Member’s Trip Reports in 2015

February half-term Birding  by David Gibbons.

Wigan Flashes is a wetland site almost in the centre of Wigan. Formerly an old colliery where subsidence had created the lakes or “Flashes”. Now a LNR, (Local Nature Reserve) of 260 hectares since 2001 and consisting of reedbeds, open scrub, lakes, grassland and with the Leeds – Liverpool canal running through it.

I stood on one of the bridges over the canal watching the Mute Swans using it as a runway for a few moments, landing and taking off, dead down the middle, the Red Arrows could not have been more accurate. Also Mallard, Gt. Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck, Coot, Cormorant, Canada Geese, Lapwing, Gadwall, Reed Bunting, and over 30 pairs of Goldeneye.

What I had really come for was Willow Tit and these were easy to see, mainly on the feeders and surrounding wooded paths. Great, Blue, Long-tailed and Coal Tits also there along with Bullfinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch. 34 species in under an hour. Yes, if you are on the M6 it is worth a stop off. Back over the M62, very foggy as we got higher, traffic was slow but safe, onto the A1(M) and Common Buzzard and Kestrel were seen as the traffic thinned out.

Next stop RSPB Saltholme right in the middle of industrial Teesside, power station, pylons, factories very gloomy, scrubland and a few scrapes. The visitor centre was very modern and once inside looking out on to the feeders Tree Sparrows, so things were looking up already. Out onto the reserve Little Egret, Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, Redshank, Shelduck, Kestrel and the star sighting Green-winged Teal.

The North Pennines, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the next day took us, first to Stanhope a small village with a visitor centre, then on to High Force, a water fall where the River Tees drops 21 metres, the sat. nav. said one way but I decided to follow the brown tourist signs. Leaving the village the river came into view,  something made me stop, a ford crossing, a very new straight concrete base with a straight line of oblong concrete stepping stones, but 2 Dippers!!

Crossing to Middleton in Teesdale the road took us higher and colder, the temperature reading in the car dropped from 8 ºc to 0 ºc, with snow and ice on the moors, lots of sheep wandering and also dozens of Red Grouse. At the waterfall an easy walk of about 300 metres and well worth it to see the view, along with Treecreepers on the way. Only £4 to park and enter the attraction, and asking the car-park attendant about Black Grouse the response was “2 miles up the hill, past the Hotel in Langdon Beck up the hill for 100 yards, park by the cottages and look in the field opposite”, as easy as that amongst the Starlings, Lapwings, Jackdaws and sheep.

A stop at the Hotel for refreshment and to enjoy the view out on to the snow covered hills then up to Cow Green Reservoir, ice on the road up here, very wild and bleak and the stone cottages and farm buildings in this upper Tees area were white-washed, whereas a couple of miles further down they were not. On the way back to where we were staying a stop at Low Barns, Durham Wildlife Trust, Wren, Nuthatch and Gt. Spotted Woodpecker for the list. An easy, level, 1 mile circular walk along the banks of the River Wear.

Continuing up the coast the following day we get to Seahouses, Eider Ducks, Curlews and Oystercatchers everywhere and a few Goosanders amongst others. Common Buzzards flying in the fields.

Final stop for birding was Hauxley, Durham Wildlife Trust, Curlew, Grey Heron, Skylark, Dunlin, Eider and Oystercatcher along with the usual range of wintering birds. 66 species in total.

 

Betty’s Bay, Capetown

reporter Lucy Topsom

Glenn and I were very fortunate to have a trip to South Africa and Botswana last month with Keith and Mary Walker. We went on a 6 day trip around the Western Cape with”Brian’s Birding” and not only was he a very good leader and birder he was also informative on South African natural history. There are so many things to say about our trip in Cape Town, but I will keep it just to one part of a day.

Today’s trip was to Betty’s Bay to see THE AFRICAN PENGUINS. This had been very high up on my list of things to see and I was full of excitement at the prospect of seeing these funny waddling clown-like birds. Brian parked up and as soon as we walked from the car park towards the sea, we saw these lovely black and white birds waddling past us. I was mesmerised by them, and chuckled at how they walked, fell over, got back up again and continued to waddle towards the sea. Once in the sea, it was a different matter. They suddenly become sleek and fast and it was lovely to see the contrast. I have to say that my couple of hours with them was magical but very smelly! The penguins burrow under a layer of guano-cemented sand to nest. If they are unable to nest under the guano, then concrete burrows have been made available for them instead. Two white eggs are usually laid and after incubation,the chicks are fed by both parents. It takes about 25kg of fish to rear a penguin chick until it leaves the colony. They make a sound like a braying donkey and this is why they have the nick-name of Jackass. I was also surprised at how small they were, weighing about 3kg and measuring only 65cms.
Betty’s Bay has one of the largest colonies of jackass with about 2,000 pairs breeding there, making it a very important site in Cape Town. Even if you are not an avid birder it is a must see on most tourists’ list. They breed nowhere else in the world except on 25 islands and 3 mainland sites between Algoa Bay in South Africa and central Namibia. Over the past century, 90% of the global population of this penguin has decreased and is now considered an endangered species.
I can highly recommend adding Betty’s Bay to your list of places to go if you ever have the opportunity to go to South Africa.

