Sunday, December 31, 2006

Rain Stops Play ....

The weather over the last few days put paid to any notion of getting any birding done. I had hoped to squeeze a few more ticks out, most notably crossbill and white-fronted goose, but my north Gower trip with Dan on Thursday was the last time binoculars were raised by me. Highlights this year were many, and include black-throated thushes, lekking black grouse, shore larks, female Montague's harrier and Norfolk despite dipping on speciality birds on both trips. I also got three new gulls for me this year - glaucous, Sabines's and Franklin's and some nice new waders too - dotterels, semipalmated, buff-breasted and least. My final total for 2006 is 222. A nice round number that would see umpire Shepherd hopping with delight!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Owlszat!

After an overnight drive to Norfolk it was the first bird we saw when we piled out of the car at dawn. But, as you will know (as I've been banging on about it for a while) I've been having a bit of Barney Trouble this year in Glamorgan. But, I'm glad to say that this 'owlin' gap in my county year list has been filled. Thanks to the efforts of Trapper Tim, who recced the secret location (just east of the River Rumney) to make sure the bird in question was still there, I managed to finally connect with a Barn Owl this evening. Better still, I managed to grip off Gethin (who'd opted instead to stay in front of the telly watching Bedknobs & Broomsticks for goodness' sake) when I returned home. You should have seen his face! A word of warning to you all - Geth has announced that he intends to do a bit of year listing next year. God help me! Whiteford here I come on Thursday. I'll let you know how I get on.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

One day soon....

One day soon, I may attempt to work out my year list from memory. I honestly haven't kept notes. I know I've missed lots of fairly easy ones: Barwit, Gropper, Garden Warbler, Merlin, Eider, Slav, Razorbill, Puffin spring to mind. Equally, I've seen some good rarities: Black Throated Thrush, Semi P, Little Auk, Montys, G O bird etc So who knows, or indeed cares....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

200 Up

The wind was considerably less strong today but, nonetheless, a seawatch off Porthcawl this morning still produced at least 18 Leach's Petrel and 4 Common Scoter. The Leach's was duly added to my East Glamorgan Year List - the Eglwys Nunydd birds already ensured that I had them on my Glamorgan Year List. I'm embarassed to say that my 200th species of bird this year was a Mandarin Duck at Margam. (What?! Everybody else ticks them!!). A quick visit to The Knapp in Barry provided me with yet another East Glam year tick. A Razorbill. As I arrived at the lake it started pouring down with rain and I legged it to the public shelter. I scanned the lake but there was no sign of the auk. I started to walk back to the car and there, perched on the side of the path busy preening itself, was the Razorbill. I must have run within a couple of feet of it on the way to the shelter!! It was completely unconcerned by my presence and I'm glad to say it looked in good shape. Hopefully it'll make its way back to sea unharmed. Year list: 200, Glam Year List: 178, East Glam Year List: 174

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Petrel fuels my enthusiasm

Thanks to Dan for a text this morning regarding a Leach's Storm-Petrel at Eglwys. Before I set off, 2 were reported. Only having seen them once, over 5 years ago, from Strumble Head, this seemed a good opportunity to see them again. I arrived at a very windy reservior and soon found some birders looking towards the water. As I jumped out of my car, their attention was turned skywards. As I looked up, a petrel flew fairly low, and mostly backwards, towards the motorway, and disappeared over it. I was told that there was another one further down, and a 3rd bird had been taken into care. I soon found people watching the other bird, close in and very active. Attempts to photograph it produced nice close-ups of waves, and the scope was useless as the bird was too close, and too fast. Good views were had of the pale wing markings, and the white rump. After being harrassed by gulls, the bird flew further away, and then fast right, and was lost to view. With my hands aching in the cold wind, I drove up to Margam Park to see if one had got there. No sign, but Dan's Mandarin showed well. Apologies to Jeff. Apparently I drove straight past him at Eglwys, focussed on getting to the birds, and missed him!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Once Bittern....

Flushed with Thursday's success, I popped back to Kenfig after finishing work on Friday lunchtime. Within a few minutes of me reaching the trees near the Arthur Morgan hide, the Yellow Browed Warbler showed well. I called Glyn Roberts over, and we enjoyed the bird for about 5 minutes. I headed behind the hide to the west of the pool, and within a few minutes, a Short Eared Owl flew towards me, only turning back when it was about 30 feet away. I climbed a small dune and it showed briefly again soon after. Glyn joined me, but the bird didn't show again soon, so I headed for the hide for the last hour or so of daylight. Water Rails showed every few minutes in the cut channel to the left of the hide and Starlings came to roost in large numbers. At 4.15, as darkness closed in, I was thinking of packing up, as I watched another Water Rail through the scope, when I realised that it was being towered over by something much bigger, stripy and brown. The Bittern stayed still for several minutes, and I attempted to digiscope it, with shutter speeds from 1/15 sec to 0.3 sec. The results are terrible! After a few minutes, it crossed the channel and disappeared into the reeds. As I folded my tripod away, a Fox wandered around on the grass immediately to the left of the hide, and when it had gone, I left, after a splendid afternoon out.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

" 5p if we don't find the Purple Sandpipers"

Lured to Kenfig to see if the previous day's Alpine Swift had reappeared (of course it hadn't), Dan and I spent a fair while loitering with Neil Donaghy, Paul Roberts and Dean Bolt in case the Yellow Browed Warbler reappeared (of course it didn't-until we were home). In an effort to find some birds (any birds), we popped to the Watermill (dull), and Portobello ( drake Goosander). Roo Perkins appeared, and asked for info on the Ogmore Purple Sandpipers, which he had always dipped. Dan nobly offered his services, and as I usually dip on them there, I was happy to watch the Purple Sandpipermeister in action. Dan said he'd never dipped on them there and offered me 5p if he couldn't find them, but I owed him 5p, if we did see them. This was going to be good! We scrambled our way over the rocks, pausing only to admire a Guillimot close in. Dan's expression changed from relaxed confidence to edginess, as we walked along "I've usually seen them by now", he said. 5p came closer... Soon Dan turned back towards the car park, leaving Roo and I behind. As he neared the cars, Dan suddenly waved us over, and sure enough, there were at least 5 of the little beauties. 5p disappeared...... As I pondered my fiscal foolishness I glanced up, and saw some sleek dark birds flying low over the sea, heading east, and close in. I put the bins up and was astonished to see 7 drake Velvet Scoters! I shouted some gibberish about white wing panels, and fortunately the others found them immediately. Nice! High fives between Dan and myself left Roo puzzled. He used to live on the East coast of Scotland and had 3 species of scoter regularly. Anyway, the tide approached, and flushed the Purple Sandpipers (15 of them) off the rocks. Time to go home. Roo texted me as I got home, he'd seen the Yellow Browed Warbler. Still I'm not complaining...Oh, and Dan let me off the 5p for finding the scoters....

