May 29, 2006

Pernis apivorus

Today was slightly less dramatic and we didn't run into any shady characters.

We began our day's bird-spotting at Great Ryburgh Raptor Watchpoint, which sounds grand but is a roped-off piece of a farmer's field on a hill overlooking some woodland. We weren't the only people there - about 50 others were standing in a row in front of a hedge, too.

To keep us occupied until the stars of the show - Honey Buzzards - arrived for their performance, a variety of Buzzards, Sparrowhawks and Egyptian Geese provided a warm-up. A few hours later than predicted, a single Honey Buzzard made its way across the sky, accompanied by a [Common] Buzzard.

It was good to see the key characteristics: funny, sticky-out head, slightly 'pinched-in' wings, long tail. The last time I saw a Honey Buzzard was at Haldon Forest in Devon, in 1993...

Went to Titchwell later on and managed to get another year-tick in the form of a female Reeded Beardling disappearing into the reedbed by the path. After that there was a vile rainstorm and I was glad we'd made it to the hide, from where we could watch the Avocet chicks hiding under the parents.

Titchwell is great.

Species added today:
174. Honey Buzzard
175. Bearded Tit
176. Little Tern

May 28, 2006

Interesting experiences in Norfolk...

Bank holiday weekend + good weather, so we went to Norfolk on Sunday/Monday, staying for B&B at The Ship Inn in Brancaster (which comes highly recommended).

After checking in, we headed out in search of our target bird - Montagu's Harrier. I've seen loads of 'em abroad but never any in the UK (but I've never tried, so I don't really consider it a bogey bird), but the species is already on Darren's UK list.

Found the spot and started scanning. After about an hour, no joy, so we went off for lunch. Came back mid-afternoon and after not too long a wait, all was revealed...

The grey male harrier came in with a tasty morsel of food for his lady-friend. As he approached, she flew up to greet him and, as a mid-air collision began to look likely, she flipped over onto her back (all while flying, of course) to receive the food item. Who says girls can't catch? It was masterful.

After that, the female disappeared into a field to consume the gift, while the male floated about like they do.

The really funny thing was that, two minutes prior to this jawdropping display, a car full of birders had left the site. They drove away down the lane, and for a few seconds, the female Monty's was flying down the lane after them, and would probably have been visible in the rear-view mirror, had they bothered to look. Sweet.

In the evening, we had an appointment with some Nightjars. That was even funnier, in a bizarre way. To start with, we were in the wrong part of the site (though Darren did see and hear his first roding Woodcock). MAW must be thanked (again) for giving us directions to the right place.

As we pulled up, I was suspicious of the occupiers of a clapped-out red van which was already in the car park. The lights were on and it was pretty clear they were up to no good. Paranoia set in and we decided not to leave our car unattended while the unsavoury characters were there. So we got out and listened to the churring (another first for Darren, incidentally) for a few minutes.

After a while, one of the red van geezers got out and approached Darren cautiously.

Geezer: 'scuse me mate, I ain't being funny or nuffink, but is this where the dogging goes on?
Darren: No, we're here to listen for Nightjars.
Geezer: Oh right. Fanks.

It was pretty funny...

They left immediately and we ventured out onto the heath, where we enjoyed good views of at least two 'churring' male Nightjars. D was a bit gobsmacked as he didn't realise how close they fly to you, and you can't help but be stunned by the sound.

Video/audio here on the RSPB website, if you're unfamiliar with the delights of Nightjars.

Species added today:
172. Montagu's Harrier
173. Nightjar

May 25, 2006

Back on home turf

Year-ticked a purring Turtle Dove on the way to work this morning, while waiting for 15 minutes at a level crossing.

This evening we went to see the Ring-necked Duck at Octagon Farm, Willington. Of course, Ring-necked Duck doesn't breed in this country - not in the wild, anyway - so it wasn't year-tickable, but jolly nice to see all the same.

Weirdly, so far this year, we have managed to avoid wetland sites which contain Little Ringed Plovers and Reed Warblers, so fortunately we managed to bag both of those species this evening, too. About bloody time, too.

But the excitement wasn't over; not by a long stretch. Darren took me to a private site in Bedfordshire to tick off this magnificent beast (left): a male Lady Amherst's Pheasant.

And that wasn't all. Red-breasted Goose, Smew, Goldeneye, Bahama Pintail, Ruddy Shelduck and Golden Pheasant were among the gems on display.

It's a bit of a shame they were all behind an electrified chain-link fence.

