Sunday, April 13, 2008

Anser Birding Extremedura 8-12 April 2008 trip report

Anser Birding Extremedura 8-12 April 2008

Little Bustard near Campo Lugar all images MJM

Great Bustard near Campo Lugar

Great Spotted Cuckoo at the Embalse de Guadiloba

Blue Rock Thrush, Penafalcon, Monfrague NP

Black Stork, Tietar Cliffs, Monfrague NP

Summary; Nearly all the expected species were seen, the weather at times was challenging and certainly made it difficult at times. It also aided us with some species. Species like Red and Black Kite, Cattle Egret, Nightingale, White Stork, Spanish Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Hoopoe, Woodchat, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Rock Bunting, Black Redstart, Blue-rock Thrush, Azure-winged Magpie, Southern Grey Shrike were seen almost continually and in good numbers. We stayed at Jaraicejo with our friends Marisa, Petra and Luis at the Hotel Montefragoso and were looked after very well as usual.

8 April 2008 A travel day but en-route to Extremedura from Madrid as we drove into rain a Little Bustard flew over the road and a few other species were noted.

9 April 2008 A look at the weather conditions at breakfast convinced us to head South for some steppe/wetland birding. We had a quick look along a nearby ridge where the Griffon Vultures were heading out for the day. On the steppe near Campo Lugar the usual where shall I look next scenario was in place. 2 pairs of Montagu's Harrier, 3 calling Quail, 2 pairs of Lesser Kestel, Zitting Cisticola, Corn Buntings, Crested Larks, Hoopoes, Southern Grey Shrikes and a variety of other species were seen very well. Further up the road the Calandra Larks, Great and Little Bustards, Stone Curlews and Short-toed Lark were seen. The views were very good as there was no heat haze. A coffee stop nearby at Madrigalejo and we were soon watching c30 Red Avadavat, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Little-ringed, Kentish and Ringed Plovers, Common Sandpiper with 2 Pochard and 2 Teal on a reservoir. A Spoonbill rested in a field with the storks before flying off. Other waders in the fields included Green Sandpiper and Black-winged Stilt. Marsh Harrier was also present.

Heading further south again to the La Serena area we saw a Short-toed Eagle and c12 Bee Eater near the Emblase de Zujar. It was very windy here and the highlights were Great Bustards and Collared Pratincoles. Returning via the same route to our hotel we stopped near Campo Lugar again for me great views but the highlight was a S.G Shrike impaling a large millipede on the barbed wire fence before moving it to the thorns.

10 April 2008 A route from Jaraicejo to Hinojos-Talavan-Caceres-Embalse de Guadlioba and back to base was productive as we dodged torrential showers. Again Little and Great Bustards were seen well, 6 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew over with two Little Bustard. The sandgrouse relieved themselves and by amazing co-incedence managed a direct hit on Dave Paynters hat. A stop at the Arroyo de la Vid gave us a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse over and some Thekla Lark views. Many of the pools for sheep drinking had pairs of Black-winged Stilt and Little-ringed Plover, perhaps grounded by the weather.

At the Embalse de Guadiloba the surprise find was the first record of Light-bellied (or any) Brent Goose for the interior of Spain (away from the coast) and even then it is a very rare bird in Iberia. More typical fare were 3 first-summer and two adult Great Spotted Cuckoo, 4 Collared Pratincoles, Pallid Swifts, Great Bustards, a Tawny Pipit and first summer Mediterranean Gull.

We were fortunate to find an Imperial Eagle nest complete with adults feeding a chick and the male succesfully hunting, it was a real treat to watch the tender way these predators look after their young and we caused no disturbance to them. The site is witheld for the welfare of the birds.

11 April 2008 Into the Monfrague NP for great views of Imperial, Booted, Short-toed and a Golden Eagle (the group, not me!) Griffon, Black (Monk) and Egyptian Vutures, Red-rumped Swallows, Black Stork on the nest, Otter and Fallow Deer, singing Woodlark, B.R Thrush, B Redstart, Rock Bunting and Hoopoes. At Tietar Cliffs a couple more Black Storks and raptors showed well in this sun-trapped part of the park. Nightingale, Sardinian and Subalpine Warbler sang.The Eagle Owls did not show for us during the afternoon but were present. We studied a group of Azure-winged Magpie in a sunny Cork Oak wood nearby before heading back through the park stopping off for Thekla and Black-eared Wheatears en-route. Back at Penafalcon the vultures were returning, 100+ were soaring overhead and our target bird arrived in style with stupendous dives, a pair of Bonelli's Eagles put on quite a show. A feamle Cirl Bunting showed on the roadside fence and a stop gave us lovely views of Woodchat Shrikes. Heading back into a sunny Jaraicejo we heard Bee Eaters and were seeing Booted Eagles and plenty of Black Kite.

12 April 2008 Leaving the hotel in the morning we were trying a wetland site at Embalse de Azutan. A Black-winged Kite hovered over an orchard next to the main road en-route and at the reservoir Marsh Harrier, 12 Nightingale, a showy Subalpine Warbler and 6 stunning Bee Eaters were seen. The afternoon (after large lunch at a hotel) was spent in the Sierra de Gredos. Exploring one or two sites gave us rather stunning views of the area. A Cirl Bunting sang from a TV aerial at the hotel/restaurant and more familiar species such as Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blackcap and Dunnock were seen. Red Kites and Booted Eagles were seen regularly but we ran out of time. A Red Squirrel and hearing sharpei Green Woodpecker finshed up our birding for the trip before heading to Madrid and home.