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Raptor Rapture

As the year ends it's become obvious that my raptor count is letting me down badly. At the beginning of the week I hadn't managed to see Barn, Short-eared or Tawny Owl, Hen Harrier or Goshawk in Glamorgan this year. Something had to be done. The Dowlais Barn Owls looked promising and I went looking for them on Sunday night. Unfortunately I drew a blank. I'm either going to have to go up there by 0530 a.m. or have a shot at the Mardy Lane bird. On Monday I had a bit of luck at KNNR. I managed to connect briefly with one of the Short-eared Owls present. Just as I got on to it the heavens opened and it wisely fled for cover. I decided to follow suite and in my rush to get back to the car I almost stepped on it! Up it shot in the air right in front of me. By the time I got back to the car I was absolutely drenched. Today (spot the out-of-work-birder) I went up to Mynydd Eglwysilan for the third time to try and get a Hen Harrier. On the two previous occasions I've been up there it was on beautiful, sunny, windless days. Today was windy, cloudy and spitting rain. I gloomily trudged up the hill expecting to dip again. But, only two minutes walk away from the car a beautiful male Hen Harrier appeared in front of me, it flew along the contour of the hill and then disappeared from view. Magic! The SEO and Harrier bring up the 175 for Glamorgan and 170 for East Glamorgan for 2007. Anybody got any hot tips for Goshawk and Tawny Owl??!?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Another "Plastic" duck? Green Winged Teal

Loitering with several hundred ordinary Teal at Slimbridge, was this Yank. So why is this wild, whilst the American Wigeon and Wood Duck in Cardiff aren't? Other highlights included 70 odd European White-Fronts, 1 Tundra Bean Goose, 100s of Golden Plover and Lapwings, 1 Spotshank, 1 Ruff, 2 Peregrines, Kingfisher, and a grey "Siberian" Chiffchaff.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Twitching Madness!

This morning I dived into my car and drove helter skelter to Lisvane Reservoir to twitch a . . . female Ruddy Duck. What's happening to me? Do you think I need psychiatric help? Anyway, I'm glad to say that this mega-rarity was successfully ticked and is now residing on my pathetic 2006 Glamorgan Year List.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Journey to the Frozen North (well Teesside)

We had a wedding party to attend on Saturday night on Teesside, and decided to have a few days up there visiting friends of mine and sightseeing, with a spot of birding also. On a bright, but typically breezy Sunday morning, we visited my former local patch of South Gare, and immediately found about 12 Turnstones and 5 Purple Sandpipers. Rock Pipits were present, and when we reached the end of the breakwater, a Guillimot was bobbing about. A juv Red Throated Diver was feeding quite close in and a female Common Scoter flew past. All these were typical sightings for the time of year. However, a small bird bobbing and diving close in was a surprise. It was my second Little Auk, 8 years almost to the day since my previous one, which had been only about 200 yards west of where we saw this one. A flock of 43 Red Legged Partridges were seen a couple of miles inland, very impressive. On a very windy Tuesday, we headed into the northern Pennines to look for Black Grouse. Sadly, none were found at any of their favoured sites between Middleton and Alston or St Johns Chapel. Last time I was there (June 2002), I found 22 males in one field! 2 Red Grouse showed well next to the road at one point.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Snow joke at Witches Point

On a glorious, but cold, Wednesday morning I decided to look for the Snow Bunting that had been reported from Witches Point, Dunraven. After wandering along the path for a while, I was beginning to think that the clear skies had encouraged the bird to move on. Suddenly it landed about 40 feet from me in full sunshine, and promptly scuttled into the grass. After a few minutes I had cracking scope views of it, before it suddenly flew out to sea, calling, and was lost to view. I was driving away shortly afterwards, when Dan texted me about a Whooper Swan at the Watermill, which was still there when I arrived. Soon we had to head off, Dan for parental duties, and I had a driving lesson to give. This evening, whilst browsing the net, I discovered that there is a comet in the constellation of Hercules. I popped outside and found it with my bins. What is it called? Comet Swan.......

Monday, October 23, 2006

Portland Plus, 14-15 October, 2006

We were underway well before light, though a little later than planned after the driver, Geri, hit his snooze button. After a pit stop at Exeter, we decided to have a quick look at Bowling Green Marsh. A curlew sandpiper had been around, but the tide was still out and few birds of were on show apart from a small group of greenshanks from the viewing platform. Waders were starting to move up the estuary but we could not afford the time to wait for them to come closer. We set off for Cornwall and arrived at the Hayle Estuary by mid-morning in search of two Nearctic waders. We ran into Rob Jones from Port Talbot who had been on site since first light. He’d already one of our target birds and was now looking for the second. It had not been seen all morning so we decided to hang around. After about an hour without a glimpse, a group of birders on the opposite side of the river appeared to be interested in something so we decided to join them. They were not positive, but there was certainly a small stint giving brief glimpses. After a few minutes, it appeared and sure enough our pale-legged peep was running around on the marsh. We all had views of our least sandpiper running, standing and flying before it disappeared behind a little mud bank. A life tick for two of us, and a UK tick for Jeff. We attempted to get better views from our original location but this proved fruitless. We moved on to the other end of the estuary where our other target had been showing for a few days. As we chatted with a few locals, along came a group of Celtic Bird tourers. We were told that the bird was showing from a pub car park, but the landlord has a strong aversion to birders. We managed to get onto the saltmarsh nearby and sure enough a couple in the group located the bird before it sneaked up a small creak no more than twenty yards way. An anxious wait of around twenty minutes was rewarded when the bird reappeared, first of all roosting and then walking around. This strongly marked spotted sandpiper, was very confiding and we managed great views, though some rather tall reeds made digiscoping difficult. Satisfied with two from two, we now had to make a choice of where to go next. Birdguides provided a few choices, but we decided to go for a melodious warbler, firecrest and wryneck at Porthgwarra. We arrived after around half an hour, to see Rob Jones once more giving us the thumbs up. The main target bird was still showing. Porthgwarra is at the end of the world. Well nearly, its just down the road from Land’s End. A small little valley, with a tiny bay, a car park, cafĂ© and a few small cottages. As we got out of the car, two old dears smiled. They’d seen the melodious warbler no more than five minutes earlier. We headed to the location, and a few birders were there, and showed us where the bird was flitting about. After a few minutes, it showed fleetingly, and frustratingly for me as I missed it. Not to worry though as it was out again before too long, but this time giving prolonged views at the top of an ivy. Two local put their ‘scope on it and welcomed us all forward for a nice close-up view. Another lifer for Jeff and me. Geri reckoned we were extremely lucky to get such good views. Melodious warblers are skulkers. We had a brief look for the wryneck, but as the afternoon was wearing on our thoughts turned to the journey up to Portland. We headed off, satisfied with three great birds. After a couple of hours we arrived at the Obs and then moved straight on to the Pulpit for a meal and a few pints. We were met with some glum faces as we arrived. Did we smell that bad? Was our company not wanted? Maybe, but it probably had more to do with the fact that the Club had been chasing and dipping some good birds all day. Notably, little bunting, hoopoe and barred warbler had all been on the Isle during the day, but proved elusive to many observers, not just the GBC. After enjoying the craic, we headed back to the annexe for a couple of hours sleep. We all rose early, and made breakfast before convening on the patio area to wait what was being trapped early on hope that some news would come through of some decent birds. A pair of cattle egrets were reported from Lodmoor, so at least we had a backup plan. A ring ouzel flew into the bushes around the huts and a group set off to find it. A merlin was a nice reward, before the ring ouzel appeared once more. By now the wind had really picked up and very few birds were in the nets. We decided to have a look around the Bill to see if the long-staying rosy starling was around. It wasn’t, so we had a half-hours seawatch in gale force conditions. Plenty of gannets we following the fishermen, but there was little else of interest. Before we headed off for the egrets, we called in at the Tump, with a few to bush bashing some migrants. A local was already there and reported that nothing was about, and what was present was keeping very low. After a twenty minute search we concurred that he was right. We parked at Lodmoor and Geri was accosted by some foreigners who mistook him for a hunter. Disabused of this notion, a lengthy conversation followed about the presence in the UK of dotterel and various other species. We moved on to the lane where the egrets had been found. They weren’t showing at first, but once we’d located the cows out in the reserve, we caught our first glimpse of a bird in flight. At the same time we noticed that the other GBCers were viewing the birds from the opposite end of the reserve. We made our way to the viewing platform and enjoyed good views of both cattle egrets feeding amongst the cows. Our next target was a long-staying marbled duck at Stanpit Marsh, Christchurch. The journey there proved eventful, as we learned what the life of a county recorder is. Geri’s mobile rang with news of a possible ring-necked duck at Eglwys Nunydd Reservoir. It was found by a birder with little experience of the species and verification as required. Several calls were then made to birders in the vicinity, all of whom were unable to check it out right away. We arrived at Stanpit Marsh to be welcomed by Paul Bowden who was just leaving having watched our target a few minutes earlier. Soon enough we were watching the young duck. Its behaviour was certainly wary. Waddling about, and then disappearing out of site or constantly looking around nervously. We all concluded it was looking good for a genuine wild bird rather than plastic. With another target in the book, we decided to conclude the day with a short trip to the New Forest to locate a hoopoe that had been around for a few days. We soon found the site, but it looked really poor hoopoe habitat, and we were unable to find the bird. Nevertheless, we were satisfied that we’d made the most of a quiet day and we headed home. A call came through with news that the ring-necked duck was in fact a pochard. We arrivied back in Whitchurch around 8:00pm. Another good trip, with thanks to Geri for driving such big distances. Opening the latest Birding World on Monday, it seems that the marbled duck is being written off as a fence hopper by many observers.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Good Godwit, What a Grey Day!

