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.

 

A Spanish Adventure – 1st – 7th May 2019

The Return of the Inglorious Bustards : Keith Walker

Last year, following a presentation by Jake Gearty, we ran a club trip called “Two Continents” which went to Tarifa, Spain, and Morocco. This was enjoyed by all and IB extended an invitation to everyone who showed an active interest in last year’s holiday to join them for a further trip, this time to Cota Donana and Extremadura. We had hoped to extend this to other WVBS members, but the 100% take up left no spaces to fill. Here are some reflections on this year’s adventure :-

Day 1 Seville to Coto Donana : Mary Walker

As our guides, Simon & Jake, juggled cases into the minibuses outside our Ibis hotel in Seville, a debate was emerging: I for one had fallen at the first hurdle. Were we watching Common or Pallid Swifts above us? Guide books out. COMMON SWIFT – “abundant, fly rapidly, with long pointed scythe like wings”. Yep can definitely see them, but hang on a minute. PALLID SWIFT – “common, behaviour and habitat same as Common Swift. VERY hard to tell apart. Black eye and dark eye-mask standing out against a paler head in Pallid, larger and more diffuse white throat, paler brown upper wing and a slightly blunter wing tip”. Yep, can see them as well. Simon confirmed we were watching both species. Phew and they fly so fast! The MONK PARAKEETS were a lot easier to identify.

We drove through the cultivated lowlands of Andalucia, where the hot and sunny climate makes it a major fruit growing area. Over the great Guadalquivir River and into the Coto Donana National Park – one of the finest wetlands in Europe, made up of Stone Pine woodland, open heathland and sand dunes.

We were based in El Rocio, a small, traditional and quirky village, nestled on the edge of wild lagoons and marshes and looking like a film set from a spaghetti western – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The 21st century hasn’t quite arrived, white painted houses with ornate balconies, sandy roads with no markings, no traffic lights. Just horses everywhere that can be tied up at the rails outside the bars.

El Rocio hosts Spain’s largest religious festival every Pentecost (Whit Sunday), when approximately a million pilgrims converge on the town. We found ourselves a shady spot on the grass close to the Francisco Bernis Ornithological Centre, one of the best windows in Europe for birdwatching.

Everyone wondered about jotting down their own day lists. BEE-EATERS on the wire, HOOPOE under the tree, SPOONBILLS & GREATER FLAMINGOES foraging. The Terns were more difficult as we watched them picking insects from the water’s surface. Eventually we were all pretty confident we had WHISKERED & BLACK TERNS – many of them. COLLARED PRATINCOLES flew in a tight flock above our heads. Waders everywhere we looked.

We enjoyed the first of many picnic lunches, produced from the back of the van, all local stuff, bread and local farm cheese, olives, cured meats, fruit and salad, all washed down with Spanish wine. We weren’t shy. No leftovers to worry about.

Tummies content, we strolled alongside the lagoon looking for the PENDULINE TITS. Jake could hear them calling, but no luck there. I did however find a warbler that turned out to be an ISABELLINE WARBLER, and of course it refused to show itself again, darting about in the canopy.

Time to book into our hotel, Palacio Donana for a quick wash and brush up before dinner of amongst other things Espinacas con Garbanzos, a traditional starter of Spinach, Garlic and Chick Peas. A recipe to be repeated in Norwich!

On advice from our wine expert member, we also tasted the local sherry Manzanilla La Gitana – made just a few miles away in the costal town of San Lucar De Barrameda. That too was superb.

An excellent day all round and who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Day 2 An Iberian Lynx Safari : David Gibbons
7.00 am down for breakfast and another sunny day with the temperature rising. We were met outside the hotel by Juan Manuel and his 15 seater 4×4 mini-bus at 8.00am.
Entering the Donana Natural Parque, on the lookout for a Lynx, but birding as we went. One track was cordoned off to protect a mother with cub from the likes of us. The forest was quite dense to start with and we soon came across Red Deer and some got a glimpse of Wild Boar but no Lynx .Black Kite, Goldfinch, Red-legged Partridge, White Stork, Iberian Grey Shrike were easily spotted.

Our first stop was in an open grassland area and Cattle Egret (on Red Deer) Red-rumped Swallow, Cuckoo, Sardinian Warbler, heard but not seen to our frustration.
Bee-eater, Booted Eagle, Spoonbill, Griffon Vulture, Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Hoopoe, Shorttoed Eagle and so it went on.
Our second stop was on private land, Coto de Rey, within the Parque, Lesser Kestrel, Spanish Sparrow, Woodchat Shrike. It was now trying to get good views of Spanish Sparrows we came across a Booted Eagle on her nest.
The third stop, and still no Lynx, in an area of wetland, we had Purple Heron, 6 Spoonbills, Great White Egret, Booted Eagles overhead, more White Storks and Bee-eaters, Zitting Cisticola, etc.
On leaving the Parque we had excellent views of 5 Hoopoes.
So, no Lynx and back to the hotel, now just past midday for coffee in the courtyard.
Picnic lunch by the Tourist Office overlooking the wetlands of the town.
Siesta time for some but a walk into the town along the promenade revealed Great Reed Warblers, Little Bittern, Greater Flamingos and the list went on.

4.30 pm back on the 15 seater and into the Parque again, the sighting of the day arrived a Western Reef Heron with superb close-up views, Short-toed and Crested Larks, Stone Curlews, Savi’s Warbler, Great Crested Grebes, Stonechat, Waxbills, Squacco Herons, Spotted Flycatchers, dozens of Eagles, Purple Swamphens, White Storks.
Now nearly 7.30 pm the Visitor Centre up the road, still open, time for a cold beer which did hit the spot!!
9.00 pm time for dinner at Toruno Restaurant a chilled Manzanilla as an aperitif!

Day 3 Donana : Lynda Vincent

The wonderful wet environment of Donana, and the river Guadalquivira meant we had to drive for three hours, via Seville to reach the other side of the reserve. On a much needed coffee stop, especially for the drivers, since we were delayed by a traffic jam, some of the group had excellent views of a Montague’s Harrier.

After driving through Sanlucar de Barrameda, a famous sherry town, we visited the saltpans of Salina de Bonanza which gave us views of so many waders. Hundreds of Curlew sandpipers in breeding plumage, a sight we rarely have! The salt pans had varying amount of water/salt in them so the numbers of birds on the edge of each pan varied. On the lagoon, our main stop was by a sluice where Little and Black Terns swooping over and around our heads were magical. Trying to take their photo though was a challenge and I failed as they moved so fast. Further out, a pair of Slender-billed Gulls sat and waited for us to fully appreciate their elegance. Of course, there were many Greater Flamingos and Black- winged Stilts on the lagoon. The usual excellent picnic of local produce was enjoyed here, watched over by Yellow-legged Gulls. As the tide was receding, Long-clawed Crabs scrambled up the bank. Returning to the town past the saltpans, a single Curlew Sandpiper was very close to the track and cooperated whilst those people in the front bus at least, could take close-up photos. The pools also gave good views of Little Stints, Dunlin and Ringed and Kentish Plovers.