Thank you to everyone that came with me to this lovely part of Spain.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Anser Birding Dorset and Hampshire 14-16 December 2007 trip report

Purple Sandpiper at the Sandbanks Ferry, Dorset, 15 December 2007 MJMcGill

16 December 2007 Another boat trip, the ferry across to Studland and we tried again for divers. None were found in the large swell but 3 Velvet Scoter, 10 Common Scoter, 10 Black-necked Grebes, 25 Mediterranean Gull and other assorted birds that we had seen were present. Whilst waiting for the ferry I saw another Black-necked Grebe in Shell Bay, the 4-5 that we saw later from the boat meant that this was the most BNG's I have ever seen in one day in the UK. I reckon there must be over 30 in the area! A quick drive back to the Poole Harbour bird boat and we were aboard and ready for the cruise. Highlights were the 9-10 Spoonbill, numerous close flight and floating views of Red-breasted Merganser, Black-necked Grebe, Guillemot and Goldeneye but the fly past pair of Long-tailed Duck (adult male and female) and three on the water were the pick of the bunch. A great way to see the birds but on this day also a very cold one. The boat did a few sail pasts of the Brownsea Island lagoon to see the waders close up, a Peregrine was seen and a couple of Raven ending a good trip. It was time to head back home so we stopped at Ibley Water, Hants to add a few more birds and did just so to take the group tally to over 100 species, another search for the eagle in better weather again ended without a sighting but I think we were all pleased with the good birding.
15 December 2007 We began along the Poole Harbour shore road approaching Sandbanks and added a wonderful variety of birdlife to our trip list. The rising tide had pushed up a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwit with one in full breeding plumage, a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese also fed and 7 Knot, Turnstone, 2 Ringed Plover, 2 Mediterranean Gull, grebes and mergansers were also seen from here. At the ferry we watched 3 Purple Sandpiper down to a few feet and crossed to Shell Bay where we found 4 Black-necked Grebe with 4 more in Bramble Bush Bay where a single Common Scoter joined the other duck. From the Studland car park we located a Velvet Scoter and more brents, conditions were rather extreme, very cold with a strong wind straight into our faces making it very hard to stop our eyes watering. A collective decision was made to head for Portland Harbour and the Weymouth area, we changed plans a few times on this trip to get the best birding out of it. At Ferrybridge on the Fleet we searched through a large flock of brent and found a Black Brant and 2 Light-bellied Brents among them. The former was rather aggressive and could be picked out on it's bullish behaviour. At least 6 Mediterranean Gull were also present. In Portland Harbour we tried to find some sheltered water near the island where Shag and Cormorant, Mergansers and a couple of brief auks were seen but we could not find any divers ( I learned later that they were all on the other side near Sandsfoot). A quick look from Chesil Cove and 4 Velvet and 50 Common Scoter were seen distantly on the sheltered sea. Time was slipping away so we tried Radipole Lake RSPB for Bittern with no luck but called in for Grey Heron for the trip list and t-shirt buying, this was a good move, 4 Bearded Tits showed brilliantly. A final fling at Lodmoor RSPB/Weymouth Bay and we then headed home to Bournemouth's Alum Chine where the guests were staying.
14 December 2007 Four of us left for Dorset and Hampshire and headed onto a rather exposed and windy south coast. A search for the White-tailed Eagle in Hampshire en-route was unsucessful due to poor visibility. A few Little Egrets were noted en-route along the chalk streams but it was not until we arrived at Upton CP and Holes Bay in Poole Harbour that the birds began to flow. A short stop to appreciate Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneye next to the road was enjoyed especially as we never left the warmth of the car. A variety of woodland/parkland birds were seen but the flock of 126 Avocet, 400 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Spotted Redshanks and numerous other waders and wildfowl kept us busy. A short transfer the the heaths of the Arne Peninsula and the still conditions and patience gave us good views of Dartford Warbler . We plumped for a views of Marsh Tit on the RSPB feeders as the are becoming harder to see in many places we also passed a number of tame Sika Deer before getting in place to wait for a dusk Hen Harrier. We did not see any harriers but learned that one was hunting just a fifteen minute walk away. We did however see a number of commoner species whilst waiting. This concluded our first day.

Atmospheric, dusk BeardedTit/Reedling or Babbler at Radipole Lake RSPB
15 December 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Anser Birding trip to Norfolk 15-18 November 2007

Which one is off side? The Wells Next the Sea football pitch is good for Dark-bellied Brent but can you spot the Black Brants?

Pomarine Skua at Salthouse
Sunset at Salthouse
Grey Partridge near Titchwell, it is hiding from a Merlin!
Lapland Bunting at Salthouse

15 November 2007 Four of us traveled to North Norfolk, three staying in Hunstanton and one in Burnham Deepdale. We plumped for heading straight to Wells Next the Sea for lunch with the waders, Shag and Brents in the harbour but only after stopping for to view Pink-footed Geese en-route. There were 2 Black Brant among the footie pitch Brents but a selfish photographer flushed the whole flock before we could all get onto them. With other species in mind we headed to Salthouse where a few Ruff, a flyover Snow Bunting,a pale phase Pomarine Skua (that flew a few feet overhead)and a Little Auk were all of much interest. The sunset was spectacular.