The Last Day   Botswana  March 2015                

reporter Mary Walker

Botswana is an amazing country and we stayed at three camps (wooden lodges),  Savuti Safari Camp (Chobe), Xugana Island Lodge (Okavango Panhandle) and Leroo Le Tau, (Makagadikgadi Salt pans). Each camp was owned by Desert & Delta. We expected luxury, but each camp went way beyond  our hopes both in accommodation and service and force feeding us quality food seven times a day together with unlimited alcohol. It’s  dark and a lonely torch light bounces along the path to our Lodge, 5.30a.m and Slade our guide is checking we are up and ready. It’s our last full day in Botswana and we are on our balcony waiting for dawn, listening to the night sounds of the African bush. Lions roaring, elephants trumpeting, frogs croaking, and the delightful calls of thousands of Zebras on migration, winding in a long line down to the River Boteti to drink.Todays destination is Nxai Pan National Park, part of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, which are on the edge of the Kalahari desert, a long bumpy drive from Leroo La Tau Camp, our base  for the last three days in the Okavango Delta. The plan was to arrive early at Nxai, before the heat of the day set in, but we failed miserably, unable to resist the temptations to stop and view Martial & Brown Snake Eagle, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Crimson-breasted Shrike and Little Sparrowhawk on the way. A giraffe popped his head up and we just had to check the Yellow billed and Red Billed Oxpeckers that were hitching a ride.Eventually our jeep pulled up at the gates, dues were paid and we re-arranged ourselves, ready for Lark, Finch,Warbler and Cisticola searching. The dry dusty soil, interspersed with Acacia Trees was very different from the  terrain of the Delta, which hid the species we were searching for. We soon had “our eyes in”. Black-flanked  and Tawny Prinia, Ant-eating & Familiar Chat, Yellow Canary,  Red-capped Larks and Thick-billed Pippits were all ticked. Temminck’s and Two -banded Coursers blended into the dusty track in front of us. All of these birds were new and excitement mounted as we enjoyed one after the other.Suddenly Slade urgently asks to borrow our bins. He thinks he can see a Cheetah in front of us. Glenn has his scope precariously balanced on the back seat. “Not one” he exclaims, “three”. Slowly Slade inches the jeep forward until we are within five yards of a mother Cheetah and her two cubs who are hiding under a small bush. We switched off the engine and sat in complete silence for thirty minutes, cameras at the ready. Ignoring our presence the Cheetahs are watching a herd of Springbok who are slowly meandering towards us. Closer they come and then one young Springbok moves away from the herd. A flurry of dust and wind right in front of our vehicle as mother and two cubs make their move. No chase. It was all over in seconds. Helped by her cubs,the Springbok is carried under a bush. As the cubs wait patiently, the mother Cheetah holds the victim down with her paw  until the heartbeat ceases. After licking the underside of the Springbok to soften the skin, the mother watches proudly as the cubs messily tuck in. We watch with very mixed emotions, feeling intruders into a private family moment.Time was ticking by and we reluctantly left the Cheetahs to drive to our target waterhole, birds now once again on our minds. We were not disappointed. A huge medley of Secretary Birds, Lappet-faced and White-backed Vultures, Collared and Black-winged Pratincoles, Spotted Thick Knees, Greater Flamingos, and a solitary Little Stint awaited us.Tummies were rumbling. In our excitement lunch had been forgotten. Picnics and off road driving are forbidden in Nxai National Park. Once in the designated picnic area we were surprised to find proper loos. We had to carefully navigate the electric fence and concrete pad with spikes in which had been installed in front of the facilities to prevent the elephants helping themselves to  the precious water!Slade meanwhile had set up our lunch, cold chicken, quiches, pasta salad, home-made cheese biscuits and bread rolls accompanied by a nice Sauvignon Blanc. For the first time  in our nine days in Botswana the heavens opened and we were blessed with a short sharp shower. In true British style we continued to enjoy our lunch, sat around a little gingham covered table, ignoring the fact that we were getting soaked!We had an totally magnificent last day and our only plans for the following morning, before our 11a.m. flight was a leisurely breakfast. The camp staff had other ideas. We had arrived in Botswana on March 1st, officially the first day of the season after the rains. Most people come to view the game, but our passion was for the birds. Glenn, Lucy, Keith and myself were the only visitors so we were extremely well looked after. The staff and particularly the manager Nelson were fascinated by our birding activities. So much so that after only a couple of days in our company Nelson had organised the building of a large pool for the birds to drink in, accompanied by a wooden bird bath in the shape of a Mokoro (traditional canoe), all surrounded by rocks and grasses. An official opening ceremony was held. Accompanied by a choir, Lucy & IMW Africa trip  danced behind Nelson  to the bird station, where we proceeded to cut the ribbon and declare it open. Much singing and dancing ensued, and a plaque was erected stating the bird station was officially opened on 10th March 2015 by Lucy, Mary, Glenn & Keith – bird specialists from England!!  All the staff had a turn at looking through our scopes, and in turn jumped back beaming with amazement. Such a very special moment. We too were beaming with amazement, and with a touch of sadness, as we departed aboard our tiny five seater plane, the waving Slade on the ground below became a speck amongst the myriad of the Okavango Delta.We were away for a total of twenty four days in Southern Africa, which included an absolutely brilliant guided bird trip in the Western Cape covering over 1500km,  where we were in the the hands of  a birding legend Brian Vanderwalt (Brians Birding) for seven days. We  also had eight days alone in Cape Town and then nine days in Botswana.

 Xugana was particularly special as it was a camp surrounded by water and all safaris were either done by boat or walking on nearby islands. We will never forget being pursued by four angry hippos in  a narrow water course.

We put the holiday together ourselves but had great help from our land agent in South Africa ,which was Perfect Africa (Gareth) who recommended Desert & Delta.

We saw  376 species of birds and may even be able to add one or two more when Glenn works through the photos and we identify unknown species.  A totally unforgettable adventure.

What we did in our Easter Holiday

reporter Lucy Topsom

We left Norwich as soon as I finished work on Thursday 2nd April for the start of our Easter holiday. We were not due back until Tuesday, 7th April so we were going to make the most of our precious time off. We travelled up to Berwick -upon -Tweed where we stayed overnight.
Onward the next morning to the River Don in Seaton Park, Aberdeen. and here was my reason for the holiday, the Harlequin duck. He had been lost from view the previous day and we were really glad it had been re-found and put back on the pager that morning. Our view was good, and he was coming into summer plumage. Here we also saw a pair of Goosander. We then travelled up to Portsoy, where we stayed overnight.
Next morning we were up early to try to locate the White Billed Diver. Three had been reported but we were only able to see one that morning. Visibility was poor as the weather was still gloomy and damp. King Eider came onto the pager just along the coast at Bromhead so we decided to deviate from our plan and have a look. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in finding him. Then the pager advised us that another had been seen at Lossiemouth, so off we went. It was not our day as this one eluded us as well but as some consolation we saw Eider duck, Guillemots and Razorbills. Right back to plan A, off to Speyside. Just outside Grantown- on- Spey, we found a Dipper and Grey wagtail under the same bridge that we remembered from our WVBS holiday back in 2010. We stayed overnight just over the road from The Grant Arms Hotel.

The next morning we went up the Cairngorm funicular railway with the plan of seeing Ptarmigan. After a short time we saw a pair. The male was not sure if he wanted to be in winter or summer plumage which made him easier to see. We watched them for a while as we also watched skiers wizzing down the slopes. Back at the car park we saw quite a few Tree Pipits. Our next quest was to see Golden Eagle in the Findhorn Valley. It was a glorious day and the thermals were rising and so were our hopes. After travelling along part of the valley we stopped to admire the views and the vast expanse of the valley and snowy mountain backdrop and along flew our Golden Eagle. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Whilst scoping the mountains we also located Black and Red Grouse, Ravens and Siskins. Off to Loch Garten as we had been told that Iceland and Glaucous Gulls roosted there. We watched as gulls came in for the night but alas not the ones we were after. However we saw Red-Breasted Merganser and a pair of Goldeneye. Our consolation was that the sun set over the loch and we just sat in silence as the sun went down; magic!. We stayed in Boat of Garten.
We got up early next morning for the Capercaillie lek. No lekking had been seen this season so we were not very hopeful. On the way to the hide the warden suddenly became animated as the male Osprey was returning in front of our very eyes. The female had arrived a few days earlier. Within about half hour of his return, we witnessed the pair mating. He then flew off to catch her a fish as a bonding offering. We had waited about 2 hours in the hide and then suddenly the call went up, Capercaillie. Yeah, it was worth the wait. We had close views of the male feeding from a bilberry bush. We felt elated as we walked away from the hide back to the car park as we knew we had worked hard for those very special moments. In the car park we saw Crested tit as well as Red Squirrel and we also heard a Crossbill calling and then it flew over. This was the end of our Easter extravaganza and we sadly said goodbye to Speyside and started our journey home. We travelled south and had to make a petrol stop. There in the bushes of the Tesco Car Park up popped a Tree sparrow. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Also on our journey home we saw a Kingfisher fly over a bridge across the road and also a Barn owl sitting on a stone wall.
We got home late Monday evening, slept like logs, ready for work the next morning.The birds mentioned are just the highlights as the total list seen was much higher.

Something  for the weekend Sir!                                        

report by our overseas correspondent – Lucy Topsom

 News came out that a very rare heron had been sighted on St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly. Now anyone who travels afar will know that St. Mary’s is not the easiest place to get to, but hay-hoe here we go.
The weekend was nearly upon us and we started to think that this would be our destination. We started to investigate boat ferry times on the Scillonion III, plane times from Newquay and Land’s End, with costs, and this all had to be calculated to get us back before work on Monday. Just to add into the equation, no ferries or planes operate on a Sunday from the Isles. Tony Forster also decided to come, even though he was dying from a terrible cough and cold.  By the time Friday arrived, the “silly” bird had flown to Bryher, one of the outer Islands just past Tresco. Oh no, we had to add in a small boat ferry with our timings as well now. But hay-hoe, lets have a go. We travelled down overnight on Friday, which took about 8 hours, so we could connect with the Newquay flight first thing on Saturday morning. We arrived early and slept in the van!