(They get worse, and worse!) The Glamorgan Twitchmeister (Gethin) dragged me out for a bit of birding this morning and it turned out much, much better than expected. Everybody in Glamorgan seemed to be seeing Black-tailed Godwits this autumn - apart from me. But, my nerves were finally eased when we found one busily feeding down at the Ogmore Estuary. I was extremenly happy with this (East) Glam year tick but better was to come. I was about to point the car homewards when I decided at the last minute that I'd try for Tree Sparrows (for Geth) up at Ty'n-y-Caeau Farm. There were no Tree Sparrows visible but I couldn't care less 'cos there, at the bottom of the field, was a covey of 8 Grey Partridge. I've been searching this area of the Vale for years in the hope of seeing this species, and the one time I'm in the area and not specifically looking for them, there they are in front of my nose! Not only an (East) Glam year tick but a Glamorgan lifer too. Glam year list = 169 East Glam year list = 163 (By the way, I'm looking forward to reading the Cornwall/Dorset trip report - get a move on!).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Scoter Surprise

Sophie wanted a trip to see the sea yesterday and of course I didn't need a second invitation. We walked from Rest Bay up to Kenfig Sands. It was quiet with very little viz mig - just a couple of Wheatears to keep us company and a couple of Skylark overhead. The only waders on the beach were Oystercatcher and Curlew. I always feel a sense of expectation when I arrive at Kenfig Sands. You can arrive there one day and there will be a nice little selection of waders on show. The next day, for no apparent reason, there are none. I was a little disappointed that the only thing visible were more Oycs and Curlews, but with the falling tide I decided to have a closer look at the Mussel Bed. Amongst the gulls were a few Turnstone and little else. But, while looking at the Mussel Bed, out of the corner of my field of view, I saw a small flock of dark birds heading towards me from Swansea. 7 Common Scoter. Another addition to my Glam Year Lists, and a very pleasant surprise. They dropped down on the sea off Kenfig Sands. I watched them for a few moments, took my eye off them to look at something else (a Shag), and never saw them again - even though the sea was relatively calm. I'd been lucky! Dead chuffed we walked home and on the way back a large flock of about 120 Golden Plover circled overhead. And so my local year lists are still ticking over, but I dipped this morning on the Ruff at The Watermill. That would have been a nice addition. I was already thinking of the title of my blog ("Ruff Stuff!") as I drove down there. Perhaps I shouldn't have tempted fate.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Falco subbuteo . . .

. . . back of the net! I went to the Vale today in the hope of finally picking up Grey Partridge and possibly Common Scoter off the coast for my Glamorgan Year Lists. I got neither of them. But, and it's a big BUT . . . walking along the cliff top at Nash Point I saw a raptor coming full pelt towards me. It was obviously a falcon, but it wasn't the Kestrel which had been hanging around for the last quarter of an hour. Neither was it as bulky as a Peregrine. As it whizzed past me there was no doubt - it was a Hobby! It didn't hang around, dashing straight off east in the direction of the lighthouse. Not the best view of a Hobby I've ever had, but I was chuffed to bits. I'd completely given up on seeing this species in Glamorgan this year. Earlier in the day I'd visited the Barrage. Would the reported Yellow-legged Gull still be around? No, it wasn't. I re-found Wayne's two Common Tern and had a pleasant surprise in the form of 21 Ringed Plover and 3 Dunlin roosting on the rocks on the inside of the Barrage. There was also a Wheatear hanging around. Next stop, Cosmeston. Would the Yellow-legged Gull be hanging around there? No, it wasn't. And there was little else there either. Is it me, or does anybody else find Cosmeston frequently disappointing? After leaving Nash Point I went on to the Ogmore Estuary. No sign of the Little Gull - only half a dozen Curlew, a Redshank and a Kingfisher of note. Still, I'm not complaining - I wasn't at work and that Hobby really made my day. East Glam Year List: 160 Glam Year List: 166

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

No (re)Tern, but Oodles of Ouzels

Sorry - I couldn't resist it. On my way home from Swansea last night I 'terned' off into Eglwys Nunydd in the hope of adding another tick to my Glamorgan Year List. Sadly the Little Tern had naffed off an hour before I had arrived. The sight of 5 Black Tern hawking along the reservoir was some sort of consolation. ring ouzelI had more luck on Sunday with the Ring Ouzels at Cwmparc. I felt like a Victorian aristocratic ornithologist because, there waiting for me at the bottom of hill with the Ouzels already staked out for me was my scout - Wayne 'Trapper' Morris. He put me and Gethin (the two biggest twitchers in Glamorgan this year) onto the birds immediately. A lifer for Geth who was suitably impressed. Sadly, we couldn't refind the two Black Redstarts which were also present which would have been yet another lifer for JJ jnr. Many thanks Wayne - I owe you a pint.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Tern up for the books

A brief interlude on Thurs PM allowed a quick wander around Cosmeston Lakes late afternoon. I wasn't expecting any decent birds, just wanted some fresh air before tackling roundabouts in the rush hour with a nervous pupil. I had nearly completed my circuit of the larger lake, when a small, but familiar shape appeared low over the water. A quick look though the bins revealed another Black Tern. I phoned it in and later put it on GBC website. I received a text from Wayne Strong this PM. It's his local patch, and he's never seen one there...ooops! Apparently it's only the 2nd or 3rd record ever there.....

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Some more good terns..