The next stop was the Algaida lagoon, comparatively small, but full of birds. The highlight was seeing several White-headed Ducks and an elusive Black-necked Grebe. In a wooded area nearby,
Some saw a Pied Flycatcher. Simon then took us to two small lagoons looking for a particular species we hadn’t seen so far. We clambered in and out of the buses, but finally we did find the target, a Red- knobbed Coot! the only one on the trip. Hiding in the bushes at the edge, a baby Black-crowned Night Heron, visibility hindered by swaying branches as the wind had got up a little. Still a sunny warm day though, so at the beginning of the return trip we stopped for ice creams.
The drive back to El Rocio was quicker, arriving back at the hotel 12 hours after we left, but still in time for a sherry and a normal Spanish time dinner. There was even time to pack up our kit for the next part of the trip.

Day 5 : Alwyn and Carole Jackson
We spent the day exploring the Magasca Special Protection Area. This is an area of pseudosteppe with extensive grassland surrounded by a multifunctional type of pastureland called Dehesa. The pastureland may be private or owned by the municipality. It is used primarily for grazing but also to produce a variety of products like wild game, mushrooms, honey, cork, firewood, the raising of the Spanish fighting bull and the black Iberian pig.
We cruised slowly along the back roads stopping and scanning, looking for the bird species that inhabit this area of high ornithological value. We enjoyed good views of Thekla, Crested, Calandra and Short-toed Larks, Spanish Sparrows, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, European Bee-eaters, Hoopoes, Great Bustards, Spanish Imperial and Short-toed Eagles, Cinereous (Black) Vultures, Lesser Kestrels, European Rollers, Red-rumped Swallows, Corn Buntings, White Storks and Whinchat.
Some other memories of the day:-
During one stop when we were appreciating the finer points of Lesser Kestrel identification in flight we were brought down to earth by Kath announcing that Norwich City had beaten Aston Villa 2-1, that Sheffield United had drawn their game so

Norwich were Champions! There was a brief period of celebration before we returned to the Lesser Kestrels flying over the Spanish Plains.
At another stop our guide Simon posed the question, “What is the connection between a Great Bustard and Ryanair?” The answer – “A Great Bustard weighs 16kg which is the same as Ryanair’s baggage allowance!”
During the day those of us travelling with our guide Jake were treated to the strains of Philip Bailey singing “Easy Lover”, Mathew Wilder’s “Break My Stride” and Boys Meets Girl performing “Waiting for a Star to Fall” as well as other well-known ditties.

At one spot Roller nest boxes had been attached to each telegraph pole adjacent to the road. At the first post we stopped and Jake took some photos of a Roller. We moved on and stopped at the next post and Jake took some photos of a Roller. We move on, stopped at the next post and Jake took some photos of a Roller. We moved on, saw a Roller on a speed sign so stopped and Jake took some photos of the Roller. We moved on, saw a Roller on a telegraph post so we stopped and Jake took some photos of the Roller. The Roller flew to the next telegraph post so we moved on then stopped so Jake could take even more photos. Eventually Jake was satisfied that he had enough photos of European Rollers so we continued on our way.
We returned to our hotel having had a superb day exploring this very special area.

Day 6: Liz Gibson
After breakfast featuring the ever-popular gazpacho and orange cake, we drove to the town of Trujillo for a spot of urban birding. The medieval town is the birthplace of conquistador, Francisco Pizarro and more recently one of the many locations for Game of Thrones – the castle masquerading as Casterly Rock, ancestral stronghold of House Lannister. Cath and I were impressed, the others -decidedly non-plussed.
While Simon re-stocked the picnic hamper at a nearby supermercado we birded The Parque de San Lazaro (Pool of Dreams). A small park in need of some TLC but obviously well used by residents of all ages – joggers, dog walkers and Trujillo’s senior women’s walking group. The lake hosted, among others, Black-winged Stilt, Ringed Plover and numerous Coot. We heard, but didn’t see, a Golden Oriole despite David’s best efforts.
We headed towards Monfragüe National Park, named Mons Fragorum (Fragmented Rock) by the Romans, a half hour drive from Trujillo. In 1988 the European Union designated Monfragüe a Special Protection Area (SPA) for bird life.
Passing through the village of Torrej?n el Rubio and climbing through magnificent scenery of crags and rocks, we saw groups of Iberian Black Pigs drinking at water holes, circling Red Kite, lycra clad cyclists and a dead Egyptian Mongoose – Extremaduran roadkill.
As we gained altitude, Cinereous (aka Black, Monk or Eurasian Vulture but “Angel of the North” to me) and Griffon Vulture kettled overhead, together with Black Stork and Crag Martin. Also, a shocking roadside sighting of Hillary and partner last spotted 24hrs previously at an acrimonious coffee break!

Stopping at a popular viewpoint Simon shared his scope with a keen young Spanish birder and her family – inspiring the next generation!
In dire need of caffeine, we decamped to the quaint hamlet of Villarreal de San Carlos. Previously deserted, thanks to EU funding it was rebuilt for walkers and birdwatchers – vital for the economy of Extremadura. Sitting under the canopy we were entertained by nesting Swallow swooping above our heads with food for their offspring.
Back on the minibuses again, we travelled along winding roads edged with acres of dense Gum Cistus (Rockrose), Olive trees, Holm and Cork Oaks. A cry of “Dartford Warbler!” brought us to a standstill and the group disembarked to search for the elusive bird – sadly unsuccessfully.
Lunch break at a busy picnic area with the added bonus of Egyptian Vulture (2) and Black-eared Wheatear followed by numerous group photos – Simon becoming more and more anxious. Hurriedly herding us onto the buses we drove to a craggy viewpoint and soon discovered the reason for his discomfort. Scopes and bins adjusted just in time for the arrival of a Spanish Imperial Eagle! At 3.30 precisely every afternoon it lands on a rocky outcrop and stays for exactly 1 hour, lording it over the groups of Griffon Vulture below. Eagle-eyed (!) Janet also spotted a large male Wild Boar grubbing amongst the steep sided cliff – more mountain goat than pig.

