Wednesday, 5 October 2011
So, in order to save this blog from potentially full neglection, I have a slightly revised plan from my old one which will hopefully allow me to get up to date relatively quickly and get those readers of this that hopefully still follow this interested once again. Below is the plan in order of how it will be done:
1) Finish all Monthly Reviews up until November unless finished before November, all monthly reviews will be far shorter
2) The two posts that I planned to reserve for my experiences with the mega rare White-winged and Black Scoters will now be included in part of a mini series of posts called 'Mega Occasions 2011' which will also include an account of my experiences with the Sandhill Crane that was recently in Aberdeenshire.
3) Write up the trip report which I've started on my trip to Islay and Mull in July with the same format as last year's Fair Isle trip (as a tabbed page).
This plan will recommence from in the next couple of days. Once again, many apologies for the complete lack of updates. I am hoping this blog can back up on its feet, and I'm going to have a policy not to write so much unless I've had a really special birding day. For now, bare with me. Hopefully my image of the Sandhill Crane in my title picture will provide some interest in the mean time...
Thanks for reading,
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
The day was spent at the usual locations: Girdle Ness, Ythan Estuary and Loch of Strathbeg. I started off at Girdle Ness in the hope of passerine migrants, where a check of the Battery disappointingly produced 3 Sedge Warblers and 2 Whitethroats. 2 Wheatears and a Ringed Plover were in Walker Park. With conditions unsuitable for seawatching, we headed up to the Ythan briefly. 7 Little Terns (yeartick) were seen distantly downstream from Inches Point. A check of the Snub car park didn’t produce many waders, with 3 Whimbrels being the best of it. Strathbeg was also quiet on the wader front, with 7 Black-tailed Godwits on the Low Ground being the best of it. 3 drake Garganey were the highlight of the day, my second sighting of this species of the year (managing 3, including one female in April). Each of these fantastic ducks were spread out across the Low Ground, but all at fairly close range so great views were had of all of them – always a pleasure to see.
The 14th presented a rare change of scene as we headed up Deeside for some countryside birding. Our principal targets were Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Redstart, all at Dinnet Oakwoodlands near Aboyne. This was my first visit to Dinnet, and as far as I was aware was one of the only reliable sites for these species in the county. The wood was situated just off the road (B979) and was pretty small, so was easy to cover. Conditions were far from great for this type of birding as it was windy, decreasing the chances of them showing or even singing. These conditions proved to be our downfall, with no Wood Warblers or Pied Flycatchers singing, let alone showing. Later on I found out that this was no longer the reliable site for these species anyway – we live and learn! However we were successful with our other target, with at least 4 singing male Redstarts (yeartick) present in the wood, one which was seen briefly. Whilst searching I unexpectedly came across a Red Kite (Scottish yeartick) drifting over the woods, and equally unpredictably flushed 2 Woodcocks (yeartick), both pretty much from under my feet, the first giving me a pretty big shock! Also in the woodland was an obliging Great-spotted Woodpecker, a male Bullfinch (Scottish yeartick), 2 Grey Wagtails and 2 Willow Warblers. On the River Dee just by Dinnet Oakwoodlands, 2 Common Sandpipers (yeartick) were scurrying around and a Garden Warbler (yeartick) was located.
On the way back we stopped at a site in the Forest of Birse near Finzean (pronounced Finnan) where I was delighted to see Tree Pipits (yeartick) in abundance. Overall 10 Tree Pipits were counted, each showing well and many of them seen in their song flight – it’s not often in a year that I see this species so I took great enjoyment in this. Also present was a Cuckoo (yeartick) which I saw in flight distantly, with at least 2 others were singing, a Lesser Redpoll flew over, and Willow Warblers were widespread, with at least 20 present. Despite having missed out on Wood Warbler and Pied Fly, it was an enjoyable and worthwhile day with 6 British yearticks and 8 Scottish yearticks.