A 30 minute flight over to St. Mary’s and we landed to find taxi’s ready to collect us and convey us to the Hugh Town quay. We then had to wait until the first ferry could take us over to the Island of Bryher. Unfortunately, we hadn’t taken into account the Spring tides. We were told that if we wanted to go to Bryher the boat could only take us as far as Tresco due to the very low tides and then we would have to walk across the Island and then walk across the channel bar to Bryher. This is a very special event as you can only do this once or twice a year at a very low Spring tide when the tidal forces dragged away the sea to reveal the sea floor. This was a 10 minute wade across as we couldn’t wait until the very lowest of the tide, so we took off our shoes and socks and had a little paddle. The thrill of defying the natural order was quite special and something none of us had done before. On reaching the Island of Bryher, we then had to walk to the furthest side of the Island, behind the Hell Bay Hotel (a very exclusive destination ) to the Big Pool where the heron could be located. On reaching The Big Pool we were told by our fellow birders that the American Heron had just flown and was over the back in scrub. On we walked until we found a good spot to view it, and there it was. The Great Blue Heron, hiding up, out of the bitterly cold, easterly wind, which by now was blowing quite fiercely. We saw its large size and bill, the rufus on the wings and just admired it, and realised that this was the second record of this species of Heron ever to come to the UK and the first one was only around for half an hour before it flew off. If only it realised the effort we had gone to. Maybe he did, as he then walked forward and gave the large number of birders a good show. Let’s celebrate? Off we went into the Hell Bay Hotel for a swift half (or in my case a hot chocolate to warm up!). The heron was not finished with us yet, as he gave us a fly past and landed on the shore the other side of the hotel. After a while we thought we had better start our journey home and we passed the mass of birders who had travelled over on the Scillonion III who were arriving as we were leaving.

So everything in reverse……. On the way back the first small boat ferry passed over the “bar” thatScilly Trip L&G 2 we had earlier been paddling through, and was now under approximately 25 metres of water. The plane trip back from St Mary’s to Newquay was overweight, (too many cornish pasties) so Glenn was volunteered at the Airport’s request to take the plane back to Land’s End and he was then taxied to Newquay, all at the Airport’s expense. Our plane was larger then Glenn’s but the journey back was still hairy due to the ever increasing wind. The landing was quite interesting!! We then had a quiet, uneventful, 8 hour drive back to Norfolk.

We arrived home in the early hours of Sunday morning, so we decided to have a very quiet lazy day. At work the next day, I was asked what I had been up to. I replied, “Not much, I just went to the Isles of Scilly to see a very rare bird to the UK”. The retort was,” I think you were silly!!” But what an adventure, with quick planning and yes, “It was something quite special for the weekend, Sir! “

Something More from Lucy                 

by a poetical Lucy Topsom   (dated  6th May)

Cuckoo (Cuculus Canorus)

O blithe newcomer! I have heard,

I hear thee and rejoice

O Cuckoo! Shall I call thee bird,

Or but a wandering Voice?

Just thought this poem by WILLIAM WORDSWORTH was appropriate as I heard my first Cuckoo last week at exactly the same time as I was listening to a Nightingale. Wonderful.

 

The Magnificent Seven   13-16 June 2015   

 reporter Lucy Topsom

Saturday morning started with a leisurely cup of tea with breakfast.  What you would like to do today, Glenn asked. Well, what a silly question – let’s go and see that Greater Yellow Legs that I have been wanted to see for weeks.  OK, so off we went to Hampshire, as you do!

Well Titchfield Haven RSPB Reserve was quite easy to find and within minutes we were on this bright yellow legged wader from America.  Some other birders who were there had been waiting a lot longer due to him being out of view behind reeds.  We had a lovely walk back along a wooded path to the car.  What shall we do next?  We looked at our pager and couldn’t believe our luck, Hudsonian Whimbrel and Black- eared Wheatear were nearby.  So as I had already seen a B.e. Wheatear on St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly we went off to Church Norton, W. Sussex in search of the Whimbrel.

It was about a 20 minute drive away and a long brisk walk around Pagham Harbour to where we soon spotted a crowd of patient birders all trying to find the Whimbrel.  It had flown off out of sight quite some time before and everyone was patiently searching.  After what seemed like a long time, the word went up that it was in view again, and yes, there it was pecking away on the mud.  Of course to really identify it we had to see its dark rump rather than white, and luckily it took off and did a fly -by and we were able to confirm we had seen it.

We phoned our friend to tell him of our good luck and he said, well, aren’t you going to go for the Wheatear as it is the Eastern form?  We had not realised our mistake so we had an extremely fast walk back to the car and off to Acres Down in the New Forest.  We eventually found the location after sat nav malfunction, a short walk up a steep hill to the raptor point and after a lot of searching found the Eastern form of the Black- eared Wheatear.  I couldn’t believe that I had seen three new birds for my life list. Yay!  It was a very joyful drive home.

Next morning, still on a high, news had got out that there was a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and also a Paddyfield Warbler at Blakeney Point.  Was I up for this, you bet I was?  I was not looking forward to the laborious walk along the pebble beach but I was on a roll now and my enthusiasm was high.   Amazingly the 3 mile ordeal didn’t seem too painful and we soon saw the group of birders.  We saw some familiar faces and went to see what the score was.  We now knew the general direction to search for the Paddy’s and after quite some time the brown jobbie popped up into view for a few seconds and then went down again.  We waited again and after what seemed like ages, it popped up for a few seconds, flew to another suaeda bush and down out of view.

We now decided it was time to concentrate on finding the Blyth’s Reed Warbler.  Again, we walked to where a group of dedicated birders were patiently waiting for another little brown jobbie to appear.  This time the wait was not as long, and up he popped, a lighter bird than the first.    I was on a real high now, five birds in one weekend; that is crazy!  We walked the three miles back along the pebbles, but we felt like we were walking on air.  Back at the car park we chatted to our friends, regaling our amazing weekend of sightings.  We then got in our car and started driving towards the exit of Cley Beach carpark and we could see our friend pointing to the sky and shouting.  We abandoned the car, with engine still running and doors wide open and ran like stink up onto the beach; there was a laughing gull flying above our heads.  At this stage I couldn’t believe my luck and started jumping for joy.  Off to Cookies for a fish platter to celebrate!

On Monday morning I reminisced about my amazing weekend to all my work colleagues and got the usual response- you’re mad!