A morning free from teaching the youth of Cardiff how not to crash a car gave me the opportunity to seek out some Autumn migrants. Goldcliff, with 9 Curlew Sands, and 9 Little Stints, was tempting, but I'd recently seen both species when watching the Semi-P. A report of 3 Black and 1 Arctic Tern at Eglwys Nunydd proved more tempting, and sure enough these 4 birds were easily found near the entrance to the reservoir. I left my camera at home, and regretted it, as both species came very close to me. An adult Med Gull was amongst the Black Headed, and at least 3 Common Sands were around. Not quite as exciting as the Picos last week, but a pleasant interlude....

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Yellow Wag in the Bag

Not that I ever doubted seeing one for a minute! ;-) One Yellow Wagtail at Kenfig Pool today. Also 1 Little Stint and the Black Tern still present. If only I'd been there this morning and I might have got onto the Hobby seen by SJM. Doh!

Picos de Europa 16-23rd Sept 06

The Picos de Europa are a range of limestone mountains in Northern Spain, rising to about 8500ft, and a couple of hundred miles west of the Pyrennes. Saturday. We travelled by train to Stansted via London, flew to Bilbao and drove a hire car for about 2.5 hours to our hotel for the first 3 nights, in the hills near the small town of Potes. We arrived around midnight. Sunday. As breakfast wasn't until 9am (typically Spanish), we went for a stroll down the road from the hotel before it. A Black Redstart was soon found, and a couple of hundred yards further on a male Cirl Bunting showed well. A loud but distant call from the valley bottom was almost certainly a Wryneck, but although we heard it several times in the next few days, we never saw it. After breakfast, we drove the few miles into Potes for provisions, as a few Crag Martins flew overhead. A Red Squirrel scurried across the road in front of us. As the weather was cool and drizzly, we decided to drive for a while. At one small village, another showy Black Redstart flitted around, and as we watched, a flock of Serin landed in a tree behind it. We reached the small town of Raina as it brightened slightly, and stopped to scan a large reservoir there. There was little on there, the highlight being a Yellow Legged Gull. A couple of stork's nests were empty, unfortunately. A distant dot over the mountains grew rapidly into a huge raptor, my first Griffon Vulture. Soon there were seven of them, and they drifted fairly low over us, excellent. We stopped several times on the way back, but mainly only found familiar species. A Black Kite was sat in a field, but there was nowhere to stop and watch it properly. I went for another stroll from the hotel early evening, and found at least three more Cirl Buntings. Monday. A brighter day, with some clouds over the high mountains. We decided to do a circular walk from the hotel, and soon were in woods. Crested Tits were heard, but couldn't be found. Out in the open, we soon started finding butterflies: Clouded Yellows were very common, several Adonis Blues, our first Brown Hairstreaks, a Lesser Purple Emperor, Mazarine Blues, and lots of Long Tailed Blues, amongst more familiar species including hundreds of Wall and Grayling. A Booted Eagle drifted over, and Griffon Vultures were usually visible above nearby high mountains, drifting in and out of clouds. Tuesday. Hot and sunny. Whilst having breakfast on the terrace, more Serins were buzzing around, but they were soon ignored when a bird flew into one the closest trees to us. It was a male Middle Spotted Woodpecker, and it's mate was soon found a little further away. We drove to a nearby valley, parked near the village at the end of the road, and prepared to walk into the mountains. As we were putting our boots on, a Short Toed Eagle showed well over a nearby wood. In the village, an old lady insisted on giving us apricots from her apron full of them. Although we ate some during the walk, we still had 36 of them left when we finished! We passed Pied Flycatchers and a Marsh Tit, as well as Crag Martins, and the enevitable Black Redstarts. Large brown lizards basked on rocks, and small green ones shot off before a camera could be aimed at them. Higher up, we were rewarded with a stunning view, and 18 Griffon Vultures together. Keep moving, or they'll think you're a snack! A pair of Rock Buntings showed well, and a few others were seen later on. A Large Wall Brown had us puzzled for a while, and a Meadow Fritillary posed nicely. A long dusty walk was livened by crickets that we flushed every few yards. Some showed pink in flight, and some showed bright blue. Nice! We were nearly back at the car when Gill found a Praying Mantis, green and stunning. I found a brown one, looking just like a clothes peg! We then had a short drive to our self catering apartment, where we stayed for the rest of the week, eating mainly apricots.... Wednesday. The forecast was for a hot sunny day, with light winds, so we headed for Alpine habitat. An hour's drive brought us to the car park for the Fuente De cable car, which climbs 2400ft to approx 5500ft in less than 4 minutes, saving hours of hard walking. We were advised to be there early, to avoid queuing for the cable car. Whilst we waited, a flock of Red Billed Choughs fed in a field, Griffon Vultures perched on the rocks high above, Rock Buntings and White Wagtails were on grass outside a hotel. We took the first cable car at 10am, and within a few minutes of leaving the station, a pair of Alpine Choughs flew past. Gill saw a small bird in flight, so we looked for it, as anything that high up was likely to be interesting. It was an Alpine Accentor. Soon, however, a party of loud Spaniards approached, and flushed it..... Water Pipits were numerous up here, as were Black Redstarts, and Linnets. However, we had information about a far rarer and elusive species that was sometimes seen about 20 mins walk away. A couple from Norfolk walked with us, as they were also looking for the same species. We soon reached the cliff face that we expected to scan for hours, and looked for comfortable boulders to sit on for our vigil. Before we had chance to sit, Gill saw a small bird flitting between the boulders below us. A couple of minutes later, it popped up, and gave myself and the gentleman from Norfolk good, but brief views, of a Wallcreeper! Yes! Unfortunately, the ladies missed it, so we waited another hour, and gradually the bird approached us, until it was within 25 feet of us. We all had good binocular views (the scope was in the car, as a long walk awaited us). Eventually, it flew a long way down the slope, and we said goodbye to the Norfolk birders. We began to gradually descend, pausing to admire a couple of small groups of "Spanish" Yellow Wagtails. We stopped for lunch at a refuge (more like a hotel and bar) at 4500 feet. A pair of Alpine Choughs hung around, and as soon as we left our picnic table, they lived up to my families nickname for them of "Picnic Crows", by investigating our table for crumbs. Shortly afterwards, a small raptor flew past, and a brief view proved it to be a stunning male Lesser Kestrel. No new birds or butterflies were seen lower down, but several hours later, as we approached the car park, a Firecrest sang briefly from some tall conifers. Thursday. Warm and very windy in the morning, turning to rain in the afternoon. We had a gentle drive to nearby valleys, not seeing anything new, before the rain began. As we were both quite tired and aching after last previous days exploits, we were not too disappointed. Friday. Much brighter. A long, twisty drive took us to the Cares Gorge, for an interesting walk. The Gorge makes Cheddar Gorge look like a crease in a tablecloth! As we put boots on, a pair of Golden Eagles soared over the cliffs. We stopped for lunch by a bridge over the river, and Gill had a quick look down, and immediately found...a Wallcreeper. We watched it for at least 45mins, and a steady stream of walkers of various nationalities passed, and only a few asked what we were watching. A few wobbly digi-binned video clips of it were obtained. A Lesser Kestrel called, and soon gave brief views. The scenery was amazing, and we walked for a fair way along, before turning to retrace our steps. Soon I found another Wallcreeper, very close, and again, below us! The drive back produced more Rock Buntings, a group on the road! Saturday. Bright. We began the drive back to Bilbao, where we were to spend our last night in Spain. Flocks of birds flying over were presumed to be Spotless Starlings, as they are the common ones there, but decent views were not possible. We stopped off at an estuary between Santander and Bilbao, and soon found about 8 Black Necked Grebes. A few Whimbrel were amongst more common waders. A small pool over the road revealed only some familiar ducks, but the field beyond it was more profitable, with a flock of approx 30 Cattle Egrets. 67 species of birds seen during the week (8 or 9 "lifers" depending on the "starling sp", 8 more heard, and 18 species of butterfly (6 "lifers"). In Bilbao, Gill dragged me along to the Guggenheim museum, bereft of wildlife, except for a Black Kite drifting over, oh, and a strange dog outside the museum........ Sunday. An uneventful journey home, the highlight being a couple of pints of excellent Fuller's Hock at Paddington Station, and proper British food- Chicken Tikka Masala!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Three in a Row

