Member’s Trip Reports in 2016

“A Very Birdy Day”                                                reporter Mary Walker

As we shivered around Pensthorpe one perishing day in January, my fellow WVBS “bird counter” regaled me with his recent bird watching trip to Thailand. The seed was sown …

Forward 12 months and here we are as dawn is breaking, alongside Glenn Collier and Lucy Topsom, watching our target birds of two male and four  beautiful female Silver Pheasants strutting their stuff in front of our vehicle. It’s now day 10 of our fascinating birding trip to Thailand and we are in Khao Yai National Park. Opened in 1962 it is Thailand’s first national park. A mixture of dry evergreen forest, dry deciduous forest, tropical moist evergreen forest, hill evergreen forest and grasslands. It boasts over 230 species of resident birds. We were heading up the highest mountain in the Park, Khao Rom at 1351 metres.

At the summit there was a large army presence. America had paid for the radar station up here, and my goodness was it guarded. For once there was a public loo, very welcome after the bumpy ride up. The walls were covered with at least 50 different varieties of moth. The Thai guards lowered their guns and watched in puzzlement as we exclaimed at the beauty of the moths. Behind the loos was a small copse of fruiting trees. As normal, Black-crested Bulbuls were keeping noisy guard duty, but a few minutes scanning revealed Black-tailed Laughing Thrush, Claudia’s, Alstroms and Yellow-browed (we know this one!!) Warblers, Puff-throated and Rufous Tit Babblers, Black-winged Cuckoo Shrike, and Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike. Back down the mountain we went with our new non English speaking Thai driver. He had never driven birders before and goodness knows what he made of us continually yelling Yat (Stop)and us leaping in and out the van as fast as we could. Nearly every time that day we emerged from the bushes with wide smiles and high fives all round. Vernal Hanging Parrots hung, Fire-breasted and Scarlet-backed Flower-peckers pecked, Chestnut-headed and Blue-bearded Bee Eaters caught their bees. Pied and Great Hornbills nosily flapped by, seemingly too large to fly. A Blue Pitta teased us in the undergrowth before making a fleeting appearance and we made a great find of an Asian Emerald Cuckoo.

The day was still very young when we finished our descent. Scanning the Meadows we contemplated the difference between Richard’s and Paddyfield Pipits. Olive-backed Pipit was easier and plentiful. A Bright-headed Cisticola showed magnificently in the morning light.

After a delicious quick Thai roadside lunch, washed down with home-made Chrysanthemum cordial, it was back to work. We had dipped the most important endemic bird on the way to Khao Yai. The seriously endangered Limestone Wren-babbler, so we wanted to try again. It favours the habitat in the Limestone cliffs around the Temples, which are sadly over run with feral dogs and huge troops of macaques. The first temple yielded nothing, so we moved a mile or so down the road. This time we struck gold. Eagle eyed Glenn found our Wren-babbler picking through the leaf litter. We all had brilliant views for one minute and then it was gone, and we could not relocate it. More high fives all round. We wandered around the Temple a little longer and another missed target, the Lineated Barbet came to show himself off. We had heard him so many times, and at last, success.

Waving goodbye to the Buddhist Monk huddled around his bonfire we headed back to the van.

A rather special and successful day had been enjoyed by all. Sometimes for no reason we all have “A Very Birdy Day.” Today certainly was.

In search of the Spoonbilled Sandpiper     A  report by  Lucy Topsom

A select few of our birding friends had told us their tales of seeing the Spoonbilled Sandpiper and we felt we would never have a chance to see one for ourselves.

When we were asked to join Keith and Mary Walker on a birding trip to Thailand, our inspirational  target bird might now become a possibility.

Petchaburi Province is about 2.5 hours away from Bankok Airport.  We stayed in The Fisherman’s Resort, a lovely place with its own private beach on the Gulf of Thailand.

We were up early before the heat haze as we could see it was going to be a scorcher and made our way to Baan Pak-Tale Shorebird Site. It is an excellent location due to its working salt pans to see species of shorebirds including Critically Endangered Spoonbilled Sandpiper and the Endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank.  This area teams with thousands of over-wintering waders and we saw them flying in and scuttling across the briny pans.

Our guide nicknamed“End” took us to the pans and we had to walk along raised banks of soil where we could see numerous waders flying in. “ End” challenged us to find “The Bird” and we would get first prize if we did.  We started scanning but End had beaten us to it.  We watched a total of 3 feeding along the edges of the pans and they gradually started flying and feeding in their own particular fashion towards us.  We couldn’t take our eyes off them and had to pinch ourselves to see if this could really be happening.  It was a real “high five” moment and there were a lot of smiley faces now the pressure was off.