Afternoon tea (Lemon Fantas) at Hotel Rural, Puerta de Monfragüe where Mary spotted a beautiful Ocellated Lizard. Jake meanwhile led a route march in search of a Melodious Warbler.
The return journey took us through plains of nesting white storks to our temporary home – Hotel El Labriego in the sleepy village of Plasenzuela. Another fun-packed day with the WVBS gang and a couple of Bustards.
http://*https://www.birdinginextremadura.com/viajar/birding/en/extremaduraaves/detalles/e39492ca-df66-11e3-9129-e41f13b8b5fa/

Some Reflections : Cath Robinson
Those of you who have been to Cota Donana National Park and the roads around the San Jose Valverde visitor centre will understand when I say that I’ve rarely seen so much wildlife packed into a relatively small area. If this was anyone’s first introduction to birdwatching then they would be doomed to disappointment while normal birding in the UK! After having seen the odd Purple Swamphen at the marismas by El Rocio, we saw one then two then four and then about 50 all grouped together in the marshes. We stopped by a bridge to look out over the reeds and water. An extremely loud Great Reed Warbler was singing from a post just in front of us. Staring at it through the foreground reeds I became aware of an unexpected movement in the reeds just in front. Then I thought I glimpsed some feathers in the reeds. Looking closely I saw an eye. Then a neck. Then this suggestion of a bird started to climb the reeds and then a female Little Bittern decided that we were too close for comfort (about 6ft) and took off. Amazing. And around the corner Purple Herons and Squacco Herons were lining up to be seen: there must have been at least 8 Squacco Herons in a patch of marshes 30 yards long and we didn’t even get out of the bus!

We had stopped for a picnic at an idyllic birdwatching stop. Alpine swifts were soaring from their nesting sites at the top of a dam: the valley below sported 3 Marsh Harriers while the waters in the reservoir brought us our first Cormorants, Gull-Billed Terns and Black Headed Gulls. And the huge slab of rock emerging out of the plains was successfully scanned for Griffon Vultures, Rock Buntings and Blue Rock Thrushes which took their chances with rock climbers.

But while we were wandering round trying to find more Rock Thrushes, Alan and I spotted one on the skyline, silhouetted. And then Alan saw another bird flying off but with a white rump to disappear into the rocks. Clearly not a Blue Rock Thrush. Mary and I were then scanning the other side of the rock and saw a black silhouette again thinking Rock Thrush but then it flew and we both had a great view of the rump of a Black Wheatear with its black T on a white background. Which just made me think that thrush like birds on rocks in silhouette can be confusing. And when later we saw Blue Rock Thrush in the sun I wondered how we could ever have been confused at all.

And just a word for the Corn Bunting. It was good to see Great Bustard and Little Bustard but it was wonderful to see so many Corn Buntings that you almost expected to see them on every wire on every field. We had what has become our annual talk on the differences between Thekla’s Lark and Crested Lark (still tricky) and became familiar with Callandra Lark with its giveaway trailing white wing edge. All very satisfying, but Corn Buntings rattling their keys never failed to please and made me wonder what British fields and countryside once were like and maybe, just maybe, could be again with different farming practices and less pressure on land.

On Rarity and Abundance : Alan Hughes
I have been lucky enough to go on birding trips to Europe several times over the years, and 2 features of these stand out in my mind, and could be summarised as: –

1. Rarity. I wouldn’t consider myself as a “Twitcher” (seems to me its often a case of wrong bird, wrong place, wrong time and its probably going to die…), but like all birders, I am always thrilled to see a rare bird. Often, these species are only hanging on by the skin of their beaks, some surviving largely due to the tremendous efforts and dedication of gifted conservationists. Even better if these birds are beautiful as well! 2. Abundance. On balance, a profusion of birds (sometimes lots of different species, sometimes the same) is even more exciting to me. What a thrill to see vast numbers of raptors migrating across the Gibraltar Straits or along the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, how fantastic are the wildflower meadows with huge numbers of butterflies and birds in the Rhodope Mountains. But this also makes me sad, as this is what we have lost in the UK. We are good (and getting better) at conserving endangered species in especially selected areas (i.e. reserves), but until you are confronted by a profusion of wild species in their natural settings, it is easy to forget what we have lost at home. Our recent trip to Spain with Inglorious Bustards was a perfect illustration of these features, and I will try to explain what I mean with an account of 2 days of our holiday: –
Day 4
This was our day to move locations from the brilliant if quirky El Rocio in Coto Donana to Extramadura, but before we left, our guides, Simon and Jake, had some shopping to do for another magnificent picnic lunch, so they gave us an hour of “free time” which we spent on the boardwalk around the edge of the town looking out across the Madre de Marismas lagoon. The sight of this had nearly overwhelmed me on my first day here – so many exotic, exciting wetland birds from Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, all very much on show in large numbers, to Little Bittern, Black Tern, Purple Swamp hen, Great Reed Warbler, requiring a little more work, but seen by everyone in the group – but where to look first?! So, it was good to have some “revision time” to check out the birds we had seen on previous days but in a calmer, more orderly fashion. It was also good to say “goodbye” to the more common species – Spotless Starlings and House Sparrows whose constant chattering we woke up to each morning, and the busy flock of House Martins that inhabited the main street.

On the way to our new home in Extremadura, we stopped for lunch alongside the dam of a reservoir, and this houses the largest colony of Alpine Swifts in the World – what a brilliant site! So exciting, in fact, that one of our guides nearly broke his neck trying to photograph them! There were also some scarcer species here to admire – Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting, and the impossibly huge Cinereous Vulture – Europe’s largest raptor.
What a great day – but it was nice to arrive at our hotel in Placenzuela to find that the Spotless Starlings, House Sparrows and Red rumped Swallows, had all followed us there!

Day 7
Simon had offered us a pre-breakfast trip to look for some rarities (I suspect guides always feel under some pressure to find these) and we were all eager to take him up on this (at least, all but one who will remain nameless, Janet!). So, we ventured back to the plains of Santa Marta de Magasca as the sun rose to give us some stunning skies. This was another chance to see the Great Bustards that we had seen on Day 5 – magnificent, ridiculous males that strutted along the skyline proclaiming “How handsome am I? Look everyone!”: In the words of the Joyce Grenfell ditty – “as stately as a galleon”. Just wait until the Me-Too movement hits them! Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew past in small groups. And then Little Bustards (our main target) – these are now drastically falling in numbers (no-one seems to know why) so we were all delighted to see a pair fly past, and then the male returned to spend the next hour or so displaying and calling out his decidedly underwhelming “wet fart” call. I think he so wanted to grow up to be a Great Bustard! What a privilege to see him (and to hear his rival calling back from very close but in an invisible location to us).
Lunch was in an overgrown park on the outskirts of a nearby town, as Simon knew of another scarce bird that was nesting there – a Long-eared Owl. We located one parent bird thanks to a trio of Eurasian Magpies that were mobbing it, and we also found a “branched” fledgling in a nearby tree. Fabulous birds!
But what of Abundance on day 7? Well, the vast numbers of Griffon Vultures and Black Kites kettling over suspected carcases or afterbirths from local cattle were impressive. The sublimely beautiful Lesser Kestrels that colonise the Moorish hilltop town of Trujillo (a location from Game of Thrones), and give this town a unique protection zone status, I could have watched all day. But most of all, I was affected by the abundant insect life on the plains – walk through the long grass and crickets and grasshoppers are pinging away in all directions, seemingly one for every blade of grass. Small wonder, then, that Spain has such riches of bird life, and so sad that in the UK we have lost so much of our wildlife.