16 November 2007 A search from Hunstanton Cliffs produced a raft of 19 Fulmar, a Little Gull, a Red-throated Diver, 1000,s of Starlings arriving, a few Red-breasted Mergansers, a Marsh Harrier in off the sea, about 30 Common Scoter and 2 Eider. Moving along the coast we arrived at Titchwell RSPB, we passed some feeding Siskins before we walked out to the sea passing a Spotted Redshank en-route. A single Snow Bunting flew over and 7 Eider were on the sea, it was quiet out there. The beach was really busy with plenty of waders feeding close, until a dog flushed them all. The Turnstones were good value as they attempted to rob any pre-prepared mussels from the Oystercatchers. A female Goldeneye and Little Grebe fed in the saline pools as well as 3 tame Shoveler. The freshwater scrape had a variety of duck and gulls, 7 hardy Avocet and 10 Snipe. The boardwalk and hide only produced a Cetti's that was calling queitly. After lunch we left for Choseley Drying barns and did a tour inland. A male Merlin was found atop a hedge, a Buzzard also and a covey of 8 Grey Partridge were seen well. Further searching produced afew Yellowhammer and Red-legged Partridges but we eventually joined the coast road where 10,000+ Pink-footed Geese were enjoyed as they alighted and fed in a field next to us and walked ever closer before being pushed off by another car. A Ross's x Pink-footed Goose was also present as well as an immature Light-bellied Brent. We spent a long time with the geese here before enjoying more flight views of skeins overhead and a Barn Owl at Holkham, another showed well on the way home.
17 November 2007 We decided to head for Salthouse, on leaving we watched a pair of Whoopers come in off the sea and head inland at Old Hunstanton, en route we ended up stopping for more Pink-footed Goose views and on arrival quickly relocated the Pomarine Skua and a Purple Sandpiper. The sea was quiet but a party of 5 Lapland Buntings flew over and there were plenty of waders about. Three Snow Bunting were attracted to some seeds that were placed on the shingle ridge and a Lapland Bunting was located and showed very well near to us. A stop at a Kelling tea-room warmed us up again and we then headed for the broads. We discovered a Barn Owl hunting at 1230 and were fortunate to see another later on. A Buzzard was seen on a distant haybale and c30 Whooper Swans were seen in flight. A search of the geese produced another Light-bellied Brent plus Ruff, Dunlin, Lapwing, Turnstone and eventually Golden Plover in the fields. We were unable to find the Cranes in any of the nearby fields and failed to locate a reported American Golden Plover so went to the Stubb Mill roost where the ladies settled in to watch for the Cranes. At least 24 flew in at dusk so it was well worth the wait. (Note, turning at the bottom of the public road here is frowned upon, so no dropping people off)
18 November 2007 Another search from Hunstanton cliffs was rewarded with shelter from the lighthouse bushes and single Razorbill, Black-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Goosander (unusual here?) plus 12 Red-breasted Mergansers, 14 Fulmar, 2 Red-throated Divers, 3 Gannet, G.C.Grebes and a few more commoner species. A flock of 2000 Pinkfeet flew in behind us and we refound them in a field next to the town, a nice sendoff. A stop at WWT Welney as ever produced thousands of wildfowl, the Whooper and Bewick's Swans were around in their 100's and feeding in the fields but we did not locate the sat-track bird Blidfinnur that can be seen on the Super Whooper website. Stock Doves were also seen in the surrounding area and added Tree Sparrows and GSWoodpecker on the feeders. We had a last look at the Super Whooper Swans and then packed up for the journey home driving into rain, sleet and spray, how lucky we were for a dry visit to Norfolk. Great birds with marvellous views and some of the best winter birding in Europe.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly 16-22 October 2007

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly 16-22 October 2007

All images by M.J.McGill

Summary; Six of us traveled to the South West to spend two nights in West Cornwall (Penwith) and four nights on the Isles of Scilly. We visited Lands End, most of the valleys between Kendijack and Porthgwarra and also covered the Hayle Estuary, Marazion/Mount's Bay and Drift reservoir whilst in Cornwall. On Scilly we walked around most of St Mary's (with some help from taxi's) and visited Bryher, Tresco, Gugh and St Agnes. We tried to see most of the migrants on Scilly but also spent time searching for our own birds. Both techniques proved fruitful, going to see other birders finds gave us great views of Blackpoll Warbler, Blyth's Pipit and Woodchat Shrike to name a few species but searching for our own gave us Pallas's Warbler and Firecrest as well as some very relaxing birding. Pasties, great views, seeing old friends and good company was the order of the day.

Wren at Marazion RSPB

Siskin at Cape Cornwall

In Cornwall we began by birding the Hayle Estuary where the highlight was the Spoonbill, the weather was rather poor but we gained great views of wildfowl and waders from the hide and causeway. At Marazion we missed the worst of the day's weather and added more species to our growing list. Further heavy and misty rain prevented any more birding so we settled in to our accommodation and evening meal at Cape Cornwall. On 17th we had a look before breakfast at the sea and quickly realised that things were busy, the SW wind had swung to the NW so the seawatching was good. After breakfast we walked out to the point passing our first two Siskins of the trip (we were to witness the arrival and migration of thousands of these little finches over the next week) and got comfortable for a seawatch. Thousands of Gannet, auks and hundreds of Kittiwake passed by close all heading S. We also logged an Arctic Skua, 4-5 Great Skua, 3 Balearic Shearwater, 3 Snow Bunting, 2 adult Peregrine at eye level and a few parties of Common Scoter (4;5. 0;1,10;2). The rest of the day was spent at the Cot Valley; 2-3 Firecrest down to a few feet as ever was a treat as was a Painted Lady. Many passerines were noted, Merlin was seen briefly before we headed to Nanquidno where Pied Flycatcher was a bonus. A visit to Land's End added 3 Chough and a pale Wheatear before popping in at Kendijack where we ended the day watching a Yellow-browed Warbler. The 18th did not offer any further seawatching so a pre-breakfast walk added Brambling and post breakfast we tried Porthgwarra, it was soon apparent that it was going to be a calm, sunny, clear and hot day. A bit of migration was in evidence, a flock of Skylark held a calling Lapland Bunting but it was not seen. Drift was quieter than usual except for a Clouded Yellow so a second visit to Marazion where we had lunch on the beach. The rest of the day was spent preparing to fly to or Scilly birding on St Mary's before dark. After dropping off luggage we jumped into a taxi and headed to Newford due to a male Red-breasted Flycatcher with red throat being reported. We did not see this bird so wandered off to Pelistry Lane where Paul and Len located the Woodchat between them. Very close views allowed us to see the plumage details well. A Merlin flew by. We worked our way back to Hugh Town birding as we went to end the day.

