Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Thankfully the rain and wind, such a feature during Saturday, gave way to brighter conditions with just a few blustery showers Sunday and Monday. Dee and I spent Sunday primarily at RSPB Loch of Strathbeg on the north-east coast of Aberdeenshire and ended with a rare twitch back in Aberdeen for Pallas's Warbler. Strathbeg is the largest dune loch in Britain and this was our first ever visit here and I have to say we were mightily impressed! With lots of trails to explore, excellent visitor centre and four hides widely spread across this huge reserve there's plenty to see.

Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese over Strathbeg
When you drive the mile or so from the main road down to the reserve you can see why this is one of the best spots to see wintering geese, with the sky black with skeins of Pinkies! More than 20% of the worlds Pink-footed Geese arrive here at this time of year and along with huge numbers of Barnacle Geese and Whooper Swans, its an astonishing spectacle.

Whooper Swans at Strathbeg
The visitor centre provides the latest information, great views across the reserve and immediately gives you the impression of the shear size of the place. From here we took a look around the wild garden and feeders, where a large population of Tree Sparrow reside and today at least three Brambling were also making use. We decided to head off to the Tower Pool Hide and the walk along the trail, which consists of wild bird cover crops held at least four Stonechat, plus a couple of Lapland Bunting were flushed and as we approached the hide. Peregrine, Fieldfare and Redwing overhead. From the hide itself great views of the 1000's of geese including one or two White-fronted and at least fifty Whopper Swan. Huge numbers of Wigeon also reside and mingled in Pintail, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Teal, Shoveler and Goldeneye. Waders seemed light on the ground but CurlewDunlin, Snipe, Spotted Redshank and Redshank all noted. No sign of a reported Pectoral Sandpiper unfortunately!

Red-breasted Merganser
A short drive is required back along the main road to visit the Fen and Bay Hides. Quite surreal doing this on a Sunday, having to drive through the old Crimond Airfield where a stock car rally was taking place! We began at the Bay Hide and more of the same, with the exception of Red-breasted Merganser and Yellow-browed Warbler, one seen briefly in the treeline below the hide. We met a lovely Scots couple in the Fen Hide, where we were told we'd just missed Bearded Tit and another Yellow-browed Warbler but in among the 1000's of Eurasian Wigeon an American was eventually picked out, but don't ask me how!!

Rock Pipit in a rare sunny spell!
Our flight, not until late Monday night gave us the opportunity to have a full day exploring and Dee took me up to Girdle Ness, the headland that guards the southern side of Aberdeen harbour. The short walk around it takes in the lighthouse, sea views and Torry Battery - built to defend the harbour in 1860.

Shag - Plenty around the inland waters and harbours!
It's great habit to explore, particularly for that illusive autumn migrant and lots of Shag, Turnstone, Cormorant and Oystercatcher can be found lounging on the sea walls. In the harbour several Guillemot and Seals, with Gannet further out and the aptly named Rock Pipit on the rocks below. Blackcap, continental Blackbirds and Robins could also be found feeding on the remaining berries, along with flighty Redwings.

Plenty of curious Seals at Ythan Estuary!
From here a drive north to the Ythan Estuary with a Slavonian Grebe and some large flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing on route. The estuary is tidal for around four miles and we stopped at Newburgh Bridge to explore. Here hundreds of waders, predominately Redshank but Bar-tailed GodwitGrey Plover, Ringed Plover, Knot, Dunlin and a single Little Egret, not that regular in these parts. Small parties of Eider Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and a regular flow of Seals passing by in the current.

Species Seen:

Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, White-fronted Goose, Barnacle Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Wigeon, American Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck, Eider Duck, Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Pheasant, Slavonian Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine, Water Rail (H), Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Guillemot, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Skylark, Barn Swallow, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Stonechat, Redwing, Fieldfare, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Yellow-browed Warbler, Pallas's Warbler, Goldcrest, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Hooded Crow, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Crossbill, Reed Bunting, Lapland Bunting

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Birding Aberdeenshire!