A decent, long day’s birding with Alan Knox at the usual locations. We started the day at the Ythan, first checking the mouth of the estuary. On the mussel beds here were at least 60 Ringed Plover and 20 Dunlin. Mixed in with them were 10 Sanderling and a Whimbrel. We walked up to the ternery and looked upstream from the golf hut, at which point Alan got onto the stunning drake King Eider. It was roosting on the bank opposite Inches Point and was distant from where we were, but we managed perfectly good views of it through the scope. It didn’t roost for long, promptly proceeding to swim on the water and showing off its magnificent self in the process, and it was watched for 5 minutes or so doing just that. They are truly spectacular birds, regardless of how many times you see them you can’t help but feel bowled over by their beauty. This was the second time I had seen this individual in the year, yet despite this being the case it was fantastic to see it again. From here we headed up to the Snub, where there was nothing much apart from a lone Pink-footed Goose, presumably a straggler that had failed to make the move back to its northern breeding grounds. As we were leaving the Snub a report came from the text service of 2 Avocets at Strathbeg – a NE Scottish rarity. This would be a Scottish lifer for me so we headed straight to Strathbeg.
On arrival the two adult Avocets (Scottish life and yeartick) were showing very well from the Visitor Centre. They were amongst a small group of Black-tailed Godwits (3) and Lapwings, their beautiful pied plumage standing out massively amongst these other waders. Great views were had down to 90ft as they fed and waded around busily on the nearest pools to the Visitor Centre. They covered quite a lot of ground whilst wading, and never went out of view. It was brilliant to watch them at such close quarters, my first of this species in Scotland. I made the most out of the occasion by watching them repeatedly whilst in the Visitor Centre, getting a few photos whilst I was at it. Below are my best efforts.
Avocets, Loch of Strathbeg (21/5/11)
Whilst at the Visitor Centre I was able to pick out a smart summer plumage Curlew Sandpiper (yeartick) with a group of Dunlin on the Low Ground distantly that had been present all day, always nice to see. Having had great views of the Avocets and with not much on the closer pools, we headed over to Tower Pool Hide as most of the waders seemed to be on the Low Ground. Good views of the Curlew Sandpiper were had from here alongside 20 Dunlin – it appeared to not be in full summer plumage. At least 5 Black-tailed Godwits were around (taking the total to 8) as were 6 Ringed Plover. 3 species of raptor were seen from here as well – a female Marsh Harrier, Osprey and Sparrowhawk. The Marsh Harrier was very photogenic, quartering the reeds closest to the hide.
Marsh Harrier, Loch of Strathbeg (21/5/11)
We were near leaving when I spotted a Dunlin fly in with a much smaller wader – a Little Stint (yeartick). Fairly good views were had of it for around 10 minutes as it fed with the Dunlin. It appeared far rustier than the Dunlin with a clean white breast, the latter feature indicating that it was maybe still in winter plumage. Eventually it flew off with the Dunlin and didn’t return; however it was a nice find and meant that I had already seen all 5 of the commoner passage waders for the year at this early stage. Along with the Avocets, the Curlew Sandpiper and other waders, this Little Stint made for a great time at Strathbeg. The final stop of the day was at the nearby Rattray Head. In a field near the dunes here, we were able to count an impressive 68 Ringed Plovers – not sure if this was unusual or not. Also 4 Wheatears were present. The day was rounded off here with a yeartick, albeit common, with 4 Manx Shearwaters past during a short seawatch. We duly headed home after a great day’s birding.
Reports of a Pectoral Sandpiper and an Avocet at Rigifa Pool just outside Aberdeen on 27th saw me out birding the next day. Although a small pool, Rigifa had previously provided me with Temminck’s Stint and Wood Sandpiper, so I knew it had great potential. It was our first port of call, and no sooner had we arrived did I pick out the Pectoral Sandpiper (yeartick) and the Avocet within seconds of one another. What a treat it was to have these two scarce waders in the NE on one small pool in glorious sunshine! It was particularly enjoyable watching the Pec Sand, as it is not often I see these Nearctic beauties – this was my 4th ever. As always with this species, the pale supercilium and pectoral band were very obvious. Great views down to 75ft were had as it fed and waded at the left hand corner of the pool with a few Ringed Plovers, whilst the Avocet was feeding even closer on the right hand side of the pool. Whilst the Avocet never flew, the Pec Sand became quite flighty, disappearing from view on a couple of occasions and sometimes flying back to the very back of the pool. Ideally however, it eventually landed by the Avocet and associated with it, meaning I had feeding Pectoral Sandpiper and Avocet in the same scope view! What a fantastic moment this was, and it went on for some 15 minutes. I made sure to capture it by taking several photos which you can see below, although they are not of great quality – it was a bit distant for photography. We delight ourselves in these fantastic waders for around half an hour, then left for Strathbeg contented. Even though I generally focused more attention on the Pec Sand due to it being the rarer of the two species, the Avocet was actually the scarcer of the two in terms of how many of each species I had seen in Scotland; this was third individual Avocet I had seen in Scotland within a week, compared with an overall 4 Pectoral Sandpipers.