IMG_0402All the previous week we had heard on the grapevine about a Chetzschmar’s Warbler showing in Gwynedd on and off on Bardsey Island off the west coast of Wales.  Did we dare?  Glenn was quite right, it was a long way to go for a no show.  However on Monday the word was out that it was showing well as the Warden was putting food out for it.  Shall we dare? How do you get to Bardsey Island, will we get places on the boat were the next questions and can I take the next day off work?  After grovelling to the boss, and some quick planning, blow up mattress, quilts, pillows, food and drinks in the van, we left at lunchtime on the gruelling seven hour journey to Port Maudy where we hoped to pick up the 12 passenger ferry.  We arrived by 9.30pm. It was a “first come, first served” approach to getting your place on the boat and we were determined to get over onto the Island. Luckily “the early bird catches the worm” and we got our names onto the list; no’s 4 and 5.  We blew up mattress and off to sleep in the van.  We woke early Tuesday morning as we were not sure what time the skipper would be loading his excited but sleepy group of birders.  At 5.30am we embarked the ferry and miraculously the sea was calm across Bardsey Sound. We watched the Welsh coast in all its glory with its beautiful foxgloves in full bloom gradually disappearing from view.  We landed on Bardsey Island and was greeted by the Warden who advised us to be very quiet when the Cretzschmar’s Bunting came down to eat.  We walked up toScilly Trip L&G the lighthouse and were soon greeted by the Bunting flying  down onto the stone wall and then onto the feeding station.  I was so excited I wanted to burst.  I was on top of the world and the Island seemed even more beautiful and unspoilt with its bed of sea thrift.   Now the journey in reverse, back to the mainland and then, a lovely seven hour drive back home. We didn’t mind because our hard work had paid off.  We did see the boatman rubbing his hands together as we suspect he couldn’t believe his good luck at having so many passengers in one week!  Before departing we took a lovely walk along the coastal path to take in the flowers we had seen from the boat, and we had Chough and two Ravens handed to us on a plate.

Back at work the next day, I told them what I had done on my day off, and the response again was – you’re mad!  I had seen the magnificent seven, three days of birding in four day which I expect will never be repeated.  After dipping the Citril Finch by two hours, this was well deserved!  Unfortunately, no new birds for Glenn – maybe next time.

No Pelicans on Pelican Rock!  –  Reporter  David Gibbons                                    

July in St. Lucia, hot and humid, around the hotel lots of bars for cold beers and Rum Punch, but also many birds, Eurasian Collared Dove, Zenaida Dove, Lesser Antillean Swift, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, these can spot crumbs from a mile away! Carib Crackle, Carribbean Martin, the first of 3 hummingbirds found on the island, the Green-throated Carib, the very pretty Bananaquit, and in the flower beds Black-faced Grassquits. The common Shiny Cowbird, Gray Trembler and Tropical Mockingbird, were always easy to spot flying between the palm trees.

From the balcony of our room, looking out to sea Brown Booby, Little Blue Heron, both in adult form and in the white juvenile stage, Caspian Tern, but best of all the Magnificent Frigatebird following the small fishing boats. One evening I had a good view of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron and Forster’s Terns.

Not a bad start but time to call in my guide for 2 days, Vision was his name, picking me up at 5 am. from the hotel. Our first stop was to the cliffs near the small fishing village of Dennery, where we saw the second hummingbird the Antillean Crested Hummingbird, and my first endemic, (of 6) the St. Lucia Pewee. Just a bit inland to Praslin, an area of dry forest, sightings of the Lesser Antillean Saltator, (the largest finch in the world), White-breasted Thrasher, (an endangered species) and Black-whiskered Vireo.

The Des Cartier Forest Trail takes us to rainforest and we came across St. Lucia Warbler, Purple-throated Carib, (the third hummingbird), Scaly-breasted Thrasher, the scarce Pearly-eyed Thrasher and two more endemics the St.Lucia Blackfinch and lots of St.Lucia Parrots.

From the viewpoint here we also saw Scaly-necked Pigeon, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher and Antillean Euphonia,

Travelling on back roads through many small communities we came across Common Ground Dove and Gray Kingbird, the latter on telephone wires. People seemed to know Vision wherever we went. Back towards the coast we arrived at the Aupicot Wetlands, nearly dry at this time. Another endemic the St. Lucia Warbler, along with Caribbean Coot, Common Gallinula or should I say Moorhen? Yellow Warbler, Black-bellied Plover, Grey Plover to you and I, and Semipalmated Plover.

Down to Vieux Fort, where the international airport is, high wire fences with signs informing us that cameras were not allowed, Vision has been in trouble before with use of bins and scope, but we chose to ignore the signs in search of Eared Doves in the grass alongside the runway, not too long before we found some, sat on the fence four feet from the minibus, what were we worried about?

Lunch with cold beers in a bar on the beach, another of Vision’s birding spots? Again the staff knew him!  Back to Dennery, the fishing boats were in and the quayside market in full swing, the Magnificent Frigatebirds being rewarded with the trimmings as they are considered good luck for the fishermen.

Day 2, another 5am start, travelling to the north of the island Des Barras was our first stop and Bare-eyed Thrush (Robin) our first bird, the fifth endemic came into view the St.Lucia Oriole. ( The 6th endemic the Semper’s Warbler has not been seen for many years). However we also got good views of the House Wren, ( St. Lucia race) which many people also consider an endemic. Time for breakfast as we picked ripe quavas from a tree.

Next stop the Marquis Plantation, no longer a sugar cane plantation but an area of flat small holdings for arable farming and charcoal production, all digging and planting done by hand by all family members. However we came across evidence of the old colonial plantation, the main house was still occupied looking down over the estate, a huge rusting cast-iron waterwheel, made in Glasgow in the late 1800’s, and large old buildings used for sugar milling with doors and windows long gone, creepers climbing up the walls and hanging down through the roof. The pantiles looked of French style to me, a lot still on the roofs but a lot had slipped to the ground. It would be wonderful to restore these magnificent buildings.

Back to the birds, but first to say cattle on the island, and also here, were tethered, with lots of Cattle Egrets around them, the Black-bellied Sheep looked more like a cross between a goat and a deer to me, not an ounce of wool in sight! Yes the birds, my favourite, the Mangrove Cuckoo, local folklore says this bird never lands on the ground as it does not want to get its’ beautiful feathers dirty, it drinks water from leaves high up in the trees!! ( I bet you’ll soon “Google” this bird). Two raptors were sighted, the American Kestrel and the Broad-winged Hawk.

Crossing from the east to the west coast we stopped at the sewage works next to St.Lucia’s  International Cricket Ground, Beausejour, Spotted Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs were seen, and being interested in Bedford lorries, two TK tippers nearby needed my close attention and a few photos.

On to Gros Islet, a small fishing village, along the small jetties were Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns and Roseate Terns. A track took us to the causeway to Pigeon Island, now a National Trust property, with its Fort and Signal Peak, Admiral Rodney used this to keep an eye on the French in nearby Martinique in the 18th century.

This “Island” is covered, like a lot of St. Lucia, with the Flamboyant tree with its’  beautiful orange flowers. However in 1972 Pigeon Island was joined to the mainland with the causeway to create Rodney Bay, now a modern resort, beaches, hotels, shopping malls, marina etc. easily the most modern area on the island. On the down side a mangrove swamp was cleared, the sea direction was altered and a coral reef, once described by Jacques Cousteau as being one of the best in the world, was destroyed. A few hundred yards from Pigeon Island is Pelican Rock, due to the destruction of the mangrove swamp, habitat for the Brown Pelican has been lost, so no Pelicans any more!!

However we did see Bridled Terns and Red-footed Booby on the rock.

Final stop in the capital of Castries, at Ganter’s Bay, the centre for whale watching excursions, we saw Green Herons a Black-crowned Night Heron and a Cattle Egret heronry in two trees, I counted at least 70+ nests with over a third containing young.

60 species in total, many thanks to Vision and the many friendly islanders I met.

