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

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