It was a great trip in all ways: Thanks to Simon and Jake at Inglorious Bustards, and to Keith for organising this on our behalf.

WVBS Northumberland Trip 2019
13th -17th June 2019 Norfolk to Northumberland (and a few go a bit further north!)

REPORT COMPILED BY LIN PATEMAN

A gossip of puffins?
Setting up a group trip……..
After the initial meeting in March to discuss another members’ weekend, it was agreed to revisit Northumberland in the summer. A dinner date at the welcoming Swan Inn at Ringland secured the itinerary, car share was arranged, route planned and our accommodation bookings confirmed. Getting there……. Thursday 13th June. Some members were considering going via Flamborough Head for some recent rares but due to the remains of the torrential rains and storms of recent days, there were none left to find! Eleven of us set off and met up en-route as planned. At RSPB Fairburn Ings, Castleford, W. Yorks; we made the first start with refreshments from the car boot café by the café maids, in the sunshine. Whilst some were eagerly watching speckled wood, red admiral and painted lady butterflies or photographing the lone bee-orchid found growing in the car park. An old industrial site, this reserve is now an important site for breeding and wintering wildfowl. There are great family facilities and the place was alive with coach loads of school children whilst we were there. From the car park we enjoyed tree sparrows at the busy feeders, though sadly no willow tits, which used to breed here and linnet, flyover grey heron, carrion crow, garden warbler, greenfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch and nuthatch. Taking our time exploring the reserve we saw little egret, wood pigeon, great tit, blue tit, dunnock, with kingfisher, little grebe and green woodpecker feeding well at the first lake. We quickly added great spotted woodpecker, jackdaw, coot, cormorant, mistle thrush, tufted duck, moorhen and 2 little ringed plovers before moving on into wooded habitat. Some of the group had a fabulous lesson by Glenn, on willow warbler behaviour, as we listened and watched adults feeding young in the trees overhead. As we ambled on, we added reed warbler, golden plover, lapwing, reed bunting, magpie, kestrel, house martin, yellowhammer, swift, black-headed gull, common tern, blackbird, robin, blackcap, chiffchaff. Further round at the next water body there was Canada goose, avocet, mute swan, pochard, great crested grebe, swallow, black necked grebe, wigeon, pheasant, shelduck, pied wagtail, shoveler, skylark and sedge warbler. As the wind picked up on the more open areas of the reserve, elusive bearded tit for some in the reed beds and Phil & Alan P. found a ruddy shelduck, dunlin and black-tailed godwit. Searching in the open as the rains followed us, we finally managed to get everyone on the visiting cattle egret that had just returned this very day; to make 60 species before heading North. The group met up in Amble, our base for the trip, on the Northumberland Heritage Coast, 9 miles S.E. of Alnwick. There is a friendly and welcoming feel to this small community and after checking into our individual accommodations, we all enjoyed the fresh seafood and local hospitality at the Old Boat House restaurant on the harbour. Personally, I enjoyed a full seafood chowder in a massive casserole with the freshest mussels, which on arrival looked as though it would serve four! We enjoyed checking the day’s bird list and sharing highlights and then with car shares arranged for the morning, we retired to our accommodations. Friday 14th June. After a leisurely breakfast, we had a late meet at Druridge Bay Country Park in torrential rains, badly timed as they were making their way along the East Coast behind us, some of our group mistakenly headed further up the bay; if only we had known how close we were to the Baikal teal, more on that in a later report! We soldiered on through mixed habitat, finding meadow pipit, chaffinch, jackdaw, oystercatchers, carrion crow, wood pigeon, house sparrow, reed warbler, coal tit, great tit, reed bunting and goldfinch. On to the dunes and a bit of sea-watching where we added red-throated diver, guillemot, kittiwake, common tern, eider duck, stonechat, dunnock and whitethroat. Some lingered along the roadside hedges to observe an adult whitethroat carrying away a fecal sac and then hunting for food, oblivious of its audience.
A bit washed out, we returned to the car boot café for coffee and scones to revive us. On receiving the late news that our lunchtime boat to Coquet Island had been cancelled due to the extreme weather conditions and that we had to call Dave back tomorrow; we quickly formed a plan B. We agreed to meet up at NWT Hauxley reserve to discuss plan C !
Part of a former open-cast mine which was landscaped to produce a lake with islands in 1983, the reserve has recently been extended and with a new eco-friendly Wildlife Discovery Centre, lovingly constructed by an army of dedicated volunteers. It is a straw-bale building and has a number of other highly innovative green features and the facilities were a welcome dry space with amazing staff; so friendly and enthusiastic. They gave us a maps and tips for here and nearby reserves where cuckoos and nesting marsh harriers were to be found and told us to look out for Brian and Michael, bird ringers at the hides. Around the reserve we saw swift, turnstone, redshank, Canada goose, gadwall, coot, graylag goose, oystercatcher, common tern, sandwich tern, arctic tern, moorhen, pheasant, starling, mute swan, grey heron, mallard duck, great black-backed gull and reed warbler. There was great excitement when we were called back to the hides to see a grasshopper warbler in the hand, being rung and measured; it was a first for many years for them!
We all made the most of our time here, particularly studying the birds at the feeders: tree sparrow, goldfinch, bullfinch, starling, jackdaw, and robin. When the sun came out for lunch at the picnic benches; we also enjoyed chatting to local volunteers and visitors,along with more coffee, tea and cake. We also saw good numbers of both common blue and painted lady butterflies. The excitement was soon added to when the call went up from Phil, to tell Laura to hurry to the feeders in the car park nearby; another lifer, in a red squirrel; which we had not realized were to be found here.
It was time to move a couple of miles further along the coast to NWT East Chevington; a large reserve with developing wildlife interest, comprising two large lakes with fringing reedbeds, grassland and recently planted woodland. We had a great walk in warm sunshine around this reserve and were so lucky to find a perched grasshopper warbler in full song, giving excellent scoping and photo opportunities for all. Here we saw reed bunting, meadow pipit, little grebe, mute swan, tufted duck, magpie carrying a frog, breeding marsh harrier, greylag goose, whitethroat and sedge warbler. The highlight, from the metal container “hotbox hide” (put here due to some vandalism to other lesser materials); was excellent views of six red-breasted mergansers.
We retired to our accommodations, to meet later at Lin’s mobile gin bar; followed by an excellent dinner at The Amble Inn.

Saturday 15th June.