The Isles of Scilly – August 2015  by Liz Bridge

We had three trips booked on Joe Pender’s boat ‘Sapphire’.  He and Bob Flood are the island’s experts when it comes to pelagics and discovering sea birds.  The ingredients for sea watching from a boat are (i) plenty of wind (but not so much as to be uncomfortable for the watchers!), (ii) plenty of fresh pilchards and a string bag.  Why those things: well when you are several miles from shore you do not go looking for birds you have to wait for them to come to you.  So the pilchards are mashed up to release their oil, put in the bag, which is hung over the side of the boat, more fish oil poured over the side and then you wait for the wind to spread the smell over as wide an area as possible.  Obviously the stronger the wind, the further the smell spreads.  This is called ‘drift and chum’, the chum being the mixture in the string bag.  The other thing you can do is to target a fishing boat and criss cross the wake behind it.  You have probably seen gulls following a fishing boat.  So what came to us?  Gulls, Lesser and Greater Black-backed, Herring and a lone Mediterranean.  Lots of Gannets.  Shearwaters – Great, Balearic, Cory’s and Sooty.  European Storm Petrels dancing over the waves, dangling their legs and zigzagging across the wake with their rapid wing beats. A surprise was to see a Sun Fish, what strange creatures they are, and Dolphins.  Joe, together with a mate, is helping Southampton University with a project on Blue Sharks.  Whilst we were drifting the fishing lines went out and were rewarded, over the three trips, with five Blue Sharks.  They really are blue on the back, even when out of the water.  The sharks are tagged and records made.  hat a way to see those sea birds which are usually zipping past at a rate of knots when watching from Cley.  Then added to that the beauty of the Isles of Scilly.  All the ingredients for a good holiday.

Our first outing was in the evening; the second meant to be a morning trip but we woke to constant rain.  We went out about midday eventually, but although the rain had stopped it was rather calm.  Not encouraging, but we were rewarded with sighting a Long-tailed Skua and three Sooty Shearwater.  A Great Shearwater was being annoyed by a Bonxie and came closer to the boat than he normally would.  Very satisfying for us.  An Arctic Tern flew by. There were a few Petrel about and plenty of Gannets feeding which led us to pods of Dolphins.  They were leaping out of the water and leading the boat as well as swimming alongside.  Tremendous views of them.  We got back to shore hopeful that our third trip the next day would be with more wind.  But it was clear and bright although, maybe, slightly more wind.  But not enough, so we were going to be disappointed not to see a Wilson’s Storm Petrel.   Otherwise much as before but including two Sun Fish this time and Northern Fulmar.  A real treat was to see three Great Shearwater resting on the water a matter of feet from the boat.  Plenty of chance to check their plumage and for the photographers great pictures.  By the way, did you know that Great Shearwaters snorkel?

Having a few days extra we had some good walks around St Mary’s, spent time in the hides at Lower and Higher Moors seeing Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Ruff, Blackcap, Sedge Warbler, Swallows and House Martins.  A ferry took us to Tresco where we walked the perimeter of the island, forgoing the celebrated gardens.  Thankful we did too as lots of Stonechats, lots Heron around the Great Pool and a huddle of ten Greenshank resting under overhanging trees.  Then we found a small field surrounded by sycamore, other trees and hedges.  Numerous Pied Flycatchers, a couple of Spotted Flycatchers, Greenfinches and Linnets in the trees and popping down to drink from the pools of water on the plastic covering. Brilliant!  Our last day on the islands found us searching for a Western Bonelli’s Warbler which had been reported.  Very happy we were to see that.

Brilliant Bulgarian Birding!   by  Alan Hughes

My brother David and I are relatively novice birders, and therefore quite easily impressed, but I would challenge even the most seasoned birder not to be excited by the natural spectacle that we witnessed over 4 days in September this year. I suffered a “significant” birthday this year, and David and his wife very generously paid for he and I to spend a short while observing the phenomenal raptor migration along the Via Pontica – an established route which takes large numbers of birds south along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. This followed another brilliant trip with the Wensum Valley group in Spring 2014, and was recommended by Keith and Mary Walker.

We were lucky – significant numbers of raptors had only started to move on the day we arrived, and lasted the first 2 days whilst the weather was hot and sunny (this event, the guide kept telling us, was only “semi-predictable”). We were taken to a high point on the Eastern Balkan Mountain range, about one hour north of Bourgas, our base, and there we waited expectantly scanning the distant skies to the north. At first there was only a trickle of birds, but this was enough to indicate to our guide exactly where we should move to get the best views in the best light – and he was right every time! Once the morning air began to warm up, we became aware of large numbers of raptors circling upwards in the resultant thermal currents to gain height and then glide southwards, often quite low over our heads, giving us a great opportunity to appreciate the characteristic features of each species. Over the course of these 2 days we saw several hundred birds including Common, Long-legged and Honey Buzzards, Lesser-spotted, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Levant and Common Sparrowhawks, Hen, Montague, Pallid and Marsh Harriers, Black Kites, Goshawks, Kestrel, Red-footed Falcon, Osprey, Hobby, and 2 Greater-spotted Eagles which even our guide was thrilled to see. Along with these, we watched several large flocks of Black and White Storks, and Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans – a magnificent site as, also circling in thermals, they caught the sunlight, and one flock even flew so low over us we heard the whoosh of air over their wings as they passed overhead! We thought that we had seen a lot of birds, but our numbers paled into insignificance when we chatted over dinner to a group of Dutch and Belgian birders at our hotel who regularly spent September at a vantage point in Bourgas identifying and counting every bird that flew overhead on migration – on our second day, their count included 4,200 Red-footed Falcons, 7,200 Lesser-spotted Eagles and over 150,000 Swallows, the latter being a record even for them!y brother David and I are relatively novice birders, and therefore quite easily impressed, but I would challenge even the most seasoned birder not to be excited by the natural spectacle that we witnessed over 4 days in September this year.

More unsettled weather caused migrating numbers to fall, and we took the opportunity to visit wetland and woodland sites in the area, and were fortunate enough to see some more great birds (many were “lifers” for us) including Collared Pratincole, Marsh and Broad-billed Sandpiper, Ruddy Shelduck, Caspian Tern, Sombre Tit and Hawfinch. One highlight for us was to watch individuals from a family group of 4 White-tailed Eagles hunting over a lake, and another was when our guide stopped the car to check on 2 “kestrels” on a telephone wire only to discover that one was a Red-footed Falcon, and he then realised that there were another 40-50 of these beautiful birds perched on nearby wires and hawking for flying insects that they consumed, hobby-like, on the wing – fantastic!

What a memorable birthday present – I am very grateful to my brother for his generosity and great company, to Minko the guide from Neophron tours, whose patience, skills and enthusiasm appeared to know no bounds, and to Bulgaria itself – a brilliant birding destination!

