luckily a birder checking out the few trees rediscovered it roosting in Lea Gardens, a garden open to the public.
I was getting itchy feet now and wasn’t keen to wait any longer but due to others’ work commitments and getting time off it was just myself and Paul Riley who made the trip.
Neither of us fancied the drive so we let the train take the strain, the ferry port is literally a 5 minute walk from Aberdeen station and it was there we met John who made us both feel like wimps having driven from Surrey twice, on his own in a car with 200,000 miles on the clock, he is 77.
The ferry crossing, 12.5 hours, was smooth and 30 minutes after docking we had picked up our hire car for the day and were on our way. The gardens were easy to find, imagine an acre of trees in a landscape devoid of trees, an oasis begging us to visit.
It didn’t look good on arrival, no sign of the owl and an acre of trees to search. Spending an hour without luck in one area I passed a pond, teeming with mating frogs, on my way to another section and after perhaps 10 minutes I heard a faint whistle. Incredibly I had walked past that pond at least ten times but hadn’t checked the trees there as that was where most people we looking, and there it was just 10 foot above my head.
Whilst slightly obscured it still amazes me I and many others had walked past it so many times without seeing it.

Having taken our fill of this extremely rare owl we headed off to Loch Spiggie and caught up with a long staying American Pied-billed Grebe, 4 Whooper swans and Black-throated Diver.
A common Rosefinch seen daily from January 26th at Cunningsburgh was our next target. We were invited in by the house owner who turned out to be the former local photographer for the Shetland News and he regaled us with tales of the rarities he’d photographed including the 1983 Hawk Owl. Unfortunately, the Rosefinch wasn’t showing, so we headed back for another look at the owl which was in exactly the same spot before driving to Shetland Catch, a fish processing plant.
On arrival we learnt the Rosefinch was now showing but we were watching a Glaucous Gull briefly and didn’t have time to return. We thought it might help our cause if we had some bread and a quick trip to the garage and 8 bread rolls later we discovered that gulls in Shetland aren’t like gulls in Yarmouth. They ignored the bread until it was at least 100 metres from us but it did work eventually when this glorious Iceland Gull appeared alongside these incredibly close Long-tailed Ducks.

It was a 5 minute drive back to the ferry and a beer or two was enjoyed before we retired to our cabin only to discover in the morning we had missed the Aurora during the night – well you can’t have everything I guess. On docking, we said goodbye to John and wished him a safe journey to Surrey as we headed to the station.
It was an uneventful journey until our change at York when we couldn’t find Pauls bag containing his telescope, with just 12 minutes to catch our next train we barely had time to look but had no choice but to report it to the train manager and catch our connection. You can imagine how that had deflated our mood and whilst it was insured, it’s the hassle involved that Paul could do without.
Incredibly the bag was found at Taunton and for less than £10 was couriered home complete with his telescope, I advised Paul to buy a lottery ticket and haven’t seen him since

 

Cyprus Delight. By David Gibbons  March 2019

March 2019 Temperature 16 to 22 ? C.
Starting at Lighthouse Beach in Paphos at 7.00 am we soon got down to some birdwatching.
Out to sea small flocks of Garganey constantly flew by, low over the water. Common Sandpiper, Common Kingfisher, Cormorants, Rock Doves along with Yellowlegged Gulls on the shoreline.
The wide path around this headland was busy with walkers and joggers at this time in the morning, we walked towards the Point, sea on our right and the 6-foot-high wire fence of the Archaeological Park on our left with the sun shining.

On the fence were Corn Buntings with Meadow Pipits and Crested Larks everywhere. Skylarks, Stonechats, Greenfinch, White Wagtails, Northern Wheatears, Hooded Crows by the dozen, House Sparrows, Woodpigeons and Collared Doves.
Through the fence we spotted a flock of Black-headed Yellow Wagtails, a couple of Hoopoes, Sardinian Warblers with Barn Swallows and Common Swifts overhead.
At the point we met another couple of British birders and a Great Spotted Cuckoo appeared and also Isabelline Wheatear and Common Redshank near the shoreline on the rocks.
Through the fence we got good views of Red-throated Pipit and Nightingales were heard singing. Not a bad start to the day!
8.30 am, and not a second before, entry to the Archaeological Park was allowed, “Jobsworth” these officials. There were about 10 birders by this time, itching to get in.
Half-price for us OAP’s 2.25 Euros, so why complain?
What a spot for birding! Quiet amongst the ancient ruins and mosaics, shrubs, trees, paths, rocky scrub and bushes. Kestrel, Black Redstart, Serin, Chiffchaff, Goldfinch, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Hoopoe, Starling, Great Tit, Blackcap, Spanish Sparrow, Cyprus Wheatear, (1 of the 2 endemics on the island), Ruppell’s Warbler, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Song Thrush, House Martins and then the site got excited as a Masked Shrike appeared and perched for excellent views for 30 minutes or so.