“End” proudly said that she had been the first birder to see one of the Slimbrige ringed birds which were part of a conservancy programme.  It is truly an amazing feat  that they know to fly to this particular region all the way from Gloucestershire.  It must be just in their instinct?

After we had calmed down we started to concentrate on scanning through the other waders and we certainly saw plenty.  Highlights included the Nordmann’s Greenshank, Terek, Marsh and Broad Billed Sandpiper and Long Toed Stint.

We will now be able to relay our wonderful experiences of seeing the Spoonbilled Sandpiper to our birding friends and maybe inspire them to go.

On a roll in the Brecks.     A  report by  Lucy Topsom

A promising start to the day, the visibility was good, the wind was light as we had planned to go to Santon Downham in search of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  We had heard it the previous week making us determined to see it this time.

We knew that it had been showing on and off the previous week so it was our aim to located it. We arrived around 7am only to told that it had just been showing.  I knew we should have got up at 5am rather than 6!  We hot footed it down the river path for about half a mile and saw one or two birders.  On the way we heard Wood Lark singing its tluee, tluee, tluee descending song, great another really good Breckand species.  We stopped at some good habitat and started waiting, listening and hoping we would be lucky. After a short while we heard the fast drumming sound and shortly afterwards we located it.  We felt so excited  as it flew close by.  What an amazing start to the day.   Back to the car park for a well earned cuppa.   We were rewarded with redwings, bullfinch, brambling, siskins and redpoll along the river bank path.  Our heads turned to the double notes given off with high pitched quacking showing us a lovely pair of mandarin duck.

Off to Santon Downham Church which is a good haunt for Firecrest as well as other things!!  It didn’t take long to hear the sound which can be easily confused with goldcrest; however it lacks the cyclic rhythm.  We were not able to have good views as it kept to the tops of the pines and kept dashing about.

We decided where to go next over another cuppa.  Mmmm, Goshawks?  Off to the Gossy site and we were greeted by birders looking through scopes.  This looked good.  We jumped out the car and within a minute or so saw not one, not two but three!!  We watched males and females soaring, circling as they displayed just over tree top level for quite some time.  The female who was darker underneath and much larger than the male, flew closely over our heads.  The male who was quite pale underneath landed in a spruce tree and we felt rewarded as you could see  the plumage in great detail through the scope.   A Red Kite also put in an appearance but was overshadowed by the Gos. We decided to have another cuppa and decide where to go next.

Mmmm, how about Hawfinch at Lynford Arboretum?  We knew that up to 13 had been seen the day before on the hornbeams in the paddock.  This didn’t mean it was going to be a “walk in the park” as they are a bird in decline and quite tricky to locate.  When we arrived in the car park we saw one or two birders returning to their cars. Any luck we enquired, yep just seen two up in the paddocks.  We walked or was it jogged directly to the paddocks but oh they had just flown off.  We waited what seemed like an age and then the word went up, four flying over the pines at 12 o’clock. Sadly they didn’t come any nearer.  We continued to wait and were rewarded when not four but seven hawfinch were located in two pines close together but the light was not great and they were only in sillouette.   Glenn then found a single bird by sound which was in the hornbeam close by.  The light was good showing us every detail, including the large and powerful bill which can generate 50kg force to crack a nut! On the way back to the car we went in search of firecrest which again were singing high up in the tree tops.  My neck couldn’t cope with this.

We were getting tired now but mmmm, shrike?  The Great Grey Shrike had been seen on and off at Grimes Graves and as it was just round the corner, decided to call in on our way home – it would be rude not to!  We searched but sadly it was not to be.  However as a reward we saw a lovely pair of stonechat.

Now that’s what I call a good birding day.

Members weekend to Kent – 13 to 17 May 2016

reporter Liz Bridge

As is customary, we had a stop on our journey and  Rainham Marshes RSPB was the choice.  Norfolk is flat: Rainham Marshes flatter.  Bounded by the R. Thames, the Eurostar line, the A13 and a landfill site, the visitor centre building is not in the least conventional and looks quite industrial, and there is a drawbridge, so there is no sneaking in before time!  Woodland, reedbeds, pools, scrapes and the river bank.  Lesser and Common Whitehroat, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and other migrants.  5 species of raptor, including a Peregrine, a handful of ducks, Mistle and Song Thrush.  Real highlights were very good views of a Glossy Ibis and a was it/wasn’t it Great White Egret – it was, and a first Cuckoo for the trip.