Joe’s Jaunts 1 – A nice jaunt around the Wensum Valley                           reporter Joe Harkness

 On Wednesday (27/10/15), I had a day off work and decided to go on a solo drive through the Dereham side of the Wensum Valley, checking out some sites that David Norgate told me about earlier in the year. The Wensum Valley certainly had some treats in store for me!???The best birds seen were seen on route… First stop was on ‘Sorrel Lane’ in Beetley (TF975183). Here I chanced upon 2 large and mobile finch flocks and a large thrush flock too. Both finch flocks held c80+ birds in and contained; Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Linnets, Chaffinches and the nicest surprise was 2 Brambling and 5 Yellowhammers. The thrush flock consisted of around 30 birds, the majority being Fieldfare but I counted 7 Redwing too. Another nice, but slightly odd sight was 5 Mistle Thrushes on telegraph wires. Also present in the field and area were 7 Red-legged Partridges, a number of Stock Doves, and a single Pied Wagtail and Skylark.???I moved onto ‘Creaking Gate Lake’, (TF942168) a clearly under-watched site which David informs me has held some decent birds in the past. Access not great and any paths are very overgrown. Highlights here were a very mobile tit flock with 3 Treecreepers in and a good count of 92 Canada Geese. Amongst numerous other wildfowl species were a single Little Grebe and Pochard.???Somewhere along a road in the vicinity of ‘Longham’ I alighted upon a Little Owl perched on a typical bare tree but it quickly (and sadly) flushed.???I popped to ‘Rushmeadow’ in Dereham, another site I had heard a lot about but not been to. Here the highlights were my first Siskins of the winter period (4 feeding in a tree), 7 snipe over and a Grey Wagtail, one of the stalwarts of the valley!??? On my way to pick up a permit for Bawburgh Lakes which I plan to bird over the winter, I nipped into Costessey Pits to see if I could connect with a Kingfisher to round off the Wensum Valley wonder list. I was disappointed and left with my head down… when a flash of iridescent blue came straight past my head piping way… I had lucked in at my final stop.???A lovely day and it was great to be back out in the valley doing some ‘proper’ birding. None of this twitching malarkey.

Joe’s Jaunts 2  – Sculthorpe Moor  – reporter Joe Harkness

Last Saturday I decided to go and have a walk around Sculthorpe Moor reserve. For those who have never visited (I’m sure you all have!), Sculthorpe Moor is a lovely site! It’s just North West of Fakenham and features a nice range of habitats; woodland, reed bed and fen.

I visited for 3 hours in the morning and after a chat with the manager (I volunteered for education events there at the end of last year but heard nothing back due to lots of changes), I set off. In the small garden behind the visitor centre is a feeding station and on this were a good number of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Blue Tits and Great Tits.

Walking down the woodland drive that leads to the reserve proper I clocked a pair of Egyptian Geese on the adjacent field and a fair few common birds going about heir business in the trees and hedgerows, including; a Pheasant, a few Wood Pigeons, a Dunnock  and a Blackbird. As you round a 90 degree right you come to a fence with some viewing slots in it that overlook another feeding station. No sooner had I looked through one with my bins, I saw an array of fantastic birds including;  two Marsh Tits (one was colour ringed with two small red bands on each leg), a couple of Coal Tits (it was great to be able to compare these side-by-side at one point) and finally a beautiful Nuthatch. I never tire of these gorgeous birds, with their brash ‘tuit’ and tonal colours, so was pleased to see one.

I continued round the woodland paths, drawing a blank in the woodland hide other than a few Chaffinches. I grew slightly frustrated as I heard the nasal wheeze of at least 3 Brambling in dense cover but despite several stakeouts I failed to see any. However, I did see a pair of Bullfinches in dense hedgerow cover. In the reception I had been told to keep my eyes open for them as they had been losing them this year, with a sharp decline in numbers due to the disease. A positive sighting I reported back on my way out. After a flyover Sparrowhawk, I then bumped into a couple who I’ve met there before and we continued our walk together, chatting about the reserve and the wildlife. The gentleman of the couple (Fred) is always kind enough to send me pictures by email so when I get in touch with him, hopefully he’ll have a few of the day.

I then checked out the new, volunteer built ‘Aerial Hide’. This hide is fully wheelchair-accessible which is simply fantastic as it is high up in the trees offering great views across the reeds and back across the tree canopy. I can’t wait to catch up with a winter tit flock here soon. I then went down to the ‘scrape’ hide, having been told it had been quiet there lately. After a 15 minute wait, myself and the others there were afforded some of the best views of a Kingfisher I’ve had there so far. This furthest hide is well worth the walk if you have the patience and energy!

I walked back on my own and watched a Goldcrest flitting around a tree and pointed it out to a couple who were walking past. It was actually great to see a lone one, as recently I’ve only seen flocks of 50+ on the coast. Other species seen that morning were; Robin, Wren, Redwing, 2 distant Buzzards,, 2 Jays, Starlings and a Cormorant. I hope you enjoyed reading this little report, I’m planning to pop in again and so will let you know if I see anything good!

 Joe’s Jaunts 3 – The Wensum Valley            reporter – Joe Harkness

I’ve been out around the valley again so thought I would give you all a report as it was a fairly productive morning.

I started off heading out Dereham way again. I went down Sorrel Lane again hoping to alight upon the finches but the buffeting wind was clearly too strong and no birds were around so I soldiered on. Along Rawhall Lane at I could see quite a bit of movement in the hedgerows so pulled over at TF941178 and got out of the car. In a small paddock like area surrounded by trees, I could hear the ‘chacking’ of Fieldfares which I then flushed out, 6 in total, followed by 5 Redwing. I also saw 2 Magpies, a jay, a Common Buzzard, a single Goldfinch and a Wren. This area is ‘berry heaven’ so I will be checking it through the winter.

I arrived at my next destination, ‘Creaking Gate Lake’ at 9:15am. I am beginning to really love this location and will frequent it through the winter as it’s clearly under-watched. Here I had good numbers of Gadwall and Mallard along with 3 Little Grebes, 7 Cormorant, 19 Coot, 8 Moorhen, 4 Mute swan, a single Wigeon, a single Tufted duck, 18 Canada Geese and 1 Greylag Goose. When I got there, I scanned the far corner of the lake and could see a bird in with the Little Grebes that was markedly different… At distance in bins it looked like it could have been a Redhead Smew. I hot-footed it over to that side and unfortunately flushed everything (bad fieldcraft) over to the other side of the lake. I couldn’t relocate it so I guess I’ll never know! In the surrounding woods I again saw a few Redwing over and found myself in the midst of an extremely large and mobile tit flock… No Treecreeper in it this week but several Goldcrest and a few Coal Tits with Long-Tailed, Blue and Great padding the numbers. I also saw a lone Jay in the trees.

As I pulled up at ‘Hell Pit’ I could see a monstrous flock of geese on the field at TF921172. With only bins and a crosswind I wasn’t able to scan for pink-feet but I could make out mostly Greylag’s and Canada’s. I estimated the flock at around 450-500 birds, all hunkered down from the wind. A huge count which with less wind may have been countable but probably wouldn’t have even been there!

I popped into Bawdeswell Garden Centre to grab a coffee and a slice of cake, one of my Wensum Valley rituals and moved onto eat my lunch at Bylaugh Sewage Works… probably the winner of the ‘least-glamorous’ lunching spot. I love this place, always seeing some good birds. I watched a pair of Goldcrest’s up to their usual flitting business, whilst I ate my sandwiches. I was then afforded beautiful views of a Grey Wagtail that sat up on a metal rail resplendent against the grey sky and silvery perch. I also saw a few Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Blackbirds in nearby Hawthorn as well as a Great Tit and a Robin. Flyover’s included 2 Egyptian Geese and numerous Redwing.

As I continued down the road to head home, I watched a small finch flock (c10) wheel into a tree ahead of me. I pulled over to have a look and I’m so glad I did as I counted 9 Brambling perched in the tree… They popped down into the hedgerow, where I recounted them at 13 and then suddenly they all burst up into the air and over the field where I counted a loose 30 of them. The biggest flock of Brambling I’ve seen and I’m guessing a big count for the valley. Those who have read my previous posts will know how much I adore these underrated finches so this absolutely made my day!!!