Pectoral Sandpiper and Avocet, Rigifa Pool (28/5/11)
Pectoral Sandpiper, Rigifa Pool (28/5/11)
Avocet, Rigifa Pool (28/5/11)
So satisfied with the quality of birding at Rigifa, I didn’t mind if the rest of the day was quiet as the Pec Sand and Avocet were daymakers in their own right. However, Strathbeg was actually rather productive. 2 drake Garganey showed fantastically on the nearest pools from the Visitor Centre, as always stunning to see. Furthermore on the nearer pools were a total of 4 Little Gulls showing well, 3 immatures and one absolutely stonking sumplum adult so there was plenty of entertainment to be had here. Round at Tower Pool Hide 2 Ospreys were around, but it was quiet wader-wise with just 10 Black-tailed Godwits present on the Low Ground. Having had an enjoyable time here, we headed to the nearby Cairnbulg, where 10 Dunlin were present. I finished the day at Rattray Head, where a dark phase Arctic Skua (yeartick) went past. After a very enjoyable day’s birding, we headed back to Aberdeen.
Although not a great deal of birding took place in May, it was still a very good month’s birding, the Pectoral Sandpiper topping it off on the 28th. However, previous Mays have bettered the quality of this one.
Thanks for reading,
Monday, 8 August 2011
This was a morning’s worth of birding spent at the Ythan Estuary, where I hoped to see the King Eider. I had dipped this bird on a couple of occasions earlier on in the year, but the fact that it had been seen everyday at that point meant I couldn’t resist having another go. Beforehand however a check of the upper estuary was had as we stopped at the Snub car parks to see what was around. A lone Greenshank (yeartick) showed well very close to us. Better though was a Little Egret feeding and wading about by the Snub itself from the uppermost Snub car park, which had actually been seen earlier that morning but was a pleasure to see and a Scottish yeartick. Little Egrets are only ever seen on passage here so in Scotland they’re quite an exciting bird. It was quiet apart from this though, so we headed down to the mouth of the estuary to try for the King Eider.
On arrival we saw two birders with their scopes on what was presumably the King Eider. They were indeed watching the bird, and on being given directions I got on to the drake King Eider (yeartick). I was delighted, as always when I see this species. The Ythan holds a King Eider most years, but I'd dipped one last year (but saw it at Collieston), so it was great to see one on the Ythan. It was with a very large group of Eiders by the Grey Seal colony, and like its commoner cousins it was roosting. Rather disappointingly it was roosting for almost the entire time we watched it. Only once did it reveal its exquisite self and immaculate face and bill, momentarily stopping roosting and taking a few steps across the sand before returning to roost again, a brilliant moment as I was on the bird in the scope when this happened and views were close. I feel so privileged to live in a place where I can more or less see this rare and stunning species annually, something you just don’t get anywhere else in Britain. This was the fourth King Eider I have seen in the UK. To round off a very successful morning’s birding, a visit to Meikle Loch saw me having prolonged views of an adult Little Gull hawking low over the water, my second of the year, and my first Osprey of the year, which dramatically took a fish and then flew off. Below is a picture of the King Eider roosting – be warned, it’s bad, but I’ve got better coming in future posts!
April had been a great month with a great run of decent birding days, and the 23rd was no exception to this. It started fairly quietly, however. My first stop of the day was at Girdle Ness, where I spent an hour or so. A check of the Battery and the allotments was had but there was nothing in the way of passerine migrants, and a short seawatch proved to hold nothing but a few Gannets and Kittiwakes. At this point I was feeling that it wasn’t worth it. However, a check of Nigg Bay revealed a surprising total of 32 Long-tailed Ducks, a mixture of males and females. They kept on diving so all 32 weren’t on show all the time, but this was the peak count that I managed. There had been over 20 in the previous few days, but this was the most that the bay had held all year; a noteworthy congregation of a neat species.