But we soon had to move on and cross the Dartford Bridge and make our way to Faversham which was to be our base.  On the way, a brief call in at Northward Hills where we had the first of several frustrating attempts to actually see a singing Nightingale.  So close to us, but obscured from view by millions of leaves and mountains of hawthorn blossom.  A Cuckoo was more obliging, alighting on a dead tree but immediately being disturbed by a Heron flying by too close.  The Cuckoo did not even have time to settle its wings.  So on to our hotel for R&R.

The following day we went to Stodmarsh NNR, one of the best sites visited.  Part of the reserve runs along the Great Stour river and there is grazing marsh, reed bed (the largest in SE England), lakes and pools, along with some woodland, 5 hides and a viewing point.  We seemed to be the only people taking on the whole walk and we were delighted to find a pub halfway round.  Everything seemed to happen:  Turtle Dove heard from the car park, many, many Cetti’s Warblers (or was it one following us round?); three Hobbies sitting in a tree and later giving us a flying display; excellent view of a Cuckoo flying and landing in a tree to preen.  Then another elusive Nightingale singing from across the water.  Sedge and Reed Warblers aplenty.  And then that other frustrating bird – a Grasshopper Warbler singing so clearly but hiding from us.  It was a real pleasure to see two resplendent male Garganey from the viewing point, along with more common ducks, Common Terns and a lone Sandpiper.  Sandwich Bay was disappointing but Pegwell Bay did us proud.  This bay was the only place where we really saw waders: a Red Knot being red, Bar-tailed Godwits with their summer plumage, Curlew, Oystercatchers all in a row.  Sandwich Terns settled on a spit and then, a big surprise, an Eider in immature plumage.  Lots of Shelduck as well: they were very numerous on our trip.

Now day three was special.  I was not prepared for the beauty of Dungeness, even though it is essentially shingle.  Some special sightings.  We were directed to see a Black-necked Grebe, and there it was.  But an hour or more later, watching from a hide over a different pool we found two, both looking really great in their summer plumage.  We were asked by a Scottish lady to help find a Hobby which she had seen land, and here it was seated on the ground in front of some brambles.  A fantastic profile view.  She was delighted and so were we.  The specials continued.  We heard a Cuckoo and David, searching thoroughly, found a Cuckoo low down on brambles.  We could not anticipate what then happened.  The bird shot down into the brambles and up again, followed by a very agitated small bird.  Not too clear what this bird was but he kept having a go at the Cuckoo, eventually moving it several feet along the top of the brambles.  Then activity stopped.  Now was this a female laying an unwanted egg in someone else’s  nest, but females do not ‘cuckoo’.  Did we miss a male who was calling out of sight?  Hobbies were seen flying around or sitting on top of posts.  We couldn’t cope with so much excitement so retired for a relaxing lunch.  Faggs Wood called us, a complete change of habitat.  The book says ‘an interesting mixture of habitats, with mature oak woods, conifer plantations, some coppiced woodland, scrub and open rides’.  Just the job, but very few birds singing or seen.  But there was a Nightingale again serenading us from close by with his whole repertoire.  Again so many leaves and blossom that four pairs of eyes failed to see him.  Nightingales are frustrating!

Now the day I had been waiting for – visit to Elmley NNR on the Isle of Sheppey.  Our route went via the old low bridge, for which one of the group was grateful!  The new bridge did look steep and high. The main area here is grazing marsh with a network of ditches, some reed lined.  This area had Lapwing and Redshank with their young, many Shelduck, a Little Egret and a solitary Grey Wagtail.  As we were leaving we spied a Short-eared Owl which has commandeered the area, which is grazed by sheep and cattle which roam over the track at will.  Moving on to the marsh area we had to be very firm with ourselves not to try to see all the Reed and Sedge Warblers but we did manage a Bearded Tit.  Wildfowl on the pools included Gadwall, Pochard, Teal, Shoveler and, of course, Mallard, also Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits.  Having almost given up on Yellow Wagtails, there was one feeding along the track, and later two more as we were driving out.

The final day of our trip.  Luggage in cars, we went a couple of miles from the hotel to Oare Marshes LNR.  A lovely place and more birds in a shorter time than anywhere else.  Very, very good view of a Cetti’s Warbler sitting in a bare tree,  Bearded Tit again, another Yellow Wagtail.  Raptors included a Red Kite which as a local said was unusual for the area.  The common ducks on the pools and Black-tailed Godwits.  A treat was a Little Tern over the R. Swale, our first for the trip.  We ended our few days away at the Essex Wildlife Trust site at Fingringhoe Wick.  What happened here?  Four of us standing at a junction of paths surrounded by singing Nightingales.  Thirty plus minutes later, not one had been seen.  A mental note to try earlier next year when the leaves and blossom are not out.