While I can't compete with Wayne's exploits at Slimbridge I had a surprisingly good day out within the confines of good ol' Eastern Glamorgan today. Having received my 'afternoon pass' for good behaviour I was humming and ha-ing whether I should go to Lavernock Point (easterly winds + chance of Yellow Wag) when up popped the news on the GBC site that there were two Little Stints at Kenfig Pool. Half an hour later I was at the edge of the pool looking at . . . . a Black Tern. A nice bit of deja vu after yesterday's success in finding 2 Black Terns at Eglwys Nunydd but, more importantly, this species was now well and truly on my Eastern Glamorgan Year List. Normally I would have given the Black Tern a bit more attention but I was still anxious to find the Little Stints. No sooner said than done - there they were a little way ahead of me. Feeling a bit guilty that I'd neglected the Black Tern I went back and enjoyed watching it for another five minutes. For some reason I decided to move on to Porthcawl to walk from Pink Bay to Sker. It was a long slog in very windy conditions, with too many people around and no birds. I remember now why I went there - there'd been reports of Knot on Kenfig Beach lately, and Sker Point can be good for Yellow Wags at this time of the year (you've probably twigged that I'm getting a bit obsessed with getting Yellow Wag on my Glam list this year) - unfortunately, neither were present. Back at the car I decided to pack it in for the day and head for home. But why not call in at Wig Fach for the 43rd time this year to look for R-L Partridge? Why not? Well, even though I could think of a least a dozen reasons why not, I pulled in at the bus stop opposite the turn off for Wig Fach and scanned the dirt field. Incredibly, there in front of me were 7 of the little blighters - not only a Glam Year List tick but a Glam lifer! After arriving home I immediately logged on to put my sightings on the GBC website. But, before I'd typed a word I was off out of the house again and on my way to Lisvane Reservoir. PB had had two Black Terns and a Common Tern there that morning. By now I wasn't too fussed about Black Terns (only joking - they're lovely birds) but I need the Common Tern for my Glam Year List. Dragging Gethin along with me ("You can only go if you take Gethin with you") I was in luck again. The two Black Terns and a juv Common Tern were still there. Three Glamorgan Year List ticks in a day and a bonus Eastern Glamorgan tick too. Who needs to watch the Ryder Cup for excitement? These birds bring my year list totals up to the following: Year List = 192 :-( Glamorgan = 163 Eastern Glamorgan = 157 Anyone know where I can find a Yellow Wag?!

Seven Slimbridge Sandpipers

twitchersAfter another poor night's sleep, I bit the bullet and made an impulsive early morning dash to Slimbridge with the intention of ticking some Yankee waders. In the car park at 7:15am, a small crowd was greeted by a warden advising that we could go along to the Holden Tower and wait for news. A few of his colleagues were already out on the Dumbles looking for the birds. After about an hour a warden returned to the tower with the news that one buff-breasted sandpiper had been located and we now had to wait for the tide to bring the waders in. We would then need to wait for them to settle. buff-breasted sandpiperAround 10:20am we began the long march out to the Dumbles. Its muddy out there I can tell you. We were however, soon on to the pair of buff-breasted sandpipers. Satisfied with good views, we turned our attention to the nearby semipalmated sandpiper that the wardens had seen coming in to roost. I was keen to see this bird having missed out on the Goldcliff individual two weeks ago. A few other Gwent birders had the same plan. This peep proved elusive, but was eventually tracked down by the Gloucestershire Recorder who had ventured onto the mud. A crowd of over fifty birders then followed onto the slippery surface. The bird was roosting alongside a dunlin and little stint. Comparisons were possible, but the view wasn't really satifactory, as it was not possible to see the whole bird out in the open. Anyway, it was a peep show and was duly ticked. With two lifers under my belt, I returned to the South Lake for what was now four reported pectoral sandpipers. I squeezed in to a busy hide and took just a few minutes to pick the foursome out. . Satisfied with two lifers and a year tick I headed for home. Also ticked during the visit were the Gloster Birder amongst a flock of Gloucestershire birders and LGRE sporting a dapper white shirt and black tie.

One Good Tern . . . .

. . . . well, two actually. Not having been able to get out birding much lately it was a relief to get my Glamorgan Year List inching forward again. I've been working up in Swansea for the last fortnight and I've been carrying my 'scope and bins in the back of the car just in case something turned up locally. And yesterday something did. There was news on the GBC Sightings page of 2 Black Terns at Eglwys Nunydd reservoir at 0930. I called in quickly on the way back to Cardiff and managed to tick them off within a couple of minutes. Nice and easy! This brings my Glamorgan total for the year up to 160 (East Glam is stuck on 153). Not bad, but could do better. I've got about ten easy ticks left but I've given up on Hobby and I'm getting a bit worried about Yellow Wagtail and Ring Ousel. Having 'lost' most of Septemeber I'll be chuffed if I get a total of around 175. What we need are a few more scarcities!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Oozing with Ouzels

In preparation for our holiday in the Picos de Europa, Northern Spain, I decided to use a few spare hours to break in my new walking boots a bit more. I climbed the hill beyond Craig Cerrig Gleisiad (SN9621), and returned along the cliff edge above the Ring Ouzel site. A Red Kite, a few Swallows and a brief Wheatear were seen, but as I began to descend, I heard a chacking Ouzel, and soon found it about 30 yards away from me, and below me. It was a stunning male. It flew past me onto the cliff face, where I watched it and several other flitting amongst the Rowans. I would guess at least 6 birds were present, including a couple of juvs.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Peep Show

I was just about to set off for Goldcliff on Saturday lunchtime, when a text from Tim warned me that the semipalmated sandpiper was moving away with the receding tide. I was left with the choice of an evening visit later in the day, or an early morning trip. I concluded that a Sunday morning visit would be best. I'd have better light, a high-tide and more hours to spend. In the end, the bird turned up again on Saturday, so I was hopeful of a life tick on Sunday. I arrived at 7:00am on Sunday, dismayed to find the first pool completely flooded, and a handful of birders standing on platform 3. I just got there in time to secure a viewing position before the crowds arrived. Four little stints were soon picked out along with a couple of curlew sandpipers. After about twenty minutes, a birder called that he was on our target. Further scrutiny revealed however, that it was a fifth little stint just arrived from the shoreline. Four avocets circled overhead, knots arrived in good numbers along with a third curlew sandpiper, dunlins and a large flock of curlews. We remained optimistic, given the continued arrival of birds. A group of eight and a lone yellow wagtail flew through along with a tree pipit and green woodpecker. The morning started to drag on however, as our bird was nowhere to be seen. It started to become a question of tick the birder, as people began to come and go. Many unable to get on platform 3 and going to the seawall instead. It was clear that many of these birders had actually seen the bird already and were coming for a 2nd, 3rd and 4th look. These included the finder and one wise man. Chatting with a few people there, it seems there is a slight grain of doubt about the identity of this bird. Its almost certainly a semipalmated sandpiper, but showing a few anomalous characterstics. Unfortunately, in three hours, I never got the chance to see for myself. I was consoled that at least it was just my first trip, as others were dipping for the 2nd or 3rd time. I also managed three year ticks - little stint, curlew sandpiper and yellow wagtail. Okay, so the peep didn't show, but that's not a snappy title for a blog entry.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A spot of excitement