From there we went all the way to the Strathbeg area, where we decided to have a check of the Loch of Strathbeg plantation. This always takes up time, and it probably wasn’t worth the effort for our totals, 3 Chiffchaffs and 15 Wheatears, the latter species loving the low ground leading up to the plantation and nice to see plentifully. On top of this we checked a field that Dotterel consistently turn up each year in the same area as the plantation, where 3 Corn Buntings (yeartick) were present. At Strathbeg itself things improved. About 45 minutes was spent at the Visitor Centre, where we enjoyed watching a few passage waders. Along with Dunlins and others, 6 Ruffs were sticking together at the back of the pools, each making the transition towards summer plumage, and a Greenshank was nearby. The highlight though was a Spotted Redshank (yeartick) in cracking, all black summer plumage, feeding busily alongside the Ruffs – what a beauty! Unfortunately due to the distance of the bird views weren’t all that great, so we decided to head over Tower Pool Hide to see if we could get better views of it, where we’d spend an hour and a half.
On arrival, a female Marsh Harrier flew in front of the hide, and at least 3 Sedge Warblers were around. As we wished, we managed much better and prolonged views of the stunning Spotted Redshank here and also of the Ruffs and Greenshank, as well as a few other Dunlins. After about half an hour at Tower Pool an Osprey flew over, sending the birds into frenzy. At this point a majority of the waders relocated, and I checked to see if the Spotshank was still with them, which it was. At the same time I spotted a Tringa type wader with a prominent supercilium extending behind the eye that was much smaller than the Greenshank nearby; a Wood Sandpiper. I was somewhat shocked by how early this bird was, as Wood Sands tend to come through in May here, not April. Nonetheless I was very happy to have found it and this find really gave the mix of passage waders some flavour. Good views were had of this Wood Sand for a long time as it fed with the sumplum Spotshank, the Greenshank and the Ruffs, great to see together. They were then spooked after about 25 minutes, at which point the Wood Sand flew out of view into some vegetation and didn’t reappear. We left at that point, telling the assistant warden of our sighting and heading off. I later found out that this was the earliest ever record of Wood Sandpiper on the reserve, so I was pretty chuffed.
The final stop of the day was the Ythan, where I went for seconds of the Bonaparte’s Gull that had been there. It had been seen from Waulkmill Hide near the top of the estuary in the morning, so we made our way there hoping that it’d still be present. It couldn’t have been easier. As soon as we arrived we located a gull flock and at the front of them was the Bonaparte’s Gull. It was the closest gull to us, no more than 30ft away. Unlike on the first time I saw it, I felt that this time I was really able to admire the diagnostics of this bird – the darker grey mantle, notably short bill and pinky legs as well as the size difference in comparison to Black-headed Gull. Interestingly, I noted this time that the Boney’s Gull had a very small black patch on the head that I was certain was absent during my previous sighting (when I had good views of the head as well), clearly signifying the first developments of its summer hood. For a while the gulls were further away, but they soon returned to sitting very close to the hide. At this point I decided to photograph the Boney’s, but the problem was it that it had been raining since we had got into the hide. Regardless, I managed a few OK shots, the results of which are below. Even in the rain, watching the bird was enjoyable, and we spent half an hour doing so. Whilst doing this, the presence of 7 Whimbrels (yeartick) was noted. Eventually though, the rain got too heavy for birding so we headed home after a great day.
Bonaparte's Gull, Ythan Estuary (23/4/11)
On hearing about the presence of 5 White-billed Divers (!!) on the sea off Portsoy in North-western Aberdeenshire, I was desperate to get out and see these birds. However, they had turned up on a Monday and a school week to go through so I had a painfully long wait before I could get out. Thanks to the Royal Wedding (although I had no ambition to watch this whatsoever!) we had a day off school, so that Friday morning we headed off bright and early to Portsoy to see if we could see any White-billed Divers. Unfortunately numbers seen off Portsoy had gone down during the week, reducing to the sighting of one bird two days before we went. This was slightly less hopeful but due to how far away it was we knew that very few would have checked it. The drive took over an hour, with 3 Red-legged Partridge (Scottish yeartick) seen on the way. Once we had arrived we wended our way down the picturesque fishing village and parked down the harbour. White-billed Divers had been seen from the higher ground just west of the harbour, and from where we parked this was visible, so we made our way up there.