So now we were definitely homeward bound.  Our special thanks to Alan and Mary for again organising the member’s weekend away.

Black-billed Cuckoo Twitch May 2016 (The B Team Approach).

reporter Paul Riley

In the run up to the May bank holiday news came out of a Black-billed Cuckoo on North Uist, Outer Hebrides. Not only is this a Mega of a bird, but for an adult to turn up in the spring has never been heard of. I recall being on the Scillies and shown the tree and branch where this ultra rare bird was last seen. The nature of the American Cuckoos to only be seen for a day or two then found on Moribund once again left me looking on the map to see where this mythical place was. Couple more days later and news was still coming out that the bird was alive and well and still frequenting the same area. Graffiti in the dirt on my car told me the A team (term used since our Scillies rivalry back in the 90’s) had already gone for it. They knew getting time off work, indecision and trying to do it the cheapest way meant the B team would always be a day or two behind. Our local car hire was looking dodgy for a car over the bank holiday weekend and I had my ear bent for leaving their last car in a state after the Dalmatian Pelican twitch (I blame Ian for standing in something brown and squidgy while we were looking for Cirl Buntings at Exminster).

Ian then did the decent thing and offered to take his car if I arranged the ferry and accommodation. Booking the ferry was a nightmare as leaving it until the bank holiday meant we were too late to take the car on board. Ian was putting pressure on me to get it sorted. I told him the only car hire I could find on the island was Western Isles Classic cars and told him whilst their American sheriffs police car might get us to the bird quicker and in front of everybody else it might be more practical to take their Scooby Doo Mystery Machine as we could sleep in it overnight.

Relief came with a call from the A team, now holding the fort on North Uist. Tony, Glenn and Lucy gripped us off with the Cuckoo but not only referred us to a more normal car hire, they had booked us in at a hostel on the island.

We left Dereham on the Friday night taking it in turns driving up to Uig on Skye, seeing Little and Barn Owls on the way. Somewhere in Scotland, don’t know where Richard shouted out, “Black Grouse” and brought the car to screeching halt. It woke me up. I was unable to wind down or look through the tinted windows or even get out of the car as I was child proof locked in the back. Six birds flew away from us but we saw another three a little further down the road which I did manage to see and photograph. Our spirits were high although we had no news regarding the Cuckoo. At another stop we saw Goosander, Goldeneye, RB Merganser, Dunlin and a distant raptor which could’ve been an Osprey over the loch. We were not getting messages and unable to get a phone signal and wondered if we may be better just birding Scotland without the hassle of ferries and chasing the Cuckoo which might already have flown.

We pressed on.

On reaching Skye I received a text from Tony saying they were starting the long journey home. Richard asked what car he was driving these days, Ian and I pointed to a car coming in the opposite direction and said one like that one. It was Tony who was driving it – honest! Near Portree we saw a group of birders looking over the hillside and decided to pull over. They had a Golden Eagle which we all scoped. We were ecstatic with their news that the BB Cuckoo had been seen in the morning. I rang Glen to tell him we had recently passed them on the road and were presently watching Golden Eagle, he replied he was some distance away from us now but had stopped and was also looking at Golden Eagle.

At Uig ferry terminal we saw Black Guillemot, Shag, Hooded Crow and Raven. Over the hillside were two more Golden Eagles. Glenn had told us there were also White–tailed Eagles in the area and sure enough we all managed to scope one on its nest. The ferry came in at a speed that made it list to one side as it did the U turn in the harbour. We went onto the port side of the deck and got half decent views of the nesting Sea Eagle as the ferry powered its way out. Richard shouted out two more distant Golden Eagles as we left Skye. The sea was flat calm and the weather warm and bright. Birds on the crossing included more Black Guillemots, Guillemot, Puffin, Fulmar, Gannet and Arctic Skua. Harbour Porpoises and Bottlenose Dolphins also kept us entertained.

In the lounge at the Lochmaddy terminal a lady stood with a clipboard and a pile of car keys on one of the seats. Everything was going to plan and we were soon on our way in a convoy with other birders wacky races style to Piable and hopefully where the Cuckoo was last seen. After twenty minutes we were parked up and searching the area. Snipe were drumming like crazy and Cuckoos were seen and heard, but not the right one.