Two rarities, one quite exciting, and one sooo dull it took me nearly two months to drive the couple of miles to see the now eclipse American Wigeon in Cardiff Bay. NB I wasn't driving slowly! It took nearly two months to get motivated to see the bird! The Red Necked Phalarope at Goldcliff on Tuesday was far more fun, though no easier to photograph. If only I'd been able to find the alleged Ortolan near Llanbradach that evening.....

Monday, August 14, 2006

Yo Ho Ho and a Barrel of Chum

Twelve birders on the Blue Shark sailed Yo ho ho and a barrel of chum! Set out for the Celtic Deep, but failed Yo ho ho and a barrel of chum! Cap’n Donaghy had a wicked grin He knew what was in store or was full o’ gin Anymore wind and they’d be in the swim Gale force 6 the breeze did blow The little Blue Shark rocked to and fro’ “Hang on tight, or we’ll see you no more” Yo ho ho and a barrel of chum! Twelve birders of ‘em good and true Yo ho ho and a barrel of chum! Seven long miles out before they knew Yo ho ho and a barrel of chum! Jeff threw the rank bait at the back o’ deck The crew had a retchin’ in the neck Dolphins, skuas, Manxies it did fetch With gannets, fulmars and a stormie Enticed from his belly by the raging sea Wayne’s breakfast was for all to see Yo ho ho and a barrel of chum! Apologies to Robert Lewis Stevenson

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Birding Blitz

Having finally left full-time employment on August 4th I decided to make up for the two months of in the birding desert by going out for a couple of 'all dayers' - birding that is, not drinking. Monday, August 7th found be bright and early, and very wet, at Llanilid. It poured down, but I didn't care - it was better than being in the office. My main target was Greenshank which I still haven't ticked in Glamorgan this year. There'd been two or three seen at Llanilid over the previous couple of days but they'd quite sensibly naffed off to seek sunnier climes. There was also no sign of the Yellow Wagtail or Red-legged Partridge (both needed for my Glam year list) which had also been reported there over the weekend. A bad start to the day, but at least it was nice to see that, after all the fuss about developing the site, they've so far made very little progress. The weather was brightening up and so on I went to the Ogmore Est in the hope of picking up some early returning waders. A couple of Curlew and Common Sandpipers did little to lift my spirits. I trudged back to the car. This wasn't how my first day of 'freedom' was supposed to be. "Right", I thought, "I'll go looking for Grey Partridge along the Heritage Coast". Ever the glutton for punishment. I still haven't connected with either species of partridge in Glamorgan. I predictably drew a blank at Ty'n-y-Cae and Lan Farms, although 4 singing male Yellowhammers in the area was nice to see. But my luck was about to change. On the way to Gileston I noticed a raptor flying low over a field of maize. It didn't look right for a Buzzard and I pulled in quickly. Bins up and there, no more than 50 - 60 metres away was a female Marsh Harrier. I watched her for 10 minutes - it was like being back in Norfolk again! My spirits lifted I headed onto Gileston. Dipped on Grey Partridge there too but a pair of Stock Dove in the field brought up the 150 for my East Glamorgan year list, and 156 for my Glam year list. The following day I went up to Mynydd Eglwysilian for Whinchat. No calling Quail there this year but a female and juv Whinchat duly obliged - year tick. I still need Ring Ouzel for my year list and on I went to Llyn Craig Fawr where Colin Richards had reported seeing a male a week or two ago. I missed the turning to Treherbert and found myself heading down the A465 to Neath, with no prospect of being able to turn around for miles. "Blast!" (or words to that effect). But, the birding gods were out to make amends for the Monty's Marathon. There above me was a Red Kite. Just as I was celebrating I noticed the sign saying that I was now entering 'Neath Port Talbot' - the damn bird was flying 100m on the wrong side of the border for me to tick it on both my lists. "Blast!" (or words to that effect). Foot down off I went to Glyn Neath to turn round as fast as I could. On my way back I parked in a lay by on the border and prayed for the kite to fly just 200m west. After an agonizing wait I re-found it, flying away from me towards Hirwaun. Back of the net! And that's where my luck ran out. I had a lovely time at Llyn Craig Fawr but I didn't see a Ring Ousel. I also went to Cardiff Bay and the Water Treatment Works at Cardiff Foreshore this morning to try for Black-tailed Godwit - no luck there either. My East Glam Year List now stands at 152, my Glam Year List on 158, and my (sad little) Year List is on 183. I've got some humongous gaps in my EG and G Year Lists. Any info on both Tawny and Barn Owl, as well as Hobby would be gratefully accepted. As would some company to go looking for Glamorgan Red Grouse. The other 'gaps' I'll hopefully fill as the year goes on.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

2 more for 204

A visit to Goldcliff late this afternoon, enabled my yearlist to creak forward a little, and finally move past last year's effort. At least 3 green sandpipers from the first platform and a lone wood sandpiper from the second platform were new for this year. Other waders on view were lapwings, 2 snipes, ringed and little ringed plovers, dunlins, redshanks, a black-tailed godwit, a common sandpiper and at least 7 greenshanks. A common tern roosting on a mudbank and male merlin hunting and settling on platform 3 added interest. Especially since I was on platform 2! A couple of clouded yellows and a painted lady were the highlights of relatively few butterflies on the wing.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Dead Zone

An intriguing couple of entries on Gwent Ornothological Society led me to Minniet Woods near Rogiet, to look for Hawfinches in Cherry trees, bizarre, but in the "Dead Zone" of a South Wales summer, it was worth a try.

I found a brace of Bowdens onsite, and Paul confirmed that there were Bignoses around, but not showing well. Sure enough, shadowy plump shapes were glimpsed, and a brief flight view obtained.

However, Spotted Flycatchers were performing well in the treetops, and this one paused long enough to have a few poor photos taken.