Driving through the Northumberland National Park towards the stunning Cheviot Hills to arrive at the beautiful Harthope Valley, we had fun inching the vehicles past a road repair lorry on the steep and flooded road down to Carey Burn. There was red kite, sparrowhawk and common buzzard soaring high above the valley as we opened the car boot café to share Eileen’s amazing flapjacks and donated fruit cake. Around the bridge in excellent sunshine we searched for dippers and watched grey wagtails toing and froing from a nest in the wall above the water. We looked and listened, unsuccessfully for redstarts in the trees alongside the stream, although some were lucky to catch a fly-by cuckoo and a red squirrel. Here you are truly in the wild as you follow the clear, fast flowing water of the burn carving through the valley and as we walked along the river bank, scanning for waders, we found two common sandpipers in exactly the same spot as with our previous group, some six years ago. Not everyone managed to get on a dipper flying away from us along the burn carrying food. Walking onwards and upwards towards Northumberland National Park’s highest hill; we saw chiffchaff, red-legged partridge, robin, lapwing, pied wagtail, chaffinch, song thrush, house martin and swallow around the farm buildings. Next we added willow warbler, wren taking food into a tiny hole, garden warbler, long-tailed tits and treecreeper. There was a flock of twenty+ siskins whizzing around the tree tops, calling in their lively chatter. At the next farm settlement, in a very deserted place to live high up the valley; the girls spotted spotted flycatchers! Great views of one a nest in the stone below the gutter, others hurrying back and forth with food. Onwards and upwards, higher up the valley (we didn’t choose to do the full 9-mile trek to the summit) we at last located whinchat, stonechat and meadow pipit. Sheila found our two ring ouzels mobbing a sparrowhawk! There was kestrel, common buzzard, song thrush and hares here too. To add to the excitement, Phil found two adders basking. We searched unsuccessfully for tree pipit but Phil finally got us all on red grouse and some saw them with young. It was an excellent site to take our time and get everyone on the birds and wildlife we did see. At the end of the walk, we relaxed in the sunshine at the grass parking area with the car boot café open and chocolate brownies, apple cake, cherry and almond cakes and more cake! After an evening walk around Amble and exploring the harbour we met for very good fish and chips in the café on the harbour and the usual team briefing.

Sunday 16th June.

Another warm and dry day; this morning we visited Beadnell Bay and Newton Pools, along the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The list here included grey heron, yellowhammer, house sparrow, house martin, oystercatchers, shelduck family, goldfinch, carrion crow, jackdaw, meadow pipit, starling, linnet, reed bunting, skylark and gadwall with nine ducklings. There was a fabulous list of butterflies too, with wall brown, small copper, speckled wood, painted ladies galore and red admiral. At the Pools we found Canada goose, little grebe, teal, coot, heron, shoveler, sedge warbler, reed bunting, reed warbler, blackbird, meadow pipit, swallow, swift, mute swan, greylag goose, water rail, yellowhammer, stonechat, wren, great tit, willow warbler and rook.
It was time to set off to Seahouses near Bamburgh Castle, about forty minutes drive north, along the coast for an earlier than planned boat trip to see The Farne Islands. The seaside town was alive with visitors with many around the harbour awaiting boat departures. Parking was at a premium and on our return, we had a fun lesson with a retired fireman friend on manually moving a motor vehicle blocking us in! We checked in with Billy Shiels Boat trips and the trip started with a visit to Staple Island, where the sea and sky were alive with some of the 55,000 guillemots and 44,000 puffins recorded this year by the hard-working wardens. We also saw eider duck, gannet, shag, razorbill, sandwich tern, great black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull, cormorant, black headed gull, fulmar and swallow. The boat sailed around Longstone and Brownsman Island of Grace Darling fame and a large breeding grey seal colony; then we were landed at Inner Farne for one of the most amazing wildlife experiences in Great Britain. The sight and sound that greets you as you walk up the gangway is breathtaking, with thousands of tiny arctic terns protecting their nests and young; flying back and forth with food from the sea. Stunning birds with blood red bills and legs.
“You must have a hat they said” and not just to avoid the poo spray but the incessant pecking of tiny sharp bills attacking you! These fierce little creatures, pierce your fingers as you raise your hands for protection. It is fantastic sight to be able to share their home and see the breeding success. A puffin wandered into the packed tern breeding area and to save itself from the attacks, waddled into the shop to hide behind some deliveries. A warden had to rescue it and release it further along the boardwalk, nearer to the puffins’ breeding areas that seemed to be mostly on the other side of the island. We added song thrush, blackbird, pied wagtail, house sparrow, carrion crow, rock pipit, kestrel, Canada goose, mute swan, bar-tailed godwit, moorhen, grey heron and mallard. The cliffs were full of breeding guillemots, razorbills and shags and it was fun trying to photograph the bridled guillemots. We recorded a shag with a blue leg ring and white digits BJR; it appears to be part of a Scottish ringing project and we have informed them. Time on the island was over all too quickly and we were blessed with bright sunny skies and calm seas.
On the way back to Amble, some stopped to enjoy the sunset views along the estuary where the river Coquet flows out to Warkworth harbour before meeting the North Sea. We had excellent views of ringed plover, redshank, red-breasted merganser, pheasant, starling, eider, mute swan, common tern, avocet, sand martin, feral pigeon, shelduck, curlew and whimbrel. Dragging ourselves away, it was time to head back to base for drinks and the final evening dinner and day’s review. Sharing thanks to each and every one of the group: Eileen, Laura, Lucy & Glenn, Sheila & Alan P., Martin, Alan H., Eric, Phil & Lin; for making it such an enjoyable trip.

Monday 17th June.
Saying goodbyes and departing after breakfast; most of the group headed back to Norfolk and four of us had decided to stay on for a few extra days and went off to explore Harwood Forest. This is a 3,527 hectares (8,720 acres) conifer plantation located to the south of Rothbury and managed by the Forestry Commission. It was quiet for birds with only one flyover unidentified raptor on the long walk up the hills but we on the descent through mixed habitat we saw redstart, collared dove, meadow pipit, stonechat, swift, kestrel, long tailed tits, blackcap, whitethroat, lesser redpoll, willow warbler and two crossbills. The settled weather enabled Dave Grey at Puffin cruises to put on six extra boats to make up for the all the cancellations of the previous week; although still too windy to go around the island. We were fortunate to go out to Coquet Island to see the roseate terns breeding there and protected by RSPB wardens. Here we also saw puffin, guillemot, black headed gull, common tern, sandwich, arctic tern, gannet, fulmar, rock pipit and oystercatcher. We chatted to the friendly and informative crew and asked about the electric fence around some of the numbered terns’ nest holes on the bank. A predator had been wreaking havoc and raiding the burrows, eating up to two puffin chicks a night! It seems a large dog otter was seen swimming over in the winter and has yet to be persuaded to leave. The boatmen were more than keen to set-up a covert operation to trap and remove the creature, however the RSPB had other ideas. Wildlife huh! Driving on to Lindisfarne; the girls secured a b&b in nearby Belford for the night and the tide was perfect for the causeway over to Holy Island. A sunlit evening exploring the castle shores and the spiritual atmosphere of the Priory ruins gave us swallow, house martin, house sparrow, starling, skylark, lapwing, meadow pipit, reed bunting, carrion crow, blackbird, sparrowhawk, linnet, goldfinch, collared dove, jackdaw, song thrush, bar-tailed godwits, grey plover, eider, black-headed gulls, ringed plover, common terns, cormorant, sedge warbler, swift, little egret, mute swan, puffin and rock pipit. A large group of grey seals were hauled out on the shore below the Priory and the haunting bark of the young seal pups echoed all around us competing with the calls of reed bunting, linnets and goldfinches and the evening song of thrush and screams of swift overhead.
We stayed until it was too late to find an eatery but there was still cake in the car boot café!