Birding here in the first 2 weeks of May is best.

Next stop was Timi at the back of the airport to see Spur-winged Lapwing along with Black-eared Wheatear, Marsh Harrier and Zitting Cisticola.
Over to Mandira, down by the beach for lunch, still birders around checking on the day’s sightings when we got Tawny Pipit and Chaffinch.
The newest Tourist Attraction this year, due to above average rainfall in the winter, is the Asprokremmos Dam as it is overflowing!
Here we added Magpie, Little Owl, Ferruginous Duck and Laughing Dove to our list.
Up to Anarita Park, not really a Park as we know, but rolling grassland scrub with dirt tracks.

Chukar Partridge, Black Francolin, Linnet, Finsch’s Wheatear, Quail, Cetti’s Warbler, Lesser Kestrel, Woodlark and one species we missed earlier, in the Archaeological Park, Cretzschmar’s Bunting, what fantastic colouring! Blue, grey, rusty brown!
A little bit of time and patience we saw what we really came for, the second endemic, Cyprus Warbler!
66 species for the day! Time for a Keo back in Paphos by the sea!
Later in the week 3 Demoiselle Cranes flew over the hotel at 8.00 am.
A day trip across the Turkish Checkpoint into Northern Cyprus, to Famagusta to see the “Ghost Town” stretches of beach and hotels left to rack and ruin, we came across Coot, Little Egret and Jackdaw. On the trip back to Paphos we could easily see Greater Flamingo, from the coach, on the salt lakes at Larnaka.
A few days later a visit to the “Tomb of the Kings” the second Archaeological Site in Paphos, we added Purple Heron and flava sub-race of Yellow Wagtail, amongst the flock of Black-headed Yellow Wagtails. Later that day, back on the coastal path outside the site, 8 Black-crowned Night Heron were circulating before flying out to sea.

 

A Harpy Adventure. By Mary Walker    March 2019

 

Day 16 of our Costa Rica/Panama adventure found Keith & I and our fellow WVBS members Sue Gale & Lynda Vincent waking up with an almost Christmas Eve like excitement. The mysterious figure we “may” encounter was not Santa Claus, but Panama’s national bird, the HARPY EAGLE. Arguably the largest eagle on earth, and the most powerful in the Americas.

Attempting to travel light, some more effectively than others, (oops guilty), we headed south on the PanAmerican Highway 1, which stretches from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska and ends at Ushuaia, Argentina. There is an impenetrable gap in the middle, where the road disappears. This is at Yaviza in the province of Darien, which was where we left our vehicle.

Between Yaviza and Turbo in Colombia is a sprawling wilderness which is known as the Darien Gap. Enigmatic, remote and supposedly dangerous, it is rich with wildlife tantalising birders with the regional specialities and endemics.

Waiting on the slipway at Yaviza for our motorised dug-out canoe, local life went on around us. Children playing in the river, whilst mothers washed their pots, pans and clothes in the muddy water and others simply cleaned their teeth.

Our plans had changed at the last minute. Instead of staying in a hotel several hours away, we had been offered a unique opportunity to stay with the indigenous Embera community for 24 hours at Pijibusal, which was a 75-minute boat ride along the River Chucunaque.

Prompted by the Spanish in the late 1700’s, the Embera began migrating to Darien province in Panama from the Choco region in Colombia. By the 19th century, Darien was inhabited almost exclusively by Indigenous Embera along with the descendants of escaped African slaves, known as Darientas who settled alongside rivers. Since the 1960’s the majority of Embera have transitioned into settled communities, influenced by Western missionaries.