 Seawatching madness!                         reporter Steve Chapman

Since getting into birding a lot more five years ago (I was more of a holiday birder before that) I’ve really enjoyed seawatching. The best watching is usually when the weather is at its worst as strong winds are needed to bring distant seabirds close to our shores. So when I saw the weather forecast for Saturday 20th November I knew the conditions would be favourable – strong northerly winds coming straight down from the sub-arctic promising the possibility of good birds.

Before setting out I had to decide where to go – Cley or Winterton? The north Norfolk coast around Sheringham has arguably the best seawatching aspect but there had been recent Humpback Whale sightings of Winterton which could be a bonus. In the end I decided on Winterton – with gale force north winds there would be little shelter at Cley and I really wanted to see that Humpback.

Driving along the A47 I felt the strong winds buffeting the car. Wow this is serious! What will it be like at the coast? Luckily I had the sense to put on my boots, extra clothes and waterproofs before arriving as when I got out at Winterton beach car park the wind hit me like a battering ram, with torrential rain on top! At the far end of the car park is a large storage shed which acts like a giant windbreak where I quickly joined 3 other birders 2 of whom, Tim Hemmings and Mick Davies, were local birders I had met before.

Now onto the seawatching. It was fabulous! Near to shore passed string after string northwards  of wildfowl and waders – Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Shelduck, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Brent, Common Scoter with the odd Velvet or two mixed in, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Dunlin and Knot. Mid- to far-distance we had Kittiwake, Gannet, Guillemot, and Razorbill, whilst in the far distance we managed to pick up Bonxie and Arctic Skua. About half an hour after starting, Tim called out ‘Little Auk, close in flying north!’ And there it was, like a tiny clockwork toy buzzing along just above the surf. It’s about half the size of a puffin and has a characteristic bullet shaped head – not pointed like the other auks. At one point it landed on the sea, but then a few moments later flew again, giving us superb views as it passed by. Magic! But more was to come. Looking far out to sea, over a mile, we saw scores of gannets circling over one are. This could mean only one thing – a whale was in the area. Soon a shout went out ‘just seen the blow!’ The humpback has a characteristic spout which shoots up high in the air like a geyser. Try as I could though I just couldn’t get on to it in the huge seas and I was getting increasingly frustrated as sightings continued to be called out.  Finally bingo! I had a clear view of the tail fin lifting clear of the surface. It was only a few seconds but for me it meant the world – sharing something so special close to home.

By this time it was getting to lunchtime and cold and windswept so I decided to take a break in the beach cafe with one of their superb bacon butties. This was a mistake as any birder knows, as half an hour later I returned to seawatch only to learn a Leach’s Petrel had flown by! I had seen one the previous year but they are still a brilliant bird to see. Never mind, don’t be greedy. Joining us now was Ian Brittain, a fellow WVBS member, and soon we were the only ones left watching. Working together we soon picked up four more Little Auks flying north. Scanning out to sea about a mile there were still loads of gannets circling but I managed to pick up a different bird about two-thirds gannet sized flying south in big shearing arcs. ‘’I’ve got a large Shearwater here Ian!’ I called. He quickly got onto it and we followed its progress for several minutes, agreeing that it was indeed a large Shearwater, meaning it could only realistically be a Great or Cory’s. From the flight jizz – ‘high glorious arcs’ as my guidebook says – shape and shading it was almost certainly a Cory’s. Shortly after we got onto two Sooty Shearwaters at about the same distance, showing the clear difference in size, shape, and shading to our previous bird.

It was now 3pm; I had been watching for nearly six hours. Tired but exhilarated it was time to call it quits, head home for a hot bath and reflect on this day of true ‘seawatching madness!’.

A Day at Rio Lagartos on the Gulf of Mexico  –  reporter Mary Walker

Ratt-a-tat-tat –  Room Service”. We peer at the clock. 3.45a.m. Are we bonkers? Probably! Grabbing breakfast we quietly make our way to meet Luis Ku Quinones, our Mexican Bird Guide. We are based at Akumal on the Atlantic coast, and Luis had already spent two days showing us around the local area, mostly rain forest and old Mayan ruins. The birdwatching had been particularly hard, we had arrived in the dry season, November, and it had rained stair rods for hour after hour. Several sites including every birders treat “The Waste Disposal site” had been abandoned. We had mostly been looking for North American migrants working South through Central America. If we came across a ficus (fig) tree it wasn’t unusual to find c20 different species of migrant in it. All different shades of Olive and Yellow, furiously feeding and continually moving. Almost all lifers for us, but no hope for a photograph.

Today we are visiting Rio Lagartos Bio Reserve, Yucatan. 150,000 acres of forest, dunes and mangrove, estuary and beaches. 388 bird species have been recorded here, along with 59 mammals, 80 reptiles, 99 fish and 16 amphibians, in a rich and diverse flora. Rather a lot to pack into one day.

Making our way North, as dawn approached the morning mist began to lift, revealing farmland scattered with old stone cottages and cacti popping up haphazardly. Black Vultures were atop of every telegraph pole. We so desperately wanted to get out of the vehicle for a scan, but we were on a mission. We briefly pulled up at a small roadside pond to watch a Bat Falcon, sitting on a pole eating a bat. A Vermilion Flycatcher on migration was in the bush underneath. Northern Jacanas and Soras scuttled about. Who knows what else was there, but we had to go onwards.

We arrived at the tiny fishing village of Rio Lagartos and turned down a narrow side street. It was obviously the  local Washerwoman’s cottage with line after line of washing fluttering in the breeze. There was an expanse of water beside her cottage where we picked up Red-Winged Blackbird, Black-Necked Stilt, Reddish Egret, Blue-Winged Teal, Pied-Billed Grebe,Mexican Sheartail, Mangrove Vireo, Northern Water-thrush, Magnolia Warbler, and Altamira Oriole. All in ten minutes, and we were not allowed a quick scope. No dawdling. Time was not on our side and we had a boat to catch.

On the quay side we picked our way through the Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns. Had the Sandwich Terns there spent the summer in Norfolk? Settled in the tiny open boat, the throttle was opened and off we went. Pausing at the first sand bank, where I could have happily stayed all day, we tried to work out the Willets from the Marbled Godwits, just which was the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Long-Billed Dowitcher? The Black Skimmers, American Flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills and both Brown and White Pelicans were easier. Engine on and off for a quick scan of the shore. Eight different species of Plover dashed about at the water edge along side Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstones. Snowy, Semi Palmated, Wilsons, and Piping Plovers were all new to us. In a rocking boat I had to pretend I could work them all out amongst the scum, seaweed, and pebbles, but in reality some serious homework was needed. Off we shot again hanging on to our hats. Red Flamingos were flying in straight lines overhead. Every other tree had an Osprey or a pair of Black Hawks sitting on it. The only other humans we saw were four tourists in a boat, wearing their swimwear and plastered in drying mud. I was too astonished to lift my camera. The smell of Sulphur as they passed was horrendous. We enjoyed sightings of Boat-Billed Heron, Double-Crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Black and Yellow- Crowned Night Herons, White Ibis and the gorgeous Snowy Egrets as we made our way back to shore.

Ah – lunch we hoped. But no, Luis wanted to pick up a few endemics first.”Just a quick hours walk” he says. Only mad dogs and English Birders go out in the midday sun. The weather forecast was 30C feeling like 40C. It was right. One hour of course turned into three and we were eaten alive by Mozzies. But we bagged Lesser Yellow-Headed Vulture, Great Black Hawk, Crested Caracara, Mangrove Cuckoo,Blue-Black Grassquit, Indigo Bunting, and Yucatan Wren. Without doubt the stars of the show were two magnificent Lesser Roadrunners.