Tuesday 18th June.
We headed up to St Abb’s Head in the Scottish Borders, our destination to explore this breathtaking headland with dramatic cliffs. The sun was hot and we saw many small copper, painted lady, small white, red admiral, peacock and green-veined white butterflies as we left the “not yet open” visitor centre and walked along the rough coastal path. The views up here are beyond spectacular, you can see Bass Rock and the diving gannets! We saw sparrowhawk, pied wagtail, house sparrow, goldfinch, great tit, blue tit, jackdaw, carrion crow, wood pigeon, swallow, house martin, robin, herring gull, meadow pipit, pheasant, cormorant, sedge warbler, linnet, fulmar, guillemot, razorbill, rook and grey wagtail. It was great to watch a shag feeding a large chick in the nest. We scanned the crags for signs of the nesting peregrines that were successful here last year. Reaching the hidden freshwater Mire Loch we saw moorhen, coot, mallard, mute swan with five cygnets, little grebe, tufted duck, reed bunting and swift. We walked and sweated off some of the previous days’ cake calories in glorious sunshine and saw a flyover peregrine. There was much excitement searching a large south facing slope, managed for the rare Northern Brown Argus (Aricia Artaxerxes) butterfly; found only in Scotland. Although sheep graze freely here, the slope is fenced off to prevent them grazing all the butterfly food plants. It seemed to take an age to find one of these low flying bonnies amongst the thrift, thyme, groundsel and clover with lots of common blue butterflies here, eventually we found one, then two, then many more appeared from nowhere once we had seen these tiny, flitty creatures. This was a real coup for our foursome as we have had to cancel many planned butterfly days out, due to the weather. There was more excitement as we dragged ourselves away from these beauties when we found a tiny black moth, identifying it as a chimney sweeper; we then proceeded to see them everywhere. It was such a wonderful day and we dragged ourselves back to the” just about to close” visitor centre, for well-deserved ice creams.
It was such a wonderful day, we were sorry to have to leave and go into Eyemouth to pick up our keys for our little apartment on the harbour. Walking into the pub opposite, it was dark and went silent with all eyes on us but could not have turned out to be more friendly and welcoming; it was called The Contented Sole. We unpacked and got some fresh supplies in this lovely little harbour town, then headed back into the pub where our table was booked for dinner. Hearing we like fish and seafood, one of the locals said he would recommend the scampi and it was truly delicious, the lightest tempura batter and the largest, most succulent I have ever eaten, freshly caught off these shores.

Wednesday 19th June.

Two of us headed back down to Northumberland shores and the other two set off in search of more butterflies and odonata. Phil was determined to find some mega rares on the way home and the Baikal teal was still lurking at Druridge bay. After an hour and a half searching the Budge fields and with no sign, we had seen chiffchaff, bullfinch, dunnock, rock pipit, sedge warbler collecting food, red- breasted mergansers, eider and yellowhammer, also; the shelter was becoming full; we decided to follow the path around the edge of the water. Within seconds Phil had found our target bird fast asleep with mallards not many yards away from us. When it woke and had a good shake it then strutted along to the water and swam away, giving excellent all-round views! After letting the guys know back at the shelter, we headed south to Lincolnshire to our next destination; RSPB Frampton Marsh for the black-winged pratincole which eluded us and dozens more birders for several hours. It had last been seeing flying over the sea bank twenty minutes before we arrived. Was it worth staying or dashing back to Cley in our home county for a green winged teal? The initial excitement of a three in one day was gone but we returned home happy.

Additional comments from the group:

We had a great five days in Northumberland with an enthusiastic group of WVBS members. The experts in the group and the amazing spotters amongst us always helped those of us who were less experienced or less observant. The highlight for me was the boat trip to the Farne Islands where we able to observe the abundant bird life at such close range. The numerous and ever endearing puffins were seen at their burrows returning with bills full of sand eels to feed their young. The arctic terns were busily feeding their chicks. It is incredible to think that in a few weeks’ time those tiny little bundles of fluff will be embarking upon their return trip of around 44,000 miles from pole to pole each year for a lifetime to be spent in eternal Summer. A magical few days.
Eileen

*****

This was my first WVBS trip away and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d been planning to go to the Farne Islands for ages, so I jumped at the chance to go with the group. Thanks to Alan for driving me up there – car-sharing is a great way to reduce both costs and environmental impact. We talked nonstop both ways (Sorry Alan!). I got to know some of the group much better and benefited from their shared enthusiasm and expertise. Wildlife highlights included my first red grouse, first red squirrels and the crazy arctic terns on the Farnes. The mixed weather meant we missed the chance to go to Coquet Island (so I still haven’t seen a Roseate Tern) but I’m sure I will go back. Other highlights were the fun we had and the cake. Too much cake. I never thought I would say that. Thank you so much Lin for all the hard work researching and organising the trip – not always an easy task! Laura King

*****

Leaving Norfolk at 6am, usual route North to pick up the A1; having driven through Lincs. (lakeland, due to the recent biblical rains) met some members at RSPB Fairburn Ings in much better weather. Had a good walk round parts of this interesting reserve created from parts of the past coal-mining industry. Picked up some good birds, including tree sparrow, butterflies and orchids including the lone bee orchid in the car park. Lunch with members, then onwards north to Amble our base for the trip.
A rather damp start to Friday, day being re-arranged as the boat trip was cancelled due to awful weather conditions, so off to Druridge Bay in rather wet conditions, then on to Hauxley in much improved conditions. A new visitor centre and very pleasant staff. Again, good birds, a grasshopper warbler in hand being ringed; the first one for many years, then a gathering for food drink and a chance to talk. Lots seen here, pleasant visit and onward to Cresswell in bootiful weather. Good birds, another grasshopper warbler doing its thing in full view for all. Again, fine end to a mixed day’s birding and a brilliant social evening preceded by drinks courtesy of our group leader.
Saturday Birding to Harthope Valley in good weather, wow! What a mixed habitat, superb conditions, itching to get going. Expectations of what, who knows? After much searching at the bridge we found the dipper at the end of the walk. We found cuckoo, common sandpiper, red grouse, grey wagtails and had excellent views of stonechat and then revealed a lovely whinchat. Really interesting and most enjoyable.
Farne Islands boat trip: fantastic conditions going over, bootiful weather! How many birds? Puffins, razorbills, guillemots, arctic terns around the boat and on the sea. Landed on Staple Island to be greeted by thousands of birds including the dive-bombing arctic terns protecting their nests and chicks, fantastic photo opportunities for all. Just never tire of seeing and being amongst so many beautiful birds.
Could have written so much more but our thanks to WVBS club and special thanks to Lin for her time, brilliant organisation and going the extra mile for a fantastic trip and thanks to the other birders for their company, making a very friendly group.
Sheila and Alan Postle