Species added today:
169. Turtle Dove
[Ring-necked Duck]
170. Little Ringed Plover
171. Reed Warbler
[Lady Amherst's Pheasant]
[Ruddy Shelduck]
[Bahama Pintail]
[Golden Pheasant]
[Red-breasted Goose]

May 20, 2006

Bempton Cliffs

After stopping overnight in Co. Durham, we took a slight diversion down the east coast. I love Bempton Cliffs. I could spend days on end there, watching the seabirds going about their business.

But Darren wanted to get home before dark, so after getting his lifers, he dragged me away.

More photos here.

Species added today:
165. Guillemot
166. Kittiwake
167. Puffin

May 19, 2006

The big day

We needed to have another shot at seeing Ptarmigan, so today we embarked on a long journey. First, though, we finally dragged ourselves out of bed to see the CaperWatch at Loch Garten, which was worthwhile for both the Capers and the Crested Tit we saw. Hurrah!

After that, we departed for Loch Gruinard, a site we'd been told had eagle potential. The journey there was damp, grey and misty but incredibly beautiful.

Set up the scope by the side of the road and started scanning the sea. Great Northern Divers were everywhere. A couple of Black-throateds and at least one Red-throated lingered. A flock of Eiders loafed on the island's rocks (one came close to our shore) and seals lounged on the sand. A few Guillemots flew past and one Black Guillemot was on the water.

It was a fabulous site but there were no eagles of any description. Darren took the rather rash decision that it would be a good idea to drive all the way to Applecross (which was also meant to be good for eagles and Ptarmigan). There seemed little point in arguing, so we did it.

The road to Applecross is possibly the steepest in Britain. It is a crazy road for mad people. There is a sign saying something like: 'This road is impassible during winter and people of a nervous disposition should not attempt to drive it.'

Basically, you drive up the side of a mountain, round hairpin bends, and you feel the urge to learn forward in your seat in case you start rolling backwards.

Needless to say, when we reached the summit of Bealach na Ba, we were literally in the clouds and there was very little to see, other than a duck of unknown species on a tiny lochan! No duck has legitimate business up there...

It was on the descent that we stopped again by the road and caught sight of two Golden Eagles displaying... fabulous. We had scope-filling views as they flew right above us in a clear blue sky (apart from when I was taking photos) and every detail was visible. Quite unexpected.

What was even more unexpected was that a car pulled up on the road and a well-spoken chap asked 'Excuse me. Are those Buzzards?'

It seems that the general public is becoming more conservative when it comes to bird identification. Usually, you'd expect every second person you met in Scotland to inform you they'd seen several Golden Eagles before breakfast that day, including one sitting on a telegraph pole. So that was quite nice.

Took the more gentle coast road from Applecross to Shieldaig, with the highlight being a bush full of Stonechats: a pair with four well-grown juveniles, all crossly 'tac'ing away at us.

On the way 'home', an Osprey flew over Garve in the middle of a rainstorm.

Species added today:
163. Crested Tit
164. Eider

May 18, 2006

Lochindorb and Loch Ruthven

Fantastic views of two Ospreys at Lochindorb, including one flying - sunlit - into the wind, very low over the loch, which was deep blue (see pic on left).

Also two Black-throated Divers looking very dapper on the water. Tried to string something sitting onto a post into a Short-eared Owl, but it turned out to be... an owl-shaped piece of wood.

Darren saw a female Hen Harrier but I managed to miss it. A female Red Grouse was right by the side of the road.

Moved on to Loch Ruthven via the Farr road (which looked great for raptors but was rubbish...). Two pairs of Slavonian Grebes were on the water, looking very smart indeed.

Species added today:
162. Black-throated Diver

May 17, 2006

Taking it easy... we're on holiday!

Back to Garten/Abernethy today in search of more crossbills/Crested Tits. Unsuccessful on both counts, though the Goldeneye nest-cam in the Osprey Centre was most entertaining.

Insh Marshes was quite quiet until an Osprey flew over and all hell broke loose. Redshank, Snipe, Sedge Warbler, Redstart and Tree Pipit seen here.

On the way back to the cottage, stopped at Tulloch Moor and Darren found a distant Whinchat.

Species added today:
161. Whinchat

May 16, 2006

Higher and higher...

The view from part-way up Cairn Gorm

... but not high enough. Today we walked part of the way up Cairn Gorm in search of Ptarmigan. Didn't really go high enough as the weather looked dodgy and we were ill-equipped. Plus it was too bloody steep for a wimp like me. We did add Red Grouse to the year-list and also saw a pair of Wheatears and some Meadow Pipits. However, the view was cracking.

Species added today:
160. Red Grouse

May 15, 2006

Grantown Woods

Didn't get much time in the field today, but what we did have was good. Mid-afternoon, we went for a walk around Grantown Woods to look for crossbills. We duly found crossbills - 21 in total including a couple of singing birds.