A long weekend in Aberdeen visiting Dee's home town offers plenty of birding opportunities but today's weather left a lot to be desired! We had intended to visit Montrose basin but with strong winds and sometimes torrential rain the best option was to stay local.

Stonehaven harbour!
We spent the early afternoon at Stonehaven enjoying the high seas and amazing breakers! On the drive down to the harbour we came across five Pink-footed Geese grounded in a field. Plenty of Gulls sheltering beyond the breakers with a single Common Scoter, at least ten Cormorant and two Shag. Redshank appeared in good numbers along with the odd Turnstone and a single Rock Pipit around the car park before we headed off further along the coast.

One of two White-fronted Geese today!
Most surrounding fields were flooded so worth stopping occasionally for a look. Plenty of Skylarks to be found, plus the odd Curlew but one field came up trumps, with two birds Dee had spotted turning out to be White-fronted Geese.

These two Barn Swallows seemed to be delayed in making their getaway!
At a later stop driving down towards RSPB Fowlsleugh (where conditions proved too arduous) we were amazed to come across a couple of Barn Swallows, which looked thoroughly damp perched up on the wires. With the horrendous conditions most birding was done in the comfort of the car and what sea watching we did manage produced endless Gannets, with the odd Auk Sp. passing through in the gloom!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Final 2016 Away-Day ~ Norfolk

The final Away-Day of the year for the Brandon Marsh team and with a blocking high pressure system still firmly in control over Scandinavia there was no other place to go but to the east coast and Norfolk. Setting off from Brandon at 06:15 with the usual stop for breakfast we arrived at RSPB Titchwell at around 09:30. Six Red Kite on route and a heavy downpour just before reaching the reserve.

A look at the feeders opposite the cafe area produced at least two Brambling, along with Goldfinch and Chaffinch and then several of us decided to head off towards Patsy's Pool. The first Yellow-browed Warbler of three for the day was seen at the feeders to the rear of the visitors centre and several Goldcrest along the path towards the Fen Hide, plus Chiffchaff and Dunnock. A look over the fence before heading up to the screen produced Meadow Pipit, Blackcap and a Stoat, which ran across some old pallets. One or two Redwings heading overhead and a scan of the track along the rear of the east trail from the second fence produced more Brambling, Redwing and Song Thrush.

One of three Yellow-browed Warbler ~ Photo by Trevor Griffiths
I didn't personally spend too much time at the screen, keen to check out the east trail but lots here including Wigeon, Snipe and Ruff. The trail produced a Common Redstart and across the pool a couple of Ring Ouzel were feeding in the elder bushes, although I personally only saw the male, thanks to Keith Foster for making us aware. A decent size flock of Golden Plover overhead, Skylark, several Curlew and more thrushes moving through before heading back across to the west side.

Spoonbill over RSPB Titchwell ~ Photo Trevor Griffiths
We took the meadow trail across to the fresh marsh, recording two more Yellow-browed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler calling and even more Goldcrest. As we tracked along the west bank path a Marsh Harrier out across the saltmarsh and at least 7/8 Bearded Tit before a couple of Jack Snipe close in on the brackish marsh. No sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper during our stay in the Parrinder Hide but two Spoonbill were a welcome diversion and a single Curlew Sandpiper and Grey Plover in among the Dunlin, Golden Plover, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit. A sea watch was disappointing and only produced of note juvenile and adult Gannet, several Sanderling on the beach, along with Oystercatcher and Turnstone. Several stops as we headed back to the car park during a brief shower with two flocks of Brent Geese, three Little Stint, 100+ Knot, Little Grebe and Redshank.