*****

In the area around Amble of note was a large colony of Sand Martins breeding in a sand bank seen from the harbour mouth, on the other side of the water. The area gave us rock pipit and another was also seen on the Farnes. A highlight from the Amble area was when at approx. 6pm on our way back to our B & B we stopped in a large layby to scan the estuary. Here we saw egrets, common sandpiper, cormorants, a whimbrel and a grey plover called but was never located. We then walked over to the other side of the road and scanned a rough field and immediately saw a little owl on top of a bush, it flew to the ground which was out of view. We tried to relocate it and found a barn owl as well. We watched it quartering the rough field for some time. We think the little owl was nesting in an old oak tree at the corner of the field but unfortunately was not seen again.

Glenn Collier
*****

It was with some slight trepidation that Eileen and I began our early morning drive to the lunch rendezvous at Fairburn Ings reserve near Castleford in Yorkshire. Eileen because she had drawn the short straw and was to be my passenger, myself because the weather forecast promised rain and more rain for most of the days on the trip! In the event Eileen survived and the weather only gave the group two good heavy showers. Our travel up was relatively steady, the only hiccup being my driving straight passed our proposed coffee stop —— to much yak! Fairburn Ings for lunch was great. A quick look round gave us highlights of Tree Sparrows in abundance and a Kingfisher. However, we missed out on the Black- necked Grebe, it having retreated into the reeds as we arrived at the hide.
Our base at Ambler was a very solid, old, stone port. The last before Scotland. Yes, we were that far north! My accommodation was right on the harbour so I enjoyed an early morning walk before breakfast, along the sea-wall to view the Sand Martins in dunes on the far side and Eiders in the estuary of the Coquet River.
Coquet Island, only a nautical mile off shore could be seen, with a cloud of little black `dots` coming and going. I hoped to view the `dots` more closely but unfortunately the proposed boat trip from Amble had to be abandoned because of a strong sea swell. The group met up at the Amble Inn and sharing cars visited the string of reserves along Druridge Bay to the south. The Country Park— birding in the rain—The Hauxley area and Chevington were walked. Highlights being Grasshopper Warbler, Whitethroat, Bullfinch, Tree Sparrow and Red Squirrel’s also many Butterflies were about and identified by club members.
The next day the Harthope valley reminded me of the Yorkshire valleys and moors. Some 25 miles away via Wooler we headed towards The Cheviot. Vehicles are restricted to the lower half of the valley — walking thereafter. A whole day was spent here, in the sun and breeze walking beside the Harthope Burn full of rocks and mini rapids, a tributary of the River Till. The bridge over the Burn gave us Yellow Wagtail and later in the day an elusive Dipper whilst further up the valley at the second car park — i.e. grassy area just off track we saw Common Sandpiper. Continuing along, Red Squirrel and at the farm nesting in the open on a brick door plinth was spotted a spotted Fly-catcher. The target bird for the area, a Whinchat finally appeared on a wild part of the moor on the top of a small bush whilst higher Phil spotted Red Grouse just visible on scree. The second downpour caught us on the way back to base and we only just made it to the Fish and Chip restaurant on the Quay that Lyn had persuaded to remain open!
Sunday brought sun and warm conditions so we stopped off at Newton Pools on the edge of Beadnell Bay. Heron and a few water birds were seen with Reed Warbler around the pools. Also lots of Butterflies, Demoiselles and Northern Marsh Orchids. A little sea watching brought up Scoter but it was on to Seahouses for the Farne Islands. Was Seahouses busy? Yes, it was, a quieter sea, a Sunday, sun. The quay was packed with travellers and boats were leaving for trips as fast as they could be loaded and off loaded. The Billy Shiel line did us proud with a very informative commentary about the history of the Islands and its natural history. The Grace Darling story was retold and we passed the family home on Brownman and the Longstone Lighthouse. The crew took the boat very close to several cliffs to show tier upon tier of Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Puffins, Shags, Grey seals were also in evidence as the Farnes are a very important breeding area. Finally, after circumnavigating the Island group we were landed on the Inner Farne Reserve —- along with the rest of the world it seemed! Cameras everywhere, nationalities everywhere, Arctic Terns everywhere. They were tucked into any and every small spot of vegetation, small fluffy chicks responded to raucous shrieks from the adults who dive bombed all watching, one even used my head as a view point for a short time! I didn`t charge it rent and it didn`t leave a deposit! However, the smell and noise were something else. Cliff edges held Bridled Guillemot, Guillemot Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Shags, whilst Puffins kept up a continuous traffic ferrying in sand eels for the young hiding in the dark burrows. The adults were very astute, at least the ones that I saw all managed to dodge the waiting Black-headed Gulls with sudden stop, a quick side step and straight down the burrow. Try as I might I failed to obtain a photo; they were just too fast—- oh well another time perhaps. Oh yes it was a splendid day and we all celebrated it at dinner that evening in the Amble Inn.
The trip ran to time and smoothly thanks to Lin. ID`s were courtesy of Glen and Phil. To round off Eileen and I called in on the way home to yet another Yorkshire reserve at Old Moor for lunch and to find a Med. Gull in the middle of a group of Black-headed on a small Island. A really worthwhile trip.
Martin Spriggs

 

 

Svalbard July 2019  By Cath Robinson

After last year’s trip to the White Sea, we were keen to get back up to the Arctic in the short summer season and have endless days in the ice and cold of the North but enjoying breeding birds and the tundra flowers in bloom. So this year we went to Svalbard.

Svalbard is an archipelago lying between 74 and 80 degrees north and is one of the most northernmost land masses in the world. Its most northerly land is pretty much equidistant from the North Pole and the northern tip of mainland Norway: 1000km each way. Because of the Gulf Stream the western coast is pretty much sea navigable for most of the summer but not the east coast which is often packed with sea ice the year around. Some years it is possible to circumnavigate the islands: not this year as the circumpolar ice cap and pack-ice blocked the way.

Birdwise, the books say it has 130 observable species and maybe 23 breeding species. So small but select! And some in great numbers.

Our trip started in Oslo where it was nice but strange to see Fieldfares and Redwings enjoying some summer weather while Swifts and Barn Swallows were overhead.
But onto Svalbard where the only true song bird is the Snow Bunting and they were everywhere: on the dock and in the town of Longyearbyen the capital, and everywhere we went ashore you were guaranteed sight and sound of a pair of snow buntings. No flocks; just a pair and their young.
Also, in town but also not infrequently along the coast we had good views of Purple Sandpipers. I saw one Ringed Plover but no other waders although Turnstone is a breeding species.
We spotted one group of Pink-footed Geese but otherwise the commonest goose we saw was Barnacle in large groups, often with offspring. All these Svalbard Barnacles overwinter in the Solway Firth.
The only ducks we saw were Eider in reasonable numbers: sadly, no Long-tailed Ducks or King Eider.
But sea birds there were aplenty.