The light was great and the sea was calm so we fancied our chances. A 5 minute full scan from us both of the sea didn’t reveal any White-billed Divers, but 2 summer plumaged adult Great Northern Divers were present in different areas of the sea and were a delight to watch – fantastic birds! We kept on scanning but without success. About 25 minutes in though, I scanned across a group of Guillemots far out and in doing so caught onto a spectacular summer-plumaged adult White-billed Diver!! Wow, what a stunning bird!! The eye-catching feature of course to this stunner was its massive, upturned yellow bill which stuck out like a sore thumb even at great distance contrasting with its jet black head. I instantly exclaimed to my Dad that I was on a White-billed, and we were quickly both on it. This White-billed Diver was huge, and I mean huge! It was noticeably larger and bulkier than a Cormorant swimming nearby, and Cormorants are big birds! Summer plumaged White-billed Diver had been a dream bird for me to see in the UK, so I was struggling to believe my luck. My Dad and I watched it for 30 seconds, completely in awe of its beauty, but it quickly dived. We panicked after a minute of looking in the same area as the bird didn’t seem to have resurfaced. We tried our hardest to re-find it for the ensuing half an hour or so, but were unsuccessful. My dream had been short-lived, but it had come true and I had been successful in seeing one so I was over the moon. Our hope of re-finding the bird decreased as the wind began to pick up and the sea became choppy. However, we kept on getting onto the Great Northern Divers that were out there and enjoyed nice views of these. 15 minutes after seeing the White-billed, Dad was watching one of the Great Northerns whilst I was taking a binocular scan, when I noticed a small white-winged gull right in front of me.
‘ICELAND GULL, right in front of us!’
Dad looked up, and he too connected with this first-winter/juvenile Iceland Gull (yeartick), a very pale, coffee-coloured bird. This cracker wheeled round in front of us briefly, giving us stunning binocular views down to 20ft. At this point I noticed the diagnostic ‘kinder’ face in comparison to Glaucous Gull and mostly black bill. It then flew right over our heads (!), flying east towards another bay alongside a Herring Gull which it was considerably smaller than. We continued to watch it through the bins until it eventually disappeared out of view. A self-found Iceland Gull and a summer plumaged White-billed Diver in the space of 15 minutes – this was ideal birding! That Iceland Gull was also only my second ever, so I was absolutely delighted to have found an elusive species and a very valuable yeartick. After more searching for the White-billed with no success, we left the higher ground of the harbour and headed round to an area called Links Road, where one bird had been seen on Wednesday. A check of here didn’t reveal a White-billed Diver but did produce 15 Long-tailed Ducks, always nice to see.
We then headed towards Strathbeg to give it a routine check. Before checking the reserve we checked the ‘Dotterel’ field at the north end of the reserve as it was getting to the time when this species could turn up there. There weren’t any Dotterels present, but a Corn Bunting was unbelievably confiding, as shown in the pics below. It was then round to the reserve, where things were quieter than last time. From the Visitor Centre the 6 Ruffs were still present, as was the Greenshank from Tower Pool Hide. An Osprey was having a wash here too, always great to see. Reed Bunting, Common Tern and Willow Warbler were all Scottish yearticks. New in from last time were a Whimbrel and a Bar-tailed Godwit from Tower Pool Hide. We had arrangements early evening, so the day ended on that note, going home thinking this was the ideal way to end April, but there was more to come...
Having been out on 29th, only a rarity would get me out birding again the next day. And it did. That morning, 11 Dotterels at the Ythan came through on the local text service. At the nearest opportunity we got out and sped up to the Ythan. The birds had been seen in the stubble fields at the crossroads to Collieston (‘Collieston Crossroads’), so we went straight there. They were said to be on the left hand side of the road in an expensive field right by the road, so we managed to park up here and view the field. It didn’t take long to get onto the 11 Dotterels (yeartick), which were grouped close together at medium distance (100ft). It’s always fantastic to see these birds, they’re so enigmatic and they’re bright rufousy breasts are striking. Unfortunately due to heat haze and the fact we were facing the sun views were not great, but good enough to enjoy. At least 5 more brightly coloured females were picked out, and all 11 birds were watched for 20 minutes scuttling along the stubble, occasionally standing tall and alert and sometimes sitting down. Eventually they all sat down and went out of view behind a verge. We moved the car to a different location to get a different perspective of the field and to see if we could better views. The birds were still out of sight despite us changing position, but we were able to pick out the supericiliums of 5 birds very low in the short stubble. This just goes to show how adept these birds are at hiding themselves!