A couple of Wood Sandpipers and half a dozen Greenshanks at Goldcliff on the way back were encouraging, though the very low water levels there are a worry at present.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Scotland: Highlands & Islands Easter, 2006

Having visited Scotland several times in the past I'd actually never been to the parts of the country for which it is most famous-the scenic splendour of the highlands and islands,therefore myself and Teresa decided to put that right at Easter this year. I pre-booked cheap flights and car hire with Easyjet flying from Bristol directly to Inverness and accomodation in the form of a self catering log cabin through Hoseasons at a small holiday park on the banks of the River Lochy just outside Fort William, a fairly central touring base I thought. We flew up to Inverness on Easter Saturday 15th April and by late afternoon we were driving along the bank of Loch Ness speeding west to Fort William having first called in at a massive Tesco on the main road on the outskirts of Inverness for essential provisions. Upon arrival in Fort William we were more than pleased with our accomodation and the park was surprisingly quiet and very peaceful with an incredible view of Ben Nevis. Sunday 16th April was spent close to base exploring Fort William and it's surroudings,I was amazed at the quantity of Common Gulls in the vicinity,certainly the most "common" gull recorded during my stay and a little exploring on foot soon found me a pair of Goosanders on the river, two Common Sandpipers on the bank and a Common Buzzard overhead which certainly put all the roosting gulls to flight. The weather forecast for the week was not particularly encouraging and in poor conditions(very heavy and frequent showers) Monday morning 17th April saw us heading north west for the Kyle of Lochlach and the bridge crossing over to the Isle of Skye, having only seen Golden Eagle in Portugal and having never seen White-tailed Eagle I tingled with anticipation although at the same time realising that the wet weather would have a significant bearing on the possibility of a sighting. A visit to Portree where a pair of WT Eagles breed quite close to the harbour was a severe disappointment with me failing to connect, the very heavy showers persuading the birds to stay at their nestsite. A visit to the WT Eagle exhibition on the outskirts of Portree was scant consulation for my serious "dip" but things picked up when the weather improved and on the way back a huge raptor flew over the roadside ridge,my first UK Golden Eagle !! I now know why they say you'll recognise one when you see one, it was awesome and in no way could it be mistaken for the "tourist eagle" the Common Buzzard, with spirits lifted the long journey back seemed to pass more quickly. A visit into Fort William on Tues 19th April for some provisions and a browse around the local shops saw me strike gold when a look around the tourist information office saw me pick up a leaflet on Wildlife and Birdwatching daytrips on Mull led by a professional birder/guide by the name of Richard Atkinson. A chat with Teresa and a day pass enabled me to take up the final seat on Richard's mini-bus for the following day,things were looking up and even the weather forecast was encouraging with a fine day in prospect. Before that we headed across to Loch Garten,my first visit to this holy grail of Speyside birding although I have to say that the views of the breeding pair of Ospreys was slightly disappointing as they were fairly distant and by the time we arrived viewing was directly into the sun. An obliging pair of Crested Tits directly outside the hide was my first UK record of this species having only seen them previously in the pinewoods of Monte Gordo in Portugal and cracking views of Red Squirel and GS Woodpecker on the feeders at the centre ensured a fine end to the day although the long drive back was very tiring. An early start on Wed 19th April saw me winging my way south along the picturesque 55 mile drive to Oban to catch the 10.ooam ferry. A lifer awaited in the harbour where I instantly spotted 5-6 Black Guillemots that apparently breed in the holes in the concrete harbour wall!! The ferry crossing was totally unproductive from a birding perspective although I got chatting to two very likeable retired ladies who well kitted out with bins and scopes confirmed that they to were going on Richard's daily expedition. We soon met up with Richard and having exchanged pleasantries were soon watching a male Otter in a small creek only a few mile from the ferry terminal, it performed well and even turned on to it's back to eat a catch as only Otters do. Another stop only a mile or two further saw Richard announce that we were in a WT Eagle territory and as we were not too far from the nest site the stop would have to be fairly brief so as not to cause a disturbance,low and behold as Richard spoke and as if on cue one of the pair probably the male soared in and landed in the top of an old tree on the hillside opposite our stop. This bird was truly spectacular and a lifer for me, I couldn't get over it's shear size and the impact it made, it certainly had the "woooaargh" factor. Soon it was joined by it's mate which alighted on the ground on the top of the hill and although abut 1/2 mile away it was clearly visible with the naked eye. We moved on and our next stop was one of the glens disecting the centre of the island,this was apparently a good place for Hen Harrier and almost immediately a large raptor came into view gluiding gracefully towards us, this was no Hen Harrier but a magnificent Golden Eagle that announced it's arrival by going into display mode climbing high and plummeting like a stooping Peregrine Falcon on folded wings, this was eagle behaviour at it's most spectacular and something to truly behold. Glowing from this incredible sighting we stopped next on the soth coast of the island where a massive WT Eagle flew towards us off the sea and getting within 200 yards or so of us before being mobbed by several large gulls whereby it turned and flew west to finally come to rest on a huge sea cliff a mile or so across the bay, this was an awesome sighting and the best of 4 of WT Eagle achieved on the day!! A lunch stop in a sheltered valley with some huge cliff faces was announced by Richard as a viewpoint for 4 Golden Eagle territories,the first tasty ham roll was quickly follwed by a Golden Eagle flying off a cliff face behind us met halfway across the valley by another of these impressive raptors from the opposite territory,with mutual respect for each other they both turned and headed back to their respective territories giving crippling views. Further sightings on our return journey gave a total for the day of 6,this was turning into the best £32 I had ever spent, this was the birders equivalent of buying a winning lottery ticket and with a cracking packed lunch thrown in as well!!! Although the eagles were the ultimate target species other great sightings were of both BT and GN Divers in various stages of plummage including a cople of each in stunning breeding plumage(wow!!), Greenshank,Redshank, a party of 4 returning Whooper Swans an unexpected Yellowhammer, Eiders and numerous Red Deer, dipping on Hen Harrier and SE Owl was a little disappointing but did not spoil an unforgetable day.

Thurs 20th April saw myself and Teresa take the cable car up to the ski station on nearby Ben Nevis in my search for the elusive Ptarmigan, the weather was bright and sunny and the views were nothing short of stupendous!! Leaving Teresa in the comfort of the cafeteria I trudged a few hundred yards across the mountain in what turned out to be a vain search, although I heard a call I could not locate any birds as there were simply too many people about and I probably would have had to have hiked for several hours to get away from the crowds, I gave up and turned back to the comfort of the cafeteria and after a luckless scan of the car park for Snow Bunting we made our way down the mountain and spent the remainder of the day sightseeing.

I had made up my mind that whilst visiting Scotland I should really make a serious attempt to find one of it's prized birds and a lifer for me the impressive Capercaillie, although we had another day booked in at Fort William I persuaded Teresa that we should pack up and head for Speyside and find ourselves a B&B for our last night so that on our final morning before heading home I could attend the early morning Capercaillie watch at RSPB Loch Garten.

So late morning on Fri 21st April we headed for Speyside arriving late afternoon at Boat of Garten where we quickly found ourselves a very comfortable B&B just over the river bridge and as close to Loch Garten reserve as we could be.

The landlady was quite knowledgable and helpful and advised me that I could see summer plumaged Black-throated Divers at nearby Lochindorb and Slavonian Grebe at nearby Loch Vaa,having only seen the species in their more familiar winter plummage this was not a chance I wanted to pass up and with a few hours of good light left we headed off in hot pursuit.

Three distant but very impressive BTDs duly obliged,the road to and from Lochindorb also being littered with Red Grouse some so close that they gave an excellent photo opportunity which I took up and a Golden Eagle over the ridge along the main road back towards Aviemore was an unexpected bonus!!

Parking near the cemetry by the main road and a brisk walk through the wood soon saw me 'scoping five resplendant Slavonian Grebes, I was soon joined by a group of birders from Sheffield who I was also going to bump into the following morning at Loch Garten. The Slavs were so impressive in their summer fineary and were such a contast to the little black and white blobs that we normally view off Whitford Point in the depths of winter.

A nice meal in Aviemore on the way back to the B&B was a splendid end to a great day.