Little Auks in multitudes: There are over a million. They nest in cracks in boulder areas in big groups and erupt in masses whenever a threat such as a Glaucous Gull appears. We were able to get close to a colony and have good views and listen to their incessant cackling. Brunnich’s Guillemots were by far the most common: I‘m not even sure I saw a normal Guillemot but definitely thousands of Brunnich’s squashed together nesting on high cliffs. At every site we saw arctic fox, amazingly agile along the cliffside. These birds are the ones where the father calls for its young to jump before it can fly and then ideally together they get to the sea and the young matures and the father moults as they paddle off into the sunset. Of course, this is bonus time for the Glaucous Gull and the Arctic Fox which gorge themselves often on both adult (first) and then chick. Many of these cliffs arose directly from the sea but some were set back which just makes the chick’s journey that much more tricky and dangerous. The survival of the chick depends largely on a co-ordinated jump off the cliff; you don’t really want to be the first or the last. The guillemots shared the edges of the cliffs with breeding Kittiwakes. These birds seemed to love sitting on icebergs or the edge of glaciers. At one point where there must have been a cold outflow of water from the glacier there were hundreds all feeding. The theory was that the invertebrates in the water were all stunned by the cold so were easy food. I’m not sure I was convinced but maybe it was true.

There were some Puffins but many fewer of these and Black Guillemots which I was really surprised to see right up there at 80 degrees north at the edge of the pack ice and also at the edge of glaciers and glacier ice. Fulmars, both dark and light morphs, accompanied the boat everywhere.

The commonest avian predator was Glaucous Gull. There were also a few pairs of Arctic Skuas and the occasional Great Skua. We saw an Arctic Skua pair attack an Arctic Fox which dared to enter their territory and got dive bombed ourselves as we walked innocently in Longyearbyen. It is quite unnerving to see an Arctic Skua line you up in its sights like a fighter pilot!
On land we were lucky to see a Ptarmigan which was really well camouflaged and we could admire its feathery feet, adaptations to the cold.
But my life tick was an Ivory Gull, just the one, right at the edge of the pack ice.

Svalbard bird list:-
Red-throated Diver Northern Fulmar Pink-footed Goose Barnacle Goose Common Eider Rock Ptarmigan Ringed Plover Purple Sandpiper Arctic Skua Great Skua Glaucous Gull Black-legged Kittiwake Ivory Gull Arctic Tern Little Auk Brunnich’s Guillemot Black Guillemot Puffin Snow Bunting

As for mammals: Well, yes, we saw Polar Bear, Svalbard Reindeer and Arctic Fox. And then Bearded Seal, Harbour Seal (which is Common Seal) and Ringed Seal and wonderful groups of Walrus. And Blue Whale, Beluga Whale and Minke Whale.

What this account doesn’t really convey is just how beautiful and peaceful it was up there. We were lucky to have good weather; often very little wind and much sunshine along with some more overcast days. You do get used to 24 hour daylight. The scenery was stunning. The flora was amazing: only 10% of land is vegetated (60% glaciated; 30% barren) and flora tends to be associated with bird colonies and guano. It is plant life on the edge; pioneering and alpine/arctic. And there were so few people. And we were entirely off internet or phone signal for a whole week. It was wonderful.

Visions of blue sky, pack ice, reflections of ice and glaciers and one evening where we saw a polar bear wander off towards a massive glacier across mixed snow and ice will stay with me for ages.

 

RSPB Snettisham September 2nd 2019

By Liz Bridge

I’ve had some amazing visits to Snettisham for high tides and today was no exception, in fact one of the best. High tide was 7.69 metres at 9.05am. Up and away therefore. Cold night, a few little spits of rain on the way and there is plenty of time to get to the sea wall, or so I thought.
Not stopping on the way out but glimpsing a Chiffchaff and hearing others calling. Also, worryingly, hearing sounds of birds on the move already. Up and down steps, rushing along, and there I was, but there also was the sea, right up and with still about an hour to full tide. Only a few stragglers left flying into the lagoon. Disappointing, but decided to go straight down to the far hide. So many people. But so many birds; Knot, many still in summer plumage; Oystercatchers galore; Black-tailed Godwits, also some in summer plumage; lots of Little Egrets. The small Dunlin got lost amongst the Knot and Redshank were difficult to pick out. Many Greylag being as noisy as ever, Egyptian Geese. A few Canada Geese with a lone Barnacle and even two Spoonbill. Cormorants standing majestic. All the islands and all the banks were full to capacity, really full. The numbers recorded for the Webs survey the previous day were 67,000 Knot and 100,000 waders in total. The RSPB guy there today thought there were far more this morning. Apparently, these few days of high tides and those at the end of the month have the highest numbers each year as many Knot and others move on to their wintering quarters later.
I wasn’t enjoying being in the hide so left after a short while and retreated outside. A good move, the day was perfect, sunny, not much cloud and a light breeze. Along a stretch of grass at the water’s edge were, I would guess, over 100 Curlew interspersed with Bar-tailed Godwit, at least one in full summer plumage. Many Shelduck on the water, Black-headed Gulls, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed.
It seemed an age before the tide started to turn. A few small groups of Oystercatcher came out to investigate and disappeared, a few Knot and Dunlin likewise. Gradually larger and larger groups came flying out of the lagoon and landed on a slim stretch of mud showing through the water. In no time activity in the air was amazing and the line of birds grew longer and longer. I then noticed a good number of Grey Plover, many looking stunning in their black summer frocks.
One thing which always impresses me is listening to the fast wing beats of the birds as they fly overhead. Close your eyes and it is one of those magical moments.
More and more mud now showing I decided to go into the hide nearby, wondering whether any birds which I hadn’t noticed before were left in the lagoon. I did not expect to see several thousands of Knot still there, thousands of Oystercatchers still on the banks along with many Godwits. Of course, the geese and Cormorants were still around. It was good to sit for a moment and watch the birds move off.
Rest over, I set off back to the car. A surprise was in store for me. Looking out over the mud beside a flowing channel of water was a Common Sandpiper. So surprised in fact that I asked a chap for confirmation. At regular intervals more Knot and Oystercatcher flew overhead and on to the mud. The gathering of them kept increasing, covering vast areas of mud but moving all the time. More Redshank seemed to be around and, pleasingly, many more Grey Plover, one of my favourite waders. I was also glad to see a fair number of Ringed Plover dotted about.
It was a slow walk back to the car as I could just not get over what a wonderful morning I had had, well worth the early alarm

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