Off to Pijibusal we headed, but another treat first. An “impromptu” mooring en route and we wobbled up the bank, bins and camera at the ready. Our local guides had found a CRESTED EAGLE nest,apparently the rarest and hardest Eagle to see. Sure enough, a short while later we were enjoying excellent views of a four-month-old chick. It took a while to locate a parent, until the rare Dark Morph mother flew in and glared daggers at us from high in her tree. Time to leave them in peace.

Docking fairly close to Pijibusal, 17 of us including locals hitching a ride, together with sacks of rice, melons, water containers, and goodness knows what else, piled into the back of a pick-up truck. All the children were barefoot with one little boy proudly carrying his shoes to avoid spoiling them.

On arrival at the village we were greeted by the paint-chested chief and shown to our accommodation. A thatched room on stilts, completely open with five beds and five mosquito nets. The “matrimonial bed” was offered to Keith & I (i.e. the best), but was only inches larger than the single beds, so this was quickly donated to our guide Oli, who slept and gently snored all night long, whilst the rest of us being of a certain age, had numerous fights with our mozzie nets to answer the call of nature, with head lamps flashing into the complete darkness many feet below.

The magical call of the TINAMOU was wonderful to listen to in the dark, not so the cockerel crowing at 1.30 a.m., dogs barking, pigs grunting, and babies crying.

A quick coffee at 5.30a.m and our mission started. The HARPY EAGLE site was “30-45” mins walk, along the river. Oli told us to “focus” and not be tempted to stop and look at anything. We all nodded in agreement. Aim for the target!! Of course, almost two hours later, after numerous stops we reached the site. It’s impossible to walk past a single bird that is a lifer.

As it happened our timing could not have been better. The HARPY EAGLE chick had just been brought his breakfast – a Silky Anteater, by its mother. We were able to watch the most amazing spectacle, whilst eating our own breakfast of freshly made corn bread and cold omelette which was delivered on cue by the Embera chief. A breakfast fit for kings, as we toasted Mrs HARPY EAGLE and her baby.

Walking back, Darien just kept on delivering, MARBLED WOOD-QUAIL, CRIMSON-BELLIED and BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKERS, RED-THROATED CARACARA, GOLDEN-HEADED MANAKIN, BLACK OROPENDOLA, AMERICAN PYGMY KINGFISHER, WHITE-TAILED TROGON, LIMPKIN, and the most gorgeous AGAMI HERON.

Sadly, time to pack our bags and move on. What a tremendous last day it had been. Back in the canoe our eyes turned skywards as staggering numbers of raptors, mainly SWAINSONS and BROAD-WINGED HAWKS, winged their way North to the United States and Canada.

Only one more sight to see in Panama – the famous canal, before a shower and an attempt to look respectable for the long journey home to Norfolk.

One special bird missed, the DUSKY-BACKED JACAMAR. Can we possibly return?

We used Olivier Esquivel of Natural Discovery, Costa Rica to build and guide our trip. Our third time with him and in our view, we cannot recommend him highly enough.

Good accommodation, good food and drivers, and absolutely excellent guides and company, and of course, fantastic birds.

 

Monitoring birds at Pensthorpe by Paul Adams March 2019

On a bright sunny yet cold fresh morning, scanning the carpark quickly started our list. We walked in an anticlockwise route around the park, visiting the new wetland hide and farmland hides first. Raptors were about ; Marsh harriers x2 females, a Kestrel hovering and a majestic Red kite leisurely drifting over.
An unexpected flock of 18 House Martins feeding above the lake, very early summer arrivals by about 3-4 weeks, positive ID by the white rump. Moving through the woodland, plenty of birdsong; Blackcap, Chiffchaff have arrived and singing. Also a few winter migrants still hanging on, including 18 Redwing – still a joy to see.
The scrape with low water levels was ideal for waders; Avocets, a pair of Redshank, Green Sandpiper briefly and 2 Snipe, a pair of Little Ringed Plovers, one with unusual light colouring on its back and wings (this bird, or one similar, has visited for the last couple of years). Amongst the masses of gulls was a pair of Mediterranean gulls displaying, an Egyptian goose with 6 goslings , a Little Egret and a handsome male Reed bunting at close quarters to the hide.
Walking back in the rain we were cheered by the explosive song of a Cettis Warbler, but try finding the singing bird!
Just a small snap-shot of an enjoyable day with a full list of 64 species with some surprises , what a joy birdwatching is! Peace of mind.

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