Satisfied and happy, we were about to check the estuary when another message comes through the text service: ‘Adult drake Surf Scoter off Murcar Golf Course’. The quality birds just wouldn’t die down! It was on the way home so we headed straight to the golf clubhouse at Murcar and strode towards the dunes. On finding a good viewpoint, we scanned the sea and close in found a group of 50 Common Scoters and in with them the stunning drake Surf Scoter (yeartick) that had been reported. The weather was glorious and the Surfie was only 100ft offshore, so I knew we were in for treat. When first seen it was roosting, and frustratingly it kept on roosting for almost half an hour so we could only see the white patch on the side of its head! Finally it stopped and revealed it’s wonderful self – you can never enough of that huge and unmistakeable red, yellow and white bill! From this point onwards it didn’t roost once so we got ideal views of this startling bird in perfect light on a still sea for a prolonged period of time: side views, face on views, feet views, the lot! It dived on a few occasions, but generally resurfaced quickly. It was unbelievable to see it so close and was incredibly enjoyable as well as lucky, it’s an incredibly rare occurrence to have ideal conditions off Murcar/Blackdog and to get views of the flock down to 100ft like that – they’re normally miles off!
What a month it had been, if you add seeing the Boney’s Gull and the Norfolk trip before all the birds mentioned in this post, you can see this was a fantastic month’s birding. Also, what a great two days birding to round off the month! I think it will be hard to match the quality of April this year!
Thanks for reading,
Friday, 5 August 2011
On arriving at Santon Downham at 9:00am we walked along the trail, encompassed by looming, mature pines for the first 15 minutes or so. These pines eventually cleared, giving way to an open area of small fields and in the near distance a patch of softer deciduous trees. Just as we were leaving the pines behind us, a Treecreeper (yeartick) scuttled up a nearby deciduous tree. The trail took us through the patch of deciduous trees, and once at the other side we were able to view the trees from across the pretty River Little Ouse. This seemed like prime Lesser-spotted Woodpecker and Willow Tit territory to me. We set up the scope and waited patiently by the trees, waiting to see if the aforementioned species were present. The area was silent and completely isolated, so if a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker was to drum or a Willow Tit to call there would be no trouble in hearing it. Despite scanning the trees thoroughly and keeping our ears open for 15 minutes or so, there was no trace of either of our target species, nor were there any Woodlarks around. However, 2 Nuthatches were a delight to watch scuttling up and down the trees (a rarity here in Aberdeenshire), at least 4 Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler were seen in the bushes by the river, and the common tit and finch species were present in good numbers. With fairly limited time on our hands, we moved on and continued to search for our three target species. We soon entered more pines as we continued to follow the trail. We hoped we’d get to another clearing, where we felt we’d have the best chance of seeing our target species. However, the forest seemed to drag on for ages with no clearings, and with time becoming shorter and a long walk back to do, we decided after a while to turn back. Things were proving very difficult, and a general feeling of negativity resided over me. A Green Woodpecker was seen high in one of the pines when initially heard drumming, and although a stunning bird it wasn’t enough to make me feel better.
However, things were about to change. As we came out of the forest and neared the River Little Ouse, I heard an unfamiliar but completely diagnostic, descending call coming from more than one bird right above me. I looked up to see two Woodlarks high in the air but not very far away. Instantly my negativity had morphed into a feeling of delight as I watched these two birds in display flight. This was a deeply poignant and breathtaking experience. Their descending calls filled the air, somewhat melancholic but unbelievably beautiful and carrying far. As they called, the two Woodlarks performed their spectacular aerial show, spiralling round at each other at high speed and flying at each other. At one point one bird even flew on its back whilst the other flew above it with its legs dangling. I feel deeply privileged to have caught the latter two spectacles on camera. I don’t think my words quite describe how moving and spectacular seeing them in display flight and hearing them call was. The pictures below will hopefully help you imagine this somewhat more (click on photos to make them larger) .