A frustrating hour and a half had passed when a nearby birders phone rang. I heard him ask where the church was. Other birders phones were now ringing and people were now on the move. I followed the crowd and when the church came into view I could see Ian and Richard climbing over the fence to a nearby garden. Couldn’t believe my luck as I approached the Cuckoo flew right in front of me left to right and perched on top of a hedge. It was slim with mostly olive brown upperparts and white throat, breast and belly. It stared back at me through its blazing red eye ring. I was now being jostled by the excited crowd, scopes were being set up and cameras were clicking, it gave brilliant views. Big smiles all round and relief all that everything had gone to plan. Every time the bird perched up it was mobbed by Mipits which kept it mobile. Ian was complaining his camera and phone/scope adapter thingy were locked up in the car a mile away. We watched the bird until we had our fill and excitedly dawdled back to the car. As we passed the church Richard paused to say a prayer to the bird gods – thought he pushed a bit when he asked to be remembered for the lottery draw as well. Ian shouted a bird of prey and before I even got on it, he had identified it as a White-tailed Eagle. Other birders and I were much appreciative.

We decided to check the accommodation. Sure enough Tony had pencilled our names on the board for a couple of bunks, everything was going to plan. A short drive down the road gave us good views of Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls. It was now dusk,  Ian wanted to stay out and listen for Corncrakes, even promised us views of the Northern Lights but Richard and I were so knackered we persuaded Ian that a pint  and something to eat were about all we could manage. After the pub we went back to the hostel. We slept like logs.

Ian was up bright and early and already watching Arctic Terns from the bedroom window. We pondered what to do. Go and watch the BBC again or try for some of the island specialities. I mentioned Glenn had told me they had heard Corncrake on the entrance road to Balranald RSPB reserve. We stopped near the junction and within five minutes were listening to one crex crexing away. A little further down the lane we had another two. The Cuckoo didn’t show after a brief search, so we were off to Benbecula and soon looking at a male Red-necked Phalarope being chased around a small pool by two females. There were male Ruff in breeding finery lekking on a small island.  Pity we couldn’t stop long to admire the pitying of genuine Rock Doves but were running short of time to catch the ferry back to Skye. We sped along only slowing down for the closest of Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls on the way back to Lochmaddy. At the car park we quickly unloaded the boot of the car. I heard Ian smugly say, “Cleaned my side of the car”. All he had done was to shift all his empty sandwich boxes, coke cans and crisp packets onto my side! Richard was pointing out Red and Black-throated Divers by the ferry and Ian had a group of Eider on a pool opposite. A quick pause for photos beside the ferry and we were on board.

We were on our way home.

As the ferry pulled away I called a Golden Eagle over a ridge and in the next second realised I made the classic tourists eagle mistake, it was a Common Buzzard. I went to the other side of the boat and threw myself overboard … not really, cos I wouldn’t be here to tell you this tale, would I ha! Much the same birds were seen on the way back as before. We were soon driving home, Ian and me in the front on eagle watch. No mistake this time, a Golden Eagle glided very low over the road near Sligachan. We both saw it at the same time and as luck would have it there was a layby coming up on the opposite side of the road. We climbed a high bank and with the theme tune to Where Eagles Dare reeling through my mind, gasped as it came into view and circled low overhead. I even managed some half decent photos. We had superb views and it was our sixth of the weekend, outnumbering our Sea Eagle sightings three to one. Further on we were held up in holiday traffic on the bonnie bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond. Glenn had said earlier how many species he had seen (including Chequered Skipper). My method of recording is just to write down highlights in my diary with a red pen and new birds with a green pen (remember to get new green pen – old one dried up!). I told Ian and Richard that we should also be tallying up what we had seen, keep proper records like Glenn and maintain the rivalry with perhaps a couple of extra birds. So we wound the windows down in the slow moving traffic, looked and listened for the commoner birds. First thing we saw was a topless sunbather just managing to cover her chest as we drove slowly past – honest. I said we hadn’t yet seen Robin or Song Thrush. “Yeah and still no tits”, came the reply in unison. Goldcrest was heard atop a tree and then a Wood Warbler, in fact three Wood Warblers, Grey Wagtail, Bullfinch, Jackdaw, Magpie, they kept coming.

After a gruelling drive through the night we were at a filling station in Swaffham 05.30 am on the bank holiday Monday. We argued for ten minutes, who had the best method/maths for settling the expenditure. We were still on a high, what a great weekend!!