Rubbish record shot is on the left - we think it's Scottish (if it is possible to ID them in the field...?). Draw your own conclusions...

Red Squirrel was a lifer for me, too!

We'd stopped along one of the footpaths to listen to an unidentified sound when an enormous, black, turkey-sized thing leapt out from high up in one of the pines, crashed through the twigs and flew away from us.

Oh... right... That'll be a male Capercaillie, then... There was a slight feeling of anti-climax but at least we'd found our own...

Species added today:
157. Scottish Crossbill
158. Capercaillie
159. Hooded Crow

May 14, 2006


Now for something completely different. Scotland is quite insanely far north (well, it is if you live in the Midlands).

We stayed at the superb, self-catering Grianan cottage at Balliefurth Farm near Grantown-on-Spey. Top farm, top cottage, bargain price, and a bottle of wine in the fridge when we arrived. Recommended!

Started off nice and easy with a quick stop in Nethybridge - Dipper and Grey Wagtail on the River Nethy. Next stop, RSPB Loch Garten Osprey Centre at... Loch Garten. It has to be done. I was pleased to see that, after an absence of 38.5 hours, Henry the gentleman Osprey had delivered an 18" trout to EJ, his lady friend, and taken over nest duties. Good.

Went for a wander around the forest and heard a couple of crossbills (note usage of lower-case 'c') but unfortunately didn't get a look at them. Also the usual selection of Common Sandpipers, Goldeneye, Wigeon and Siskins on/around the loch.

We were both eager for eagles so the next destination was the mighty Findhorn valley. Having been to Wales a couple of weeks previously, we're now old hands at upland birds, though singing Ring Ouzels and Wheatears are still the business.

It's a bit like birding in mainland Europe, as you can just pull up anywhere safe by the road, scan around and see good stuff.

By a small burn, two Spotted Flycatchers (year tick!) and a male Redstart fly for insects while a Tree Pipit breaks into song. An Arctic Tern dips into the Findhorn itself in search of fish, catches one and heads off downstream. Rock Pipits flit around the boulders and Curlews and Oystercatchers inhabit the meadows.

Big herd of Red Deer (Monarch of the Glen etc etc). Summer-plumaged Common Gulls pottering about. Very noisy Peregrine calling constantly... Darren catches sight of a big, dark thing which turns out to be a Golden Eagle, but I only got onto it as its tail vanished over the ridge. It was a big tail, mind you - couldn't have been anything else!

Flushed a Woodcock from the roadside on the way out of the valley.

Good start.

Species added today:
154. Spotted Flycatcher
155. Arctic Tern
156. Golden Eagle

May 02, 2006

Nearly Dipper-dipped

Our last day in Wales and we were in danger of missing Dipper. Disastrous. Fortunately, local knowledge came to the rescue in the form of a text-message tip-off from Alan Davies: try walking upstream in Betws y Coed. We did just that and lo and behold, there was a pair of Dippers. Phew!

Time to clear off back to England.

Darren moans about me using my phone to access the Internet, but now all I need say to him are two words:

Woodchat Shrike

Browsing the sightings on BirdGuides, it was very lucky indeed that a Woodchat had turned up - at Trent Meadows, Derbyshire - within a couple of miles of where we'd be driving to get home. I had no idea where the site was exactly, but joy of joys, with the aid of Multimap I managed to guide us to the spot. It worked like a dream and Darren saw his first-ever shrike.

Useful links:
Birding Conwy

Thanks to Alan Davies and Ian Peters for useful info.

Species added today:
150. Dipper
151. Lesser Whitethroat
152. Garden Warbler
[Woodchat Shrike]

May 01, 2006

Land of the Super Feathery Animals

Tried some seawatching at Llanfairfechan today. Not bad: Gannet, Red-breasted Merganser, Razorbill, Shag, Cormorant and Red-throated Divers.

Having 'dipped' on Ring Ouzels yesterday, decided to try Snowdonia again and eventually succeeded near Llanberis. A bird which flew quickly across the road nearly caused a domestic incident between us (I saw it and couldn't call it quickly enough for Darren to see it before it disappeared against the boulders) but we decided that hearing its calls afterwards was sufficient...

Along a back road between Capel Curig and Betws y Coed, we stopped to scan for Dippers. No sign of those (though it looked right), but we jammed in on a singing Tree Pipit, a gorgeous male Redstart sitting in a flowering hawthorn bush, a female Pied Flycatcher and an endearing Common Sandpiper on the river.

On a beautiful sunny evening, stopped at Caerhun church (above) to scan the Conwy valley.

Still need that Dipper, though...

Species added today:

147. Gannet
148. Ring Ouzel
149. Tree Pipit