Juvenile Woodchat, Pelistry Lane, St Mary'sRed-breasted Flycatcher, Carreg Dhu, St Mary's
Blackpoll Warbler, Higher Moors, St Mary's

The 19th was spent on St Mary's in an attempt to see many of the birds that had been present for the past week. We began at the Garrison and waited a while for the showier of the two Blackpoll Warblers but it did not show! A walk around the defenses was very pleasant and the diving Gannets and passerines were great in the warm, sunny weather. We walked back up toward the North end of the island via the coast path around Penninis and added a few late migrants to the list, a Whinchat and a weedy field full of birds were the highlight. We had lunch at Old Town Church and saw part of a distant flock of Gannet feeding (estimates of 2,000+ with 30 Common Dolphin) on a bait ball of fish. We then headed to Carreg Dhu gardens where a Firecrest and Red-breasted Flycatcher entertained us, a sunny coffee stop followed at Longstones where we saw 2 Clouded Yellows. A stroll through Holy Vale to Higher Moors added a Yellow-browed Warbler and after a short wait a showy Blackpoll Warbler. We tried some other bushes on the trail for a Siberian Chiffchaff with no luck but the Blackpoll followed us giving more close views. We again wandered back toward Porthloo beach where a Black Redstart showed to us ending the day.

The 20th was the day we decided to go for some off islands so a Brhyer/Tresco tour was opted for, on arrival at the fomer island we headed straight to Green Bay to try for an elusive Blyth's Reed Warbler, an hour or so in the area gave two views as it fed low in the vegetation and one flight view but not all of us got decent views. We retired to the Hell Bay Hotel for coffee and the views, Fieldfares, Siskins and Stonechats were showing off and then walked back to look for the Hooded Crow and Carrion Crow pair with hybrid young. They all showed for us en-route to the quay. A short hop to Tresco and we were soon watching a confiding Blyth's Pipit, 3 Black Redstart, Redwings, Bramblings (in a huge flock of Chaffinch) and a variety of wildfowl plus sleeping Spoonbill on the Great Pool. It was time to leave and catch the next boat home for dinner where we added an Arctic Tern.

Blyth's Pipit, near the school, Tresco

Common Greenshank, Lower Moors, St Mary's

Ruddy Turnstone, Porthloo Beach, St Mary's

The 21st saw us birding on St Mary's in the morning which turned out to be highly productive, we began at Porthloo Lane searching for the Grey-cheeked Thrush but soon headed for Porthhellick seeing 4 Black Redstart on the way and were all soon watching a Pallas's Warbler in the sallows. After enjoying this little gem we walked the Giant's Causeway/airfield coast path which was actually very quiet despite little aircraft activity. A coffee stop at Tolman and then to Lower Moors where we were watching Common and Jack Snipe plus one possibly two Wilson's Snipe at close range. A Greenshank also arrived and fed. An hour or two in this area was very relaxing, when we left a bit of drizzle had started, the first since traveling to the S West on the way down. A wander through Old Town was worth it as I discovered a feeding Pallas's Warbler along the lane which showed for all of us. It was hovering at the end of the leaves picking off insects and showing the lemon rump, wingbars and central crown stripe as it went. It turned out there were three on the island that day. A brisker walk across Lower Moors and taxi to the quay and we were on our way to St Agnes for the afternoon. A Spoonbill flew over the harbour as we left St Mary's. A prolonged search for Rose-coloured Starling on Gugh was not succesful other than it being lovely to be on a beach with a few other bird species, it was having a day off! The Parsonage had 3 Black Redstarts and a showy Yellow-browed Warbler and the beaches were full of common birds. Another boat trip back to St Mary's and the end of a good day.

Our last day was spent around the Lower Moors area, Yellow-browed Warbler, Jack Snipe and a few common birds were showing and we had the afternoon for shopping/sightseeing around Hugh Town before the helicopter flight back to Penzance. I tried for the thrush again with no luck but two Firecrest were very obliging. A good run home concluded the trip, thanks to all who came with me to the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall for their enthusiasm and company.

We recorded 113 species with Wilson's Snipe pending for 114. One regret was not checking the flock of 50+ Golden Plover that flew over the car at Shortlanesend and landed on the way down. My head and heart were telling me to find a place to stop and check them for American but the practical side (it was raining and a lot of traffic) made me carry on. The flock did hold an American Golden Plover!

Martin J McGill

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Lesvos 10-17 May 2007 trip report

All images of Lesvos and birds shown by Nick Goatman

At last I can publish the trip report for this destination, thanks to Phil Shepherd for writing it up in his usual style and to Nick Goatman for some rather excellent images. The heat of the day was used wisely if not a little frantically around the pool on some days, the food was a hit and the birding great. Thanks to all who went on the trip, I am glad you all got your target lifers.

Martin J McGill


10th - 17 May 2007

The Group:
Phil Shepherd (Driver/Guide)
Liz Tipper (Honorary mum/group stabiliser)
Dave Paynter (General oracle/font of all knowledge)
James Lees (Entertainment/aurally-impaired bird finder)
Mike Smith (Gentleman/Godfather)
Steve Owen (Chief Scientific Advisor/wry observer)
Nick Goatman (Best photographer/top ticker)

Day 0 – Gloucestershire to Gatwick
Wednesday 9th May
We took a phone call on the way to Gatwick from Richard Brooks (acknowledged expert on birding in Lesvos), who told us it hadn’t rained on the island for a year, that the wetlands had virtually dried up, and crowds of birders were jostling for position around what little water remained. Despite having this dose of pre-departure apprehension injected into the group, spirits were high. Phil and Dave then recorded a new experience on night one – sharing a bed at the Gatwick hotel, with Liz as chaperone.

Day 1 - London to Lesvos
Thursday 10 May

The outward journey to Mytilini, the island’s capital, went without hitch and to our relief Lesvos looked verdant as we flew in - not the scorched landscape we’d feared. The weather on arrival was perfect – clear and sunny, but not too hot. Our 9-seater Fiat Escudo was waiting for us and we were soon on the road heading west toward our base for the week at Skala Kalloni.

Forty minutes or so from the airport lies the island’s biggest reedbed at Dipi Larsoss. This site yielded Black Stork (1), Long-legged Buzzard (2), Falco sp. – probably Lanner, but too brief/distant to confirm, Black-headed Wagtails, Common Terns, Alpine Swifts, Olivaceous Warblers and an extraordinarily high density of Nightingales along the banks of the river that feeds the reedbed. A Marsh Warbler was heard amongst nettles.