Cuckoo, cuckoo, what do you do?
In April I open my bill;
In May I sing all day;
In June I change my tune;
In July away I fly;
In August away I must.

Still can’t believe the enormity of this Mega  …  last seen 31st May … my book of nursery rhymes state it should’ve stayed another month  …—… don’t fly to Moribund … although the Danish would be glad to see you I’m sure.

BBC but no television – Bayhead, NorthUist

reporter Tony Forster

The lunchtime BBC news saw Tony Forster, Lucy Topsom and Glenn Collier embark on the 12 hour journey to Uig, Isle of Skye to catch the morning ferry to Lochmaddy, North Uist.

Highlights of the journey were Red Kite, Highland Cattle and Stirling Castle looking gloriously illuminated in the northern midnight dusk.

After a hearty breakfast on the ferry there was time for an hours sea watching, Black Guillemots, etc.

The 14 mile drive to Bayhead was solely focused on arriving and the fantastic scenery almost completely ignored, the beaches here have to be seen to be believed and rival the best you’ll find anywhere in the world.

Joining the small crowd present on arrival it took just 5 minutes to locate our quarry, a first ever spring record of Black-Billed Cuckoo.  Normally turning up in the autumn they have always quickly succumbed to the effort of crossing the Atlantic.


The BBC and 83

reporter Glenn Collier

In the past 30 years or so, a few have been found on the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, usually around the month of October.  I have been to the Scilly’s with Tony, Ian, Paul and Richard many times for rare birds but never seen the BBC as they were never found the following day.

Our chance came on North Uist, Yes, Yes, Yes.  We had great close views enabling us to watch the Cuckoo for a few hours; how wonderful. North Uist also gave us great views of Corncrakes, other birds of note including on the way home were twite, red breasted merganser, stonechat, puffin, hen harrier, hooded crow, short eared owls, black guillimots, white tailed eagle, whinchat, two golden eagles, dipper, tree pipit, red kite, spotted flycatcher, wood warbler, red grouse, whimbrel and tawny owl.  Amongst our finds, Lucy also found a chequered skipper on a site in Fort William.

This was a total of 84 birds within a 1300 mile round trip.  Phew!!

Mull & Iona –  June 2016                                      Reporter Mary Walker

The water gleamed like a Mill Pond in the evening sunshine. Kettle on, we rested our weary bones in comfortable armchairs, at our bedroom window at Hotel Pennyghael, overlooking Loch Scridain on the Isle of Mull, watching for the tell-tale ripple of Otters in the water. Twenty-seven stunning SISKINS were counted on the feeders under the window.

Keith & I, Helen & Keith Jones, Alan & Janet Hughes, all WVBS members, plus Alan’s brother David had all wanted to visit Mull for years, and here we were at  last. We had engaged the services of Ashley Saunders, at Oriole Birding, who had driven us from Fakenham, with an overnight stop at Doncaster, in his comfortable mini-bus to Mull. A trip he had made many many times.

After an excellent supper of local Mussels from Loch Spelve, Venison from Pennyghael Estate we headed for bed, some of us fortified with a shot of Tobermory Whisky, ready for a full day in the field tomorrow.

A pre-breakfast amble produced a pair of WHITE-TAILED EAGLES. That set us up for the day. We were soon furiously ticking, RED-THROATED DIVER, female HEN HARRIER carrying prey, WILLOW WARBLER, REDPOLL, TREE PIPIT, COMMON REDSTART, with NORTHERN WHEATEARS everywhere.

Wednesday saw us at Ulva quayside, meeting Martin our boatman for a morning trip. We chugged out through the rocky islets ticking SHAG, COMMON  and the beautiful BLACK GUILLEMOT, COMMON, LBB, GBB GULLS. We had barely claimed our seats when the skipper asked for silence. A female WHITE-TAILED EAGLE was following us. A small fish was tossed into the water and we watched in awe as the bird circled the boat before plucking the fish at point blank range. Amazing. We passed COMMON SEALS a plenty. The EAGLES were watching too, as the seals were in pup and the EAGLES were particularly keen on the afterbirth!

Back in port we headed inland for our picnic lunch, entertainment provided by ROCK PIPITS gathering food, and a pair of GREY WAGTAILS feeding five young, so large, it was a miracle they had not fallen out of the nest. Back in the van we made the leisurely drive to Caliach Point, where we had a brew and simply enjoyed the scenery.