Sat 22nd April saw me rise at the ungodly hour of 4.30am for the short drive in the dark to RSPB Loch Garten, upon my arrival at the car park I was surprized to see about 12 cars already parked up, are we birders totally mad or what!!

The watch was very well organised with small groups being taken in turn from the main hide to the smaller forward hide for better views, a slendid male Caper strutted it's stuff and although distant gave good views,a female was even more obliging and gave a brilliant photo opportunity whilst perched in a nearby tree, mission accomplished I quickly made for nearby Tulloch Moor in an attempt to see the Black Grouse "lecking" before they dispursed.

It was extremely windy when I got there and I was lucky enough to get a good view of the one remaining male before he disappeared into the heather, two "lifers" and it wasn't even 7.30am yet!!

A birder at Loch Garten told me of the breeding Ospreys at Loch Insh near Kincraig which was only a 25 min drive or so and making good use of his directions I was soon viewing a pair of these wonderful raptors on their nest from only about 50 yards away on their safe little island in the loch.

The birds saw me arrive but as the site is well watched were not at all alarmed,it remained very windy and the shelter I took in the trees on the shoreline enabled me to keep the scope steady enough to take some pleasing photos. I left the Ospreys in peace and hope that they successfully reared some youngsters who will also return to our shores next year.

A hearty Scottish breakfast,a quick thanks and goodbye saw us on the 30 min drive to Inverness to return the hire car and get our early afternoon flight back to Bristol, this was bang on time and we were soon crossing the Severn Bridge to arrive home by teatime.

A thoroughly memorable trip was enjoyed by us both and from a birding perspective I picked up 4 "lifers" and 2 further U.K "ticks", to dip on Ptarmigan was disappointing but then again it gives me a great excuse to go back again!!!!

Friday, July 14, 2006

2006, part II

I resumed birding last evening following the long intermission that is the bleak birding period of June and early July. Alec and I visited Llandegfedd Reservoir in the hope of spotting the Sabine's gull that has been around for a day or two. We arrived at the north car park, with a couple of other birders just making their way out to the north east corner of the reservoir, Green Pool. A pleasant walk through a meadow area was rewarded with plenty of butterflies on the wing - mostly meadow browns, a few marbled whites, a couple of skippers and possibly a few ringlets too. Paul and Matt from GBC were making their way back to the car park and confirmed the bird was still there among a small black-headed gull roost. Having set the 'scope up I was put on to the bird by the small group of birders who were already there. It was a little distant, but it was just possible to see the yellow-tipped bill and the shape of the hood as it sat on the mud bank. A grey heron and a couple of little ringed plovers were present too. After about ten minutes or so it took flight, and I lost sight of it. A few observers speculated the age of the bird, with the consensus appearing to be that it was in fact a 2nd or 3rd year bird in partial moult. Frankly, I didn't see it well enough to have an opinion. I later relocated it flying in front of the dam at the far south of the reservoir. These were distant views but it was possible to see the distinctive wing markings that separate this species from the crowd. All in all, not entirely satisfying views of this species, but another tick nevertheless.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Monty's Return Part 4

Sunday was our last day, and the birding was to be near our route home, in the Brecklands. We were diverted off the Norwich bypass due to an accident, and approached Thetford from the Diss direction. This proved lucky, as a Tawny Owl flew over the road in front of us. At Weeting Heath, the Stone Curlews (and 2 chicks) showed well. A Spotted Flycatcher flitted around outside the hide, and I glimpsed a distant flying Woodlark. On to Hockwold, more in hope than expectation. We walked along the edge of the plantation nearest the railway until we found a slight clearing, with a narrow water channel in it. A chap from Doncaster assured us that if we waited there long enough, we would see a Golden Oriole. So we sat down to eat our lunch, and begin our vigil. Even though I'm a fast eater, I hadn't finished my first sandwich before he calmly invited me to look through his scope, and sure enough there was a stunning male Golden Oriole. Gill got decent views in her bins before it disappeared. We waited a while longer, then decided that we had used our luck up, and headed home. An uneventful journey home was brightened by a Red Kite over the A14 near Kettering, but then was back to the bird desert of Cardiff in June. A lovely break, and I'm sure a longer stay could have brought more memorable sights.

Monty's Return Part 3

Saturday was another hot and sunny day, so we went to Strumpshaw Fen to look for more Swallowtails. We soon found a couple in a meadow near the visitor centre, having already had a cracking view of a Cetti's Warbler about 10 feet from us. Also showing well was a Barn Owl, at 10am! Presumably mouths to feed nearby! Good numbers of common butterflies and dragonflies passed us, as we walked around the reserve. Half a dozen Egyptian Geese on the river were slightly exotic, but not a great surprise in Norfolk. As at Minsmere, Hobbies and food-passing Marsh Harriers kept us entertained. A Green Sandpiper flew low over one pool, but landed out of sight. Several Swallowtails flew close by on a short boardwalk, but wouldn't settle for photos. Eventually, we reached a cottage, with a stunning flower border. A handwritten sign enouraged passers-by to walk up the border if they wanted to view or photograph Swallowtails. After about 20mins, 2 of them appeared, and landed briefly on nearby flowers. Stunning! We drove around Norwich, and headed for North Norfolk, in search of Montys. As we neared the viewing area, we saw a couple with a scope, looking over a gate into a field. Sure enough, the male Monty was perched on a hedge. We watched him for a while, before he flew across the road, behind a high hedge, and out of sight. Soon he reappeared with prey in his talons, and flew towards where he had been perched. His mate flew up out of the crop for a food pass, nice! When they both disappeared, we headed off to search for Turtle Doves nearby. A hot and frustrating hour gave a brief glimpse of one flying away from us, so we returned to the Montys, and immediately saw another food pass. A pair of Turtle Doves showed briefly and distantly on wires, before an immature male Marsh Harrier landed in a tree near us. It was time to head for home. However, this being Norfolk, there was still time for a spot more birding, this time on the east bank at Cley. 3 Cuckoos flew over calling, as we left the car, and good views of more Avocets, Little Terns, a Pink Footed Goose, and another Bearded Tit were had, before a pair of Marsh Harriers flew low in front of the setting sun. Time for beer!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Monty's Return Part 2

Friday was very warm and sunny, so after an early breakfast, we headed down to Minsmere. From the North Hide, many Avocets were obvious, and a smaller almost black wader was amongst them, a stunning summer plumage Spotted Redshank. Marsh Harriers were in view for much of the time, and Hobbies were seen. Walking from there to the beach, a Bittern flew low over us from the Dunwich direction. Many Sedge Warblers competed for our attention. On the beach, some nesting Little Terns showed well, a distant dark phase Arctic Skua flew north, and from the East Hide 3 Med Gulls, including 2 adults were visible. A Spoonbill dropped in near North Hide, and another Bittern flew over the scrape. We walked past the sluice, where 4 newly fledged Swallows were still being fed, and on to the South Hide. Common, Sandwich and Little Terns were all present, as were 3 summer plumaged Knot. From the West Hide many Avocets showed well, but no chicks were visible. After a quick snack back at the Visitor Centre, we made our way to the Bittern Hide, where a Marsh Harrier showed well in a nearby tree, and at least 2 more Hobbies were hunting. From Island Mere Hide, many glimpses of Bearded Tits were had, mainly in flight low over the reeds. Just before we left, 2 1st summer Little Gulls appeared over the water.