We reached our hotel, Kalloni 2, late afternoon, drank the complimentary red wine and gathered around the map to agree a proposed itinerary for the week. Lesvos is a decent size (Greece’s third largest island) and supports a range of habitats. One week is only just long enough to visit its best areas. Everyone was keen to get on with some more birding, and a stroll around Skala Kalloni beach and the West River provided Little and Common Terns, Grey Heron, Kentish Plover, Stone Curlew, Crested Larks and more Black-headed Wagtails looking stunning in the evening light. The first (of many) Black-headed Buntings was singing merrily on a wire on the way back to the hotel giving most folk in the group a new species.

The lure of the hotel pool proved irresistible (particularly to Dave, James and Phil) and the habit of an evening swim was born. This habit was to become a predominant feature of the week.

Our first Greek feast was taken at the nearest Taverna to the hotel, Bar Enigma, before adding two more species to our list – the (in)famous tame White Pelican near the harbour, and Scops Owl heard calling near our hotel.

Day 2 – Kalloni area
Friday 11 May
Poor Mike had a terrible first night, spending the majority of it in the bathroom. Roommates Steve and Nick inevitably didn’t get much sleep either, so with a couple of bleary-eyed individuals and one recovering in bed, we set off for possibly the prime birding site on the island - Kalloni East River. We spent the entire morning exploring this area. Around the lower reaches we saw Curlew Sandpipers (some in full breeding plumage), Temminck’s Stint, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Grey Plover, Moorhen, Great Reed Warbler, Common Tern and Little Tern. Water levels in the river were indeed very low and although bird migration was clearly still underway, overall numbers were relatively poor.

At the northern end of East River we found Black-winged Stilt, and around a nearby small quarry, Black-eared Wheatear, Bee-eater, Masked Shrike, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Sub-Alpine Warbler, a distant Cretzschmar’s Bunting and our first tortoise of the trip. Returning down the river we saw Little Egret, two distant Short-toed Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard and a female Little Bittern.

A long lazy lunch around and in the pool was very welcome and gave James the opportunity to inform us that his ears were blocked – this was to develop into a source of amusement for us for several more days. Mike had surfaced by now, but was still suffering and needed to sit out (!) the rest of the day. Nick went for a wander around the hotel and returned with another tick under his belt – an Icterine Warbler near the beach – and news of breeding Rufous Bush Chat just around the corner. We all got to see the chats, nesting in scrubby tamarisks, and also saw a Black Stork on West River.

Black Stork

Late afternoon/early evening was spent at the Kalloni Salt Pans. This site represents the largest area of open water on Lesvos and stays wet year-round. Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints were abundant, and along with approx 280 Greater Flamingos, Avocets with chicks, Black-winged Stilts, Ruddy Shelduck, Great Crested Grebe, Great White Egrets, Black and Whiskered Terns, Grey Plover and Turnstone, this is a excellent Mediterranean (albeit human-made) wetland. The adjacent fields produced Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Collared Pratincole, Red-rumped Swallow, Short-toed Lark, Red-backed Shrike, Stone Curlew (5, all found by Steve) and lots of Bee-eaters.

The very helpful guy, who could speak good English, working at the pharmacy in Kalloni negated our anticipated sign language session and sorted us out with some potions for Mike’s predicament. We found Mike in better shape back at the hotel, looking forward to getting some birding done tomorrow.

We ventured a little further towards town for tonight’s evening meal, finding a really nice place on the seafront. James had by now taken to pouring olive oil in his ears whenever the chance arose.

Black-headed Wagtail

Day 3 – Potamia & Napi Valleys
Saturday 12 May
Steve, Phil and a re-invigorated Mike made an early jaunt to the East River, adding Cormorant, Squacco Heron (at the ford) and a Harrier sp. to the trip list. Views of the harrier weren’t good enough to clinch its identity: it was a female Montague’s/Pallid type. Dave found a Squacco during his early walk to West River, indicating a passage of this species.

Today’s main destination was the Potamia Valley, a short drive west of Skala Kalloni – a very scenic and peaceful spot. We quickly found ourselves in high quality habitat watching Red-rumped Swallows, Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes, Cirl Buntings and Sombre Tits. Short-toed Eagle, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk were seen along the valley ridges. The target species here is Olive-tree Warbler and we soon started hearing some singing from an area of likely looking mixed olive/oak habitat. Masked Shrike and displaying Sub-alpine Warblers were also here. Most of the group eventually got glimpses of this elusive bird, but James’ blocked ears meant he couldn’t echo-locate. With rising temperatures and a frustrated James, we headed back down the valley to the sanctuary of our wonderful hotel pool. We stopped en route to investigate a small reservoir (with lots of Little Grebes on it) and heard Orphean Warbler singing from the adjacent scrub, but couldn’t pin it down.

Dave, James and Steve treated us to a diving display at the pool through the afternoon. This activity had the added bonus of dislodging half of James’ problem – namely one earful.

Another known Olive-tree Warbler site is the Napi Valley, northeast of Kalloni. Climbing up through the hills past the traditional villages of Paraskevi and Napi, we saw Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Hoopoe amongst the olive groves, plus our first squashed glass lizard (a long, legless snake-like reptile) in the road.

Napi valley was very scenic and peaceful and we quickly found Rock Nuthatch, Black-eared Wheatear, Red-backed, Woodchat and Masked Shrike. Driving into the heart of the valley, we eventually located an Olive-tree Warbler nest site which had been described to us by other birders. We found the nest itself, and after a short wait, were treated to exceptional and prolonged views of this notoriously shy species.

Late afternoon raptor movement turned up Common Buzzard, Booted and Short-toed Eagle, with the unexpected addition of two Ruddy Shelduck circling the hilltops. Driving back towards Kalloni through the forested hills in the evening, we spied a distant falcon. We stopped and kept an eye on this bird which made its way closer and closer to the group and, to our huge delight, turned out to be a male Red-footed Falcon and perched amongst dead branches about 50m away. Stopping in Paraskevi village, James saw a Little Owl on one of the municipal buildings.

We ate out tonight in a souvlaki speciality joint near the village square in Skala Kalloni. The owner was a gesticulative soul, but got the night well underway with a round of free ouzos.