Thursday saw us heading to Fionnphont to catch the ferry to the Trennish Isles and Staffa. The sun was beating down as we clambered onto the floating pontoon and then on to the island were we helped each other as we slithered over the seaweed covered rocks with great anticipation. First job of the day was to shed several layers as we were dressed for all weathers. We puffed our way up the narrow steep path , most wishing we were fitter, to the cliff top, where it was wall to wall PUFFINS  bringing Sand Eels into their burrows, alongside nesting RAZORBILLS and FULMARS. A small party of TWITE flitted about. The hardier members of our team continued up to Harp Rock to soak up the sights sounds and smells of the bustling COMMON GUILLEMOT colony. A GREAT SKUA  was keeping an eye on the proceedings. I think he fancied more than my Cheese & Pickle sandwich, whilst an ARCTIC SKUA wafted over the sea.

Back on board we steamed out to Staffa, affording more binocular filling views of seabirds. A brief stop at Fingals Cave then back to Pennyghael. Snoozing in the van we were jolted awake by a shout of “I think I have got an Owl” from the back seat. Out we piled as quietly as possible, and sure enough there was a SHORT EARED OWL  out hunting. We watched for ages, until reluctantly bed called.

On Friday we had a mission – OTTERS and GOLDEN EAGLES. Hardly settled in the van when we came across a family of OTTERS. A female was carrying a large crab, closely pursued by her two youngsters. We watched them for thirty minutes playing in the kelp – brilliant. Behind the OTTERS we spotted a Diver that looked interesting. Scope views revealed it to be an immaculate GREAT NORTHERN DIVER. Bingo – that should not have been here at this time of the year. Just what makes birding so exciting.

Luck was also in our favour with GOLDEN EAGLES. Yesterday we had spotted a suspect looking patch of dead vegetation, high up by a fissure in the rock face. Right on cue a small fluffy GOLDEN EAGLE chick”reversed” to the edge of a nest and poo-ed over the side. Today we hoped to see an adult. Sure enough the adult female was at the nest tearing up a prey item and gently feeding the chick, who was giving a begging whistle the whole time. The scene was being closely watched by the male who was flying over the glen. Eventually the female left the nest, batted off a RAVEN who was mobbing her, and joined her mate to perch on the ridge and survey their territory.

Saturday saw us Corncrake hunting on Iona, a most beautiful island. Creeping round the Abbey we heard plenty of crekking, but only displaying SNIPE were to be seen. Undeterred we walked over to the west of the island, crekking still coming in several places out of the long grass, but ROCK DOVES, SAND MARTINS, RED-BREASTED MEGANSER, and EIDERS were all we could see. Silently and in single file we crept along fences, the crekking going on all the time. Where oh where were the CORNCRAKES hiding. Ashley had a very brief sighting of a head, but the rest of us could only tick a heard. Despite the invisible CORNCRAKES we loved Iona and it was well worth a visit.

 All to soon the week had flown by. Sunday morning early risers were treated to five OTTERS and more than a few midge bites before breakfast, then the long journey back to Fakenham. We’d had  a fabulous week with great company on Mull very expertly led by Ashley who helped us find our target species with a smile. 103 bird species and 9 Butterfly/Odenata recorded.

So yes Mull was brilliant. Much more than EAGLES & OTTERS.

A Scilly Twitch           Reporter – Lucy Topsom & Glenn Collier

The pager made the sound we love to hear. Megga Alert! Quick, what is it and would we like to see it? Yes, it’s an AMERICAN CLIFF SWALLOW. The last one seen in the Isles of Scilly was approximately 16 years ago, Glenn made the trip but dipped. The bird was there four days and he went on the fifth and it was gone. There was at least one other near Portland approximately 5-6 years ago but was unable to go at that time. The news of the American Cliff Swallow came out on the morning of Tuesday 6 September and we made a plan to leave at 3pm that afternoon after work, for the long drive to Penzance. We arrived at approximately 10.30 p.m.

Wednesday morning we were on the ferry which left at 9.15 am and had a wonderful 3 hour crossing, the sea had a slight swell. This was advantageous because we had good views of four different Shearwaters; Sooty, Manx, Balearic, and Cory’s. Fortunately, the Cory’s gave the closest and best views as it flew only 40 yards away from the boat. This was a new bird for me so the omens were good. On arrival at St. Mary’s we hijacked the spare seats on the local taxi which other birders had already booked. We headed straight for the site at Porth Hellick. We only had a four hour window as we had to be back on the boat by 4 pm ready for its return to Penzance.