They never flew far, continuing their display flight high above us. Eventually they parted, one bird landing atop a pine. The other bird landed on a piece of grass within 15ft of my Dad and I, and we watched astounded by this extraordinary piece of luck. I tried to photograph this particular bird whilst it was on the grass, but it flew as I attempted to do so, landing on a tree stump equally nearby and continued to sing. This was a picture perfect moment, so perfect that it felt as if it was showing itself off to us by being deliberately confiding. Completely bowled over by what I was witnessing and my unbelievable luck, I proceeded to get photos of the Woodlark as it sat upon its newly adopted perch. For the whole time that I watched it and photographed it, it didn’t move from that perch. My Dad also kept an eye on the other Woodlark on top of the tree, which also just sat there and sang! I couldn’t believe my luck - this was birding at its best! This was such a memorable experience that Woodlarks will always have a special place in me – for their fantastic display flight, their beautiful song, the views I got and the evocative experience that I had with them as a whole. Truly amazing birds, and one of the best ways that I’ve ever been introduced to a British lifer! I headed towards the car spellbound by what I had just experienced. On the way back, we stopped by the Little Ouse again and checked the deciduous woodland for a last look go at Willow Tit and Lesser Pecker. 7 Bramblings (4 males and 3 females) were in the trees here, calling and flying about. On top of being stunning birds, I had only seen Brambling for the first time in the year the day before so I was delighted to come across this elusive species once again. However, there was no sign of Lesser-spotted Woodpecker or Willow Tit, but I wasn’t fazed by that after seeing the Woodlarks so well. I couldn’t have been more happy heading back to the car. Below are a few pictures I got of the bird on the tree stump (click on photos to make them larger), as well as a video of mine. The video includes my pictures and a sound recording of the exquisite song of the Woodlark and comes in the form of a link to my flickr account where the video is - enjoy.
Woodlark, Santon Downham, Norfolk (13/4/11)
Having just seen a British lifer in the most ideal way possible, the thought of probably seeing Stone Curlew pleased me. I had seen Stone Curlew on my visit to Weeting Heath in 2010 with no problem at all in seeing them, so I was hoping it would be the same this time. We pulled up at the small car park, paid at the Visitor Centre and walked to the West Hide where some Stone Curlews were apparently present. The hides at Weeting look onto an extensive area of flat open grassland and stony heath, ideal for Stone Curlew, which breed on the reserve. On arrival at West Hide we got the scope up and very quickly were on to 3 Stone Curlews (yeartick) fairly distantly towards a dip in the heath. To be precise, they were to the right of the small hide which you can see from West Hide. At first the birds kept on dipping out of view below the dip in the heath, but eventually they moved away from the dip and came a bit closer. Views, although distant, were pretty good through the scope and once away from the dip of the hill were constant. They’re wonderfully enigmatic birds; the real oddball of the wader family and striking me as reminiscent of reptiles. Their large yellow eyes are perpetually and intensely wide, giving them a look of being constantly perturbed and edgy. It’s always a pleasure to watch them, both due to the fact that they are so localised as a species and also so interesting to look at! These birds kept close together at all points, often standing tall but occasionally sitting down and sometimes running alongside each other. This was the second time I have seen Stone Curlew in this country. Below are some photos I managed of the birds, (be warned they are blurry) as well photo of the heath that I took on my visit last year.
Stone Curlew, Weeting Heath, Norfolk (13/4/11)
Weeting Heath (taken in 2010)
The final stop of the holiday was Welney WTT, an inland, fenland reserve near the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk border. This was my second visit to the reserve, and the time before I had also gone for the same bird – the singing male Bluethroat that has spent the spring there in the last couple of years. The bird was said to be seen only in the early mornings so I wasn’t confident that I’d see it. It was worth a try though, so we headed towards Lyle Hide and waited patiently to see if it was singing. After 10 minutes or so it was clear it wasn’t singing. Another 15 minutes or so were spent checking the area to see if it was lurking in any reeds or bushes, but of course it wasn’t anywhere in sight so we headed in to Lyle Hide instead. From here I made sure to have good look at around 10 Avocets that were present as I knew this was the last time I’d see them in such numbers for a while. Also present were at least 40 Black-tailed Godwits, 6 Dunlins and 8 Whooper Swans in the fens and 2 calling Sedge Warblers – a nice selection of birds. Although I had dipped the Bluethroat, I wasn’t fussed by not seeing it as it had already been a very successful morning (plus, I had seen Bluethroat before at Girdleness much closer to home) – the same applying to Lesser-spotted Woodpecker and Willow Tit (although I still haven't seen these species before). At this point we called it quits as we had to get all the way to Luton from here in plenty of time before the plane.
And so the trip to East Anglia ended. It had been a fantastic few days birding, starting with a Nightingale in Essex and ending on Stone Curlews at Weeting Heath. In between that I’d had stunning views of Bittern, Dartford Warbler, 2 self-found Spoonbills and a White-fronted Goose, two Red Kites, Barn Owl, two long-needed lifers in the form of Woodlark and Goshawks and numerous other decent species. In other words, this was yet another fantastic and productive trip to Norfolk in which yet again it had shown its outstanding quality. What a place it is!
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