Day 4 – The Wild West
Sunday 13 May (World Migratory Bird Day)
We set this day aside for a grand exploration of the western half of the island. This is the drier side with a much rockier and relatively barren appearance. Our first stop was to scrutinise a squished bundle of feathers in the road which turned out to be the remains of a Nightjar. Leaving the olive groves and pines behind, we stopped again to examine another dead bird in the middle of the road. James got out and gave the peculiar crake-like creature a gentle tap with his foot causing it to spring to life and stagger away. James’ expert ID skills confirmed it to be a young chicken – fresh off the back of one of the poultry wagons that ply the island.

A quick stop at a steep-sided rocky gorge produced nesting and displaying Rock Sparrow, Rock Nuthatch and Red-rumped Swallows. Several falcons passed by high up, at least some of which were Eleonora’s Falcon. Blue Rock Thrush and Masked Shrike were seen here too.

At the road junction just prior to the remote, high and lonely monastery at Ipsilou, we found Isabelline Wheatear, whilst a short raptor watch produced Lesser Kestrel, Hobby, Goshawk and Marsh Harrier (plus Raven). A female Golden Oriole added some excitement amongst some nearby poplar trees.

An hour or so around the tiny monastery, perched up on a rocky outcrop, gave us great views of Cinereous and Cretzschmar’s Buntings, and a real bonus of two distant spiralling Griffon Vultures over the hills to the west. This is a rarity on Lesvos, and possibly only the 5th record. The hoped-for line up of migrant warblers and flycatchers at this spot didn’t materialise today - just one each of Willow Warbler and Blackcap were found. Woodlark and Orphean Warbler were seen by some of the group.

Calling in briefly at the petrified forest site en route, we arrived at the pretty and unspoilt harbour village of Sigri on the far west coast in time for lunch. From the café we saw Whiskered Tern and Shag fishing in the harbour, with Lesser Kestrel flying past, and a flock of Jackdaws (not common on Lesvos). A long and lazy lunch ensued, centred on fresh seafood, whilst watching a fisherman spend forever pulverising an octopus against the harbour wall. We had a quick wander around the village after lunch and found a beach now earmarked as a potential cooling-off spot for later.

Next we explored an area to the north of Sigri centred around Faneromeni beach. This is quite a remote part of the island and is renowned for its ability to host a heavy passage of migrants in the right conditions. Some later migrants were still passing through, most notably Squacco and Spotted Flycatcher, but we also saw Ortolan Bunting, several Rufous Bush Robins and a stream of Yelkouan Shearwaters offshore.

We returned to Sigri for an ice-cream stop and James, Dave and Phil gave in to temptation and went for a swim in the cool, crystal clear water at Sigri beach. The seabed here was dotted with sea urchins, the discovery of which sent James into comical swimming overdrive to keep his feet from the floor.

The final leg home in the evening took us through some wild country along the rough track between Sigri and Eressos. Dave found a superb Lesser Grey Shrike in a fig grove, but the highlight was being able to watch two male Little Bitterns right next to a purple Heron less than 20m from us in a tiny pool.

Feeling adventurous, we tried yet another restaurant in Skala Kalloni, this time right on the beach near the main square.

Day 5 – Achladeri
Monday 14 May
Today’s target was Kruper’s Nuthatch, and after breakfast we headed to the Achladeri area a short drive south and east of Kalloni. After a few wrong turns and the services of a friendly local, we pulled off the road into the area of mature Calabrian pines, near the army base, known to hold this species. We very quickly located a family group feeding busily, and enjoyed watching these lovely birds, plus other adults in the area, for over an hour.

Mid afternoon was spent lazing by the pool in the still glorious weather.

We stopped at the Inland Lake (a freshwater lake near the Potamia Valley) and tried again for Orphean Warbler near the reservoir here in the evening. The lake didn’t produce any waterbirds (though it was crammed with terrapins and marsh frogs), but we did see the warbler. We checked out Parakila marsh nearby just before dusk, hoping for crakes – no luck with those, there was a Water Rail with chicks and nesting Black-winged Stilts.

A major discovery was unearthed this evening in the form of the Ambrosia restaurant just off the square in Skala Kalloni. This place had it all – traditional (and cheap) greek food, run by a very friendly family, and plenty of free drinks! James and Phil diverted to the beach-front bar on the way back to the hotel, where Phil suffered an unexpected dent to his ego after being asked by the Athenian barmaid if he was James’ father.

Day 6 – Petra and the North
Tuesday 15 May
We took a pre-breakfast trip back to the Orphean Warbler site at the new reservoir in the Potamia valley, and Parakila marsh to try again for crakes with the sun behind us this time. Still no luck with crakes, but we saw Little Bittern in flight.

After breakfast we headed due north on the road to Petra. We stopped at the well-known lay-bys between Petra and Molyvos for Ruppell’s Warbler, finding a family group, plus Orphean Warbler and Blue Rock Thrush, all with a lovely coastal scenic backdrop. We took the rough track eastwards along the north coast towards Skala Sykiminia, and were soon intrigued by a sign for the hot springs at Eftalou. In need of a cool-off, a few of us went for a dip in the sea whilst others had a walk or some coffee, but curiosity got the better of us and the decision was made to investigate the thermal springs – a tiny building right on the beach housing a sunken ancient stone bath fed by hot spring water. Alternating between the hot bath and the cold sea every few minutes was an exhilarating experience to say the least, made all the more memorable by the fact the bath was shared with folk who had, shall we say, chosen Lesvos for reasons other than our own.

Further along this track we stopped at a gorgeous little café next to the beach for lunch. Liz, Dave and Phil tucked in to some wonderfully fresh fayre (no menu – just point) whilst others birded locally, finding Blue-headed Wagtail and Marsh Warbler. Passing through the extremely picturesque Skala Sykiminia on the coast, we then turned back inland and headed up into the hills above for some more raptor watching. Some birds were just too distant for confident identification (though some were more than likely Honey Buzzards), but we did better views of Short-toed Eagles, Buzzard and Long-legged Buzzard from a ‘bandstand’ structure at the side of the road.