I had never been more pleased to stop for lunch and the loo. At 3p.m even Luis had had enough. Lunch was freshly caught Corvina fish simply grilled, with pink pickled onions, vats of Octopus Salsa, Bean Puree and Tortillas. Waving us goodbye the restaurant proprietor handed us two Rennies! What a day.

Before we left the UK I had chatted to one of the legendary bus pass boys and asked his opinion of birding in Mexico. Bl….  Hot, and Bl…. hard work was the reply. Of course he was right, but my goodness the birds were good and made even better for working so hard to get them.

Joe’s Jaunts 4  –     Wensum Valley 6th December 2015    

reporter Joe Harkness

A cracking jaunt around the Wensum valley today, with some fantastic records! I started at Sorrel lane as I usually do and as I drove down a Bullfinch popped out from the hedgerow. The hedgerow here is lovely and dense and I can see it become really vibrant with bird life further into this winter. Also around were 8 Stock Doves, a Chaffinch, 2 Wood Pigeons and large flocks of Rooks and Starlings in the fields.

I moved onto Rawhall Lane and was met with the usual fare, a Blackbird, Blue Tits, a Jay and a single Redwing all in and around the hedgerows here – a designated conservation roadside, which I think is really smart! I pulled into another conservation area and could see 3 Mistle Thrushes perched on a wire and a Cormorant flew over too.

As soon as I pulled up at Creaking gate Lake, 4 Bullfinches took to the air and 2 Great Tit’s serenaded me with all manner of calls. I’m seeing groups of 2-4 Bullfinches at various sites around the valley, which is pleasing considering the issues Sculthorpe Moor have had with them. On the lake were the usual candidates; 2 Tufties, 2 Shoveler, a Cormorant, 17 Coot, a Moorhen, a pair of Teal and 4 Mute Swans.

I moved onto ‘Hell Pit’ at the end of Salter’s Lane and as I walked down to the best viewing spot c30 lapwing flew over me, always nice to see. A mobile tit flock seemed to flank me either side of the path as I walked down, I counted 10 Long-Tailed Tits, 3 Blue tits and a Goldcrest. 7 Pheasants shot across the path in front of me as I cut into the saplings to view the pit itself. As always, it was absolutely heaving with wildfowl and geese. Huge numbers of Greylags and Canadas, plenty of Mallard, Wigeon and Gadwall as well as a Lesser Black-Backed Gull and loads of Common Gulls. The undoubted highlight was a drake Pintail, a cracking record for the valley.

As I headed back along Litcham Road I spotted some geese in a field, sure they were Pink-Feet I reversed back and had a quick look… They were indeed 3 Pink-footed Geese, another good record for the valley; they promptly flew off in the direction of the adjacent gravel workings.

I stopped in at Old Hall Farm, Bylaugh to see if the brambling were still around. In the gusty wind I could only get visuals on two but I could hear more calling. Also present were a number of goldfinches and Chaffinches, along with a male Reed Bunting calling and showing from the top of the hedgerow.

Heading in the direction of home, I deliberated and eventually decided to pop into Kingfisher Lakes in Lyng, hoping to catch up with the Lesser Redpoll Steve saw a few weeks back. I walked the lakes, something I don’t normally do… there were a good number (27) Tufties on the large lake and 2 Great-Crested Grebes. The major highlight of the whole morning was when as I was walking down a path adjacent to the lake, I flushed a Short-Eared Owl from the marshes to my left. It flew all the way over the lake and I lost it on the other side. Not only a really good record but the views were really good too! I popped into Costessey pits on the way home to pick up the ‘obligatory’ Kingfisher, a dazzling way to round off a brilliant morning round the Wensum Valley

Joe’s Jaunt 5   Wensum Valley 13th December 2015

                                                                                                                                                                               Near Rawhall Lane I found a new spot here where I could get into some trees to view a field margin. Here was a wealth of colourful finches and other feeding birds; c15 Yellowhammers, a similar amount of Redwing, a handful of Fieldfare, around 10 each of Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch and a lovely single Brambling. This flock moved from the field edge up into trees and back again, affording me great views.

Nothing of great note at Creaking Gate Lake or Poplar Lake, although at the latter I flushed a Kingfisher as I pulled up which powered off calling in a dazzling flash of blue.

Hell Pit was heaving with wildfowl and geese but no new species of note. As I drove back into the valley proper at Hoe Bridge was a flock of Fieldfare in the fields either side of the road and the treeline, easily 100+ but constantly moving so I gave up counting.

Just a single Brambling at Old Hall Farm Bylaugh, some massive finch movements in the field and adjacent trees including 6 Reed Bunting and several Yellowhammer as well as the common finches.

A quick stop at Kingfisher Lakes and as I pulled up, it’s namesake was sat perched in a tree overhanging the lake. 2 in the valley in one day is a mega bonus! A good count of 40 Tufties too was nice.

On Steve’s advice, as I headed home I pulled in and checked the first lake at Lyng Easthaugh for Goosander. Nothing of major note (good numbers of wildfowl and geese present), although on the way down there were some big finch flocks in the field and hedgerows.

Joe’s Jaunt 6  Wensum Valley 21st December 2015 

A lovely morning spent in the valley, with some awesome and slightly odd sightings. Following my usual route I started at Sorrel and Rawhall Lanes, the usual fare was here including 4 Bullfinches and 5 yellowhammers, both striking against the grey skies. I never tire of seeing either of these fine farmland birds.

Creaking Gate Lake was next up, where there was another cracking count of 90 Canada Geese. I also spotted the Drake Pintail again, presumably the same one from Hell Pit a few weeks back. Moving down Salter’s Lane, I immediately picked up a Treecreeper low down as I pulled into the road. I also had to wait for 6 Red-legged Partridge’s to cross the road! 6 Shelduck and c40 Lapwing could be seen over on the old works and as I pulled over to consult my map, a Coal Tit flew over my bonnet.

I had a look for the Firecrest that David Knight saw yesterday on the Hoe Bird Walk but was unable to find it. The level crossing at Hoe/Worthing is a great site though and I picked up a Marsh Tit as well as numerous finches.

I then checked the road at Bylaugh Old Hall Farm to see if the Brambling were still around and I was treated to 12 sitting in the trees either side of the road. After this I popped into Sparham Pools and sat in the car park eating my lunch. Here I was lucky to get fantastic views of 2 Treecreeper’s and 2 Nuthatches all moving around the same tree!

I then decided to go to my’ old’ patches of Haveringland Hall and Buxton heath, who I hadn’t visited since the summer! I’m glad I went to Haveringland as I was convinced I saw a Phylloscopus warbler in a huge tit flock (c60 Blue, Great and Goldcrest). I spent the next 10-15 minutes pinning it down and it was definitely a Chiffchaff!I got to view it for about 5 minutes before it flew off with the flock and I remembered of the wintering one at Bylaugh SW last year, so I’m pleased to have another wintering record for the valley!

I then moved onto Buxton Heath, where some birders had an SEO yesterday along with a few Jack Snipe. The rain was ferocious by now and I almost turned back… I’m glad I didn’t as I flushed up 2 Jack Snipe and around 5 Common Snipe from the ‘mire’ (no SEO but not fussed). Now I know how to cross the boggy areas at Buxton Heath safely as I have been shown how to. I would strongly advise against walking in the wettest areas as the ground is extremely soft and hides a stream, I’ve fallen in before and it was not a fun experience I can guarantee.

A great mornings birding!!! Species total for the morning was 48.

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