 After a short while the Cliff Swallow was located with a large group of swallows feeding over the reed bed. As it swirled round you could see the pinkish rump with its short squared off tail in the sunlight, what a great result for both of us. We walked back to Hugh Town harbour just before 4pm after picking up a massive Cornish Pasty as our reward as we were starving!! A little sleep on the ferry and arrived back in Penzance by 7pm. After a long drive we arrived home around 2 am Thursday morning. A few hours kip before work that morning……. Tired, but thrilled to bits.

A Grand Day Out – Costa Rica November 2016                                      reporter Mary Walker

We recognised the noise. We had been enchanted by the culprits at Banham Zoo two weeks previously with our grandchildren. Howler Monkeys although this time running free in their own environment, Papagayo Bay in North West Costa Rica, and of course “howling”. We had booked a package from Thomson with the request of a quiet lodge away from other visitors. That is exactly what we got, alongside our own troop of Howler Monkeys who liked to party on our roof, a family of Raccoons or “Trash Pandas” who were ingenious housebreaking experts if the doors were not firmly locked, and as for the Skunk family, they were most definitely not allowed near our belongings. Its all nature and marvellous.

It was with great anticipation we made our way to meet our guide Olivier Esquivel from Natural Discovery, Costa Rica. The country boasts 903 species of birds and 2000 species of butterflies. Settling in our van at 0430, we enjoyed views of dozens of PAURAQUES (Nightjars) swooping into our headlights to hunt insects.

We were heading for Curubanda Lodge, in an evergreen valley between Rincon de la Vieja volcano and Cocoa volcano in the Guanacaste mountain range. This wind swept pass promises rain forest and transitional dry-humid species. The plan was to be there for the birds wake-up, and what a wake up it was. New bird overload. TROPICAL PEWEE, BUFF-RUMPED WARBLER, WHITE-BREASTED WOODWREN, RED-LORED PARROT, OLIVE-BACKED EUPHONIA, GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGER, TENNESSEE WARBLER, VIOLET SABREWING, STRIPE-THROATED HERMIT, RED-BILLED PIGEON …………. My head was spinning. All the time Ollie was saying “look down – mind your feet.” I didn’t want to look down but Fer de Lance Pit Vipers are common place and will refuse to let visitors pass on the paths, resulting in a hasty retreat, and as for the Army Ants – vicious. If you want to find special birds in this part of the world, first find where the Army Ants have moved to, and bingo.

After enjoying a delicious local breakfast we headed north west towards the Caribbean slope of the Rincon de la Vieja volcano, at a height of 1600 metres. We passed by a Salvadorian refugee community, the surrounding fields littered with wind turbines. These had provided all the natural power for the last two years.

Raptors line the sides of the roads. Many are juveniles heading south for the winter. Most are barred and brown with yellow beaks and feet. Thankfully perched, but still a challenge for our identification skills, ROADSIDE HAWK, BLACK VULTURE, SNAIL KITE, COMMON BLACK HAWK, AMERICAN KESTREL, CRESTED AND YELLOW-HEADED CARACARA are dutifully ticked.

Bromelias Lodge is our next venue. The uphill forest climb is somewhat of a challenge. With the high rainfall and humidity, underfoot is red slippery mud, which Ollie describes as soap, and only  dangling tree vines to try and cling onto. Thankfully there are no cameras around as Ollie secures his tripod to his waist, and I hang on to its legs to avoid slipping down into the ravine. Not an experience to be repeated, but we made it to the top, and boy did we find some birds. Star of the show was COMMON TODY FLYCATCHER or TODY MOTMOT. So very hard to choose. Ollie found dozens of Flycatchers, and secretive Rain Forest dwellers, but each and everyone was found by call alone. An incredible achievement by our guide, whose ears were his livelihood. He kept saying just one more bird and we will turn round. He could have been a WVBS member with that phrase. Hard as I tried I couldn’t have found a single bird.

Safely back down we enjoyed a magnificent feast of a lunch whilst we found new birds in the trees outside.

A few years ago the Costa Rican government gave families small plots of land, on the understanding that they became self sufficient. Hence every item on our plates was home-made/grown, from the rice, black beans and veggies to the cheese and sour cream, and even the tamarind juice we drank, all came from just outside the back door. Amazing

We had two full days and two half days out with Ollie and totted up a huge 201 species. We did not count how many birds we saw from our balcony, simply enjoyed trying to work out  one Hummingbird from another, marvelled at the Motmots, and clicked away at all the different Orioles.

So thank you Costa Rica and Ollie, we did indeed have A Grand Day Out.





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