We returned to base via Pelop and Stypsi, spent some more time at the pool, and then shot off on foot to West River when Steve broke news of a Spur-winged Plover there. This bird showed wonderfully down to 20m –a real highlight. Some small flocks of Rose-coloured Starlings had been seen over at East River, so we pressed on to watch these very entertaining birds feeding in a favoured mulberry tree.

Spur Winged Plover

The evening saw us back at the Ambrosia restaurant!

Day 7 – Vatera and Polichnitos
Wednesday 16 May

We set off at 6.00am heading south to Vatera on the south coast. We picked up breakfast from the bakery in Kalloni on the way and by 7.30am were watching Cory’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters in perfect light and warm, calm conditions from the headland just west of Vatera. This was James’ idea – and a very good one. One adult and one immature Audouin’s Gull flew close by, but the stand-out moment was when an adult Greater Flamingo came hurtling in off the sea! A White Wagtail was found picking its way around the rocks. After a round of coffees (which won the prize for silt content) at the harbour side café, we headed back north towards the salt pans at Polichnitos, seeing Sardinian Warbler (briefly) on the way.

The pans were, sadly, all but deserted, giving us the perfect excuse to get back to the pool. Much expert diving from Dave and James enlivened the afternoon, before we headed back out to the Kalloni salt pans for some evening general birding. James and Nick spent time photographing a brood of Kentish Plover and the hilarious sight of a parent Black-winged Stilt brooding its young, with 8 tiny legs protruding from her belly feathers. Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit, Stone Curlew, two drake Garganey and Curlew were all seen. Phil had a close encounter with a glass lizard, mistaking it for a snake, panicking and running around squealing like a fool.

We watched some local men riding horses bareback around a track for some time before we moved off at dusk to try the grove of mature eucalypts just north of Kalloni for Scops Owl. We had tried this site a number of times already during the week, but this time after a few whistles a bird replied and flew into branches over our heads, showing at least as a silhouette for a several minutes.

Our final evening was spent, perhaps predictably, at Ambrosia.

Cinerous Bunting

Day 8 – Heading Home
Thursday 17 May

Realising that Chukar had evaded us; we drove up to the north end of East River before breakfast but were unsuccessful. We had a last look around Kalloni salt pans, checking on the wader broods from yesterday, and paid a final visit to the East River near the ford. Dave had wandered off from the main group and reminded us who’s boss by finding a Gull-billed Tern flying upriver.

Some last minute shopping and a final dip in that wonderful pool marked the end of a truly memorable and enormously enjoyable week on Lesvos.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Martin McGill for enabling this trip to happen, to say a big Thank You to the group for making the week such a great laugh, and to thank James in particular for his help in navigating us around the island.

Phil Shepherd

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Iceland 7-22 August 2007 joint WWT/Icelandic/IWSSG expedition

A selction of birds and views Iceland MJMcGill
European Golden Plover
....and chick

Lava sand beach and my reflection

Purple Sandpiper juvenile

Out of season Brunnich's Guillemot 20 August 2007
Green and Yellow house neath the mountain

Gyr in a heatwave!

Saenatasel Traditional Turf House and farm (we stayed here!)
Glacier, Eiders and Icebergs
Arctic Terns and Icebergs
Steaming Lava field and myself

Summary I was fortunate enough to be part of the summer ringing expedition on behalf of WWT to visit Iceland arriving on 7th and leaving 22nd August 2007. This report is intended to show what species I recorded during my time there when I was not looking at a Whooper Swan. Iceland is a visually stunning country with large numbers of birds, it offers volcanoes, Geysirs, Icebergs, mountains, vast open spaces and skies and of course the sea.

I went in very good company with WWT Caerlaverock, Reserve manager Richard Hesketh (the finder of the the White-tailed Plover that so many birders enjoyed in June). We were joined by staff from WWT Castle Espie, Dr Kendrew Calhoun, Seamus Burns, John Small and the BBC Autumnwatch team (with the effervescent and enthusiastic Kate Humble) for the first part of out ringing and satellite transmitter fitting sessions. We joined an already assembled team of Icelandic researchers headed by Olafur Einarsson in the valley that leads down to the Skagafjordur.

After a week in this area we transferred to the upland area of Myvatnsheidi with Sverrir Thorstensen and our team (including Claudia Mischler, Snaeverr Orn, Georg Orn, Olafur Einarsson, John Small, Svenja and for one night Seamus Burns) and then to the Highlands of Jokuldalsheidi (Richard, Claudia and I with some additional help from Poula Rose and a full team for a day headed by Scarpian) before heading back along the East/South coast to count Whooper's over a couple of days to Reykjavik. All the Icelandic people I worked and spent time with were so friendly, helpful and kind making my time here memorable, I hope to meet them all again.

M.J.M with 'ol blue eyes' one of the 376 Whooper Swans caught and ringed in Iceland between 5-22nd August 2007 all images by M.J.McGill.

One of many juvenile Red-necked Phalarope on one of many pools in Myvatnsheidi
Female Harlequin (Harlequeen) on the River Laxa at Myvatn.
Arctic Skuas and Arctic Terns over an Iceberg at Jokulsarlon
Great-Northern Diver on Saenautavatn

Snow Bunting in the Jokuldalsheidi

Species list

To be completed......

Whooper Swan- over 7,000 counted on the South Coast at a moutling/feeding site. Seen in all study areas in large numbers and with large families, many had 4-5 cygnets.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Anser Birding Finland 7-13 June 2007 trip report

Anser Birding Finland Trip Report, June 2007

The trip was organised by Anser UK with one night’s guiding from Peter Uppstu and three days with Matti Sillanpää, the latter a Finnature guide. The main target of the trip was to catch up with the Finnish specialities, particularly the northern owl species. We spent our first night birding around the Tampere region with Peter, and the rest of trip was based further north in Oulu and Kuusamo with Matti.
Thanks to Graham for writing up this excellent trip report and for adding his images from the trip, it was great to hear that he had such a wonderful birding experience, I also enjoy Finland with every visit and find Matti and Peter to be superior guides, so helpful and friendly as well as being quite excellent birders. The trip was also boosted with the skills of the participants with Simon being particularly sharp as usual. Thanks to all who booked on this trip and to the guys who did the driving, a great shame I did not get to go this year; Martin McGill.