After Titchwell a stop at Cholsey Drying Barns and here Red-legged Partridge, Yellowhammer and at least four Grey Wagtail. The only 'twitch' of the day was for the Pallas's Warbler seen at Stiffkey along Campsite Wood. Despite our best efforts, along with several other birders we dipped on this one, although a couple of Greenshank along the wet marsh added to the day list!

Two final stops for the visit: Firstly at Cley beach, which produced Slavonian Grebe, Red-throated Diver, Guillemot and Gannet offshore and looking inland Wheatear and four late Barn Swallow. Final stop in fading light was Salthouse, only birds of note on Gramborough Hill Meadow Pipit and a brace of Stonechat. A final scan before heading off produced four Marsh Harrier as the heavens opened to end a thoroughly enjoyable day!

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Diary Update #54

Since arriving back from Spain I've made several visits to Brandon Marsh, including completing some chainsaw work for the BMVCT and of course spent time locally. To be honest Brandon has been pretty dire for waders with only a single Green Sandpiper noted, a couple of Little Egret and a best count of nine Snipe during one visit. Two Stonechat at Jury Hide last week and Redwings are beginning to arrive with several flocks of 20+ during this Fridays visit, at least two Grey Wagtails are busy around the cement works and a half dozen Siskin also recorded. An interesting post on the Brandon website this evening of a possible Yellow-browed Warbler today will require some investigation during tomorrows visit.

1st Lesser Redpoll of the autumn at the marina
At the marina a Tawny Owl has been quite active, with several views of the bird in flight, mainly at dusk and this morning a Grey Plover could be heard calling from a nearby field, but I didn't make contact. The first Lesser Redpoll of the autumn was also found at the marina during my morning walk, along with more Redwing over.

One of two Wheatears along Grandborough Fields
Dee and I had an afternoon walk around Grandborough fields from the open barn to Toft Lakes fishing pools today. There are plenty of ploughed fields to explore and indeed one came up trumps producing a couple of Wheatear.

Another Wheatear at Grandborough
The east coast is currently the place to be, with weather conditions perfect, and so right on cue a visit to Norfolk on Monday with the Brandon Team is eagerly anticipated!

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Birding Spain ~ Final Day

With my flight home not until Wednesday evening I took a final opportunity to visit Zapata one last time in the early dawn. A Grasshopper Warbler had been seen at the ford yesterday, a mega sighting for Andalucía by all accounts, but there was no sign during my visit.

The ford at Zapata ~ A wonderful habitat full of birds!
As I arrived a Night Heron was busy feeding on the waters edge, along with Little Egret but soon took flight as I approached. Also at the watering hole was a good selection of Goldfinch, House Sparrow and Serin, plus the usual Common Sandpiper and Little-ringed Plovers, not at all bothered by my presence. I parked up and took a stroll around, several Crested Lark and two White Wagtail along the ground and after checking the many tamarisk I ended up with Pied Flycatcher, Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff and a group of twenty or so Common Waxbill, which were pretty mobile. Further along the river Kingfishers were busy as usual and by the time I arrived back at the car Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Yellow Wagtail, Hoopoe, Cattle Egret and overhead Barn Swallow, Common Swift, and House Martin.

Once across the ford I spent time on the bridge overlooking the flood channel, which had just enough water trickling through to entice birds down for a drink. As I set up the scope a Marsh Harrier drifted over, two Red-rumped Swallows bravely challenging before continuing on. A dark phase Booted Eagle, closely followed by an Osprey next, which seemed to drop down abruptly after spotting something tasty no doubt! Back to the channel and a Black Redstart was one of several birds taking advantage, then a gorgeous male Common Redstart and yet another adult Bluethroat. A half dozen Serin and a Stonechat was perched up in usual fashion on a nearby branch!

Stone Curlew ~ In the heat haze!
Finally, making my way back to the Mesón El Cohete café for breakfast I stopped to see if Monday's Stone Curlew were still around. Five birds were still on site and I managed a Short-toed Lark and a second Bluethroat of the day before finally bringing this particular trip to a close!