Thursday 7 - Friday 8 June 2007
We left Stansted on the Ryanair flight to Tampere and arrived in Finland at around 22.30 on the 7th. We quickly picked up the van and headed off to meet up with Peter Uppstu, who was going to show us around some of the best birding sites in Tampere. We met Peter around 23.30 and continued birding throughout the night. At Tampere there was more of a definable `night’ than further north, the sun did actually set here unlike in Oulu and Kuusamo, but with dawn almost immediately following dusk it was still entirely possible to carry on birding throughout the night.
First stop was Ylöjärvi; here we had our first Blyth’s Reed Warbler with a bird in full song but obscured. Hobby was hunting the fields and Thrush Nightingale singing from a distant copse. Finally a Corncrake was also seen extremely well down to a few feet having been lured closer.Then on to Lielahti, this was the darkest point of the night so birding was done in shadows with more listening than watching. Another Blyth’s Reed was singing and so was Marsh Warbler, a staggering mimic with over 20 other bird calls included in the song, including Bee-eater. Our first owl of the trip, Long Eared Owl, was watched briefly hunting while the ubiquitous Redwing and Fieldfare joined the dawn chorus. By 03.15 it was light and at Hömeenkyrö we had our best views yet of Blyth’s Reed Warbler with one bird singing in full view down to 3m. A nearby River Warbler was also in full song but showy it was not. Other birds here included our first Common Crane and Common Rosefinch of the trip, and on our departure those in the front of the van had a brief flight view of Black Woodpecker.
Blyth’s Reed Warbler

Sarkklanjörvi was the place to see Citrine Wagtail, two of our group had brief views of a probable, but the rest of us had to be content with the thunbergi Yellow Wagtails that graced the edges of the marsh. From here we returned to Leilahti, to see if in better light a Thrush Nightingale that had been in full song earlier could be made out from within the tangle where it sang. It was still singing and only an odd metre from the path, but still not visible. The adjacent lake had 2 superb Red-necked Grebe and our only Little Grebe of the trip. Birding stopped around 09.00 and after breakfast and a few hours sleep it was time for the long trip north to Oulu.
Friday 8 - Saturday 9 June 2007
We arrived in Oulu at 18.30 and met up with Matti, who was our Finnature guide for the next 3 days, and an absolute star. After introductions, itineraries were the main focus, and the news was that catching up with the owls should be our priority. Chicks had fledged and the vole population had begun to crash, which made Matti concerned that staked out birds could soon disperse. We decided to go for it and attempt all the owls that night.
First stop was Kenimaa in the Lapland region, we arrived at 22.00 and it didn’t take too long for Matti to locate the female Great Grey Owl that was nesting here, one juv was still in the nest and still looking very young, not showing any adult feathers. We watched the female in flight and perching up, never far from the nest - humbling, truly humbling. Still in Lapland, and this time in search of Hawk Owl. The juv was located first, all yellow eyes and white face flashes, with the female arriving shortly afterwards perching on top of a pine in that classic Hawk Owl pose and watching us intently.

Hawk Owl and Great Grey Owl

Back in Oulu the next owl was Tengmalm’s. At this particular nest site the chick had fledged and the adults were away. With amazing good fortune one of the group picked up the juv concealed within bushes just 1-2 metres off the ground, almost in adult plumage except for some down to the head and nape. Good one Simon. On a roll, we headed for our fourth owl, Pygmy Owl. With chicks still in the nest we just got the head sticking out of the nest box hole with this one, bright yellow glaring eyes with the sternest of expressions that any headmaster would happily die for.
Eagle Owl was nesting on the rubbish dump at Oulu and it didn’t take too long to locate the nest and the two juvs, but picking out the female who was sitting surprisingly close to the nest took us much longer. Other birds had begun to become active and we had our first Green and Wood Sandpiper of the trip as well as Little Ringed Plover. The tip was full of Baltic Gull (fuscus Lesser-black backed gull) and some of us had brief glimpses of probable Heuglin’s Gull.
At Siikajoki we had just one owl to go, Ural Owl. The nest box was empty but a mobbing Jay led us in the direction of the female, a beautiful bird with big black eyes and a deceptively gentle expression. While watching the female we stumbled on the chick that was well hidden in ground cover, still in downy plumage. We took a few quick photos and left them both in peace. It was time for breakfast and sleep. We had seen all of our hoped for owls. Life was good.

Back in the van by 15.00, we arrived in Kuusamo around 18.00; a brief stop at a lake just outside the town gave us our first Black-throated Diver and Smew of the trip and a large feeding group of Artic Tern and Little Gull.

Sunday 10 June 2007
Out birding by 03.00 in Oulanka National Park and our first stop was a walk up Konttaisnen. Northern Bullfinch fed around the car park feeders and Hazel Grouse were everywhere, not that we could see any, but the shrill whistles seemed to echo from every corner. Singing Brambling was in good numbers and Black Grouse could be heard too, along with displaying Green Sandpiper. It wasn’t long before we had our first Red-flanked Bluetail, singing from the tops of conifer. We had at least two males at this site. Some of us had the briefest of glimpses of what was probably Pine Grosbeak here. The views from the top looking out into the Russian taiga were mighty impressive accompanied by the calls of Three-toed Woodpecker some distance away.
At Virkkulan Tie (still in Oulanka N.P.) we had superb views of a male and female Black Woodpecker feeding along the roadside trees and then bounding over our heads. Two or three Waxwing sang from the same trees and a nearby lake held 2 Black-throated Diver and a pair of Smew. Northern Willow Tit fed amongst the conifers alongside Goldcrest (it was surprising how uncommon Goldcrest was). Our last stop was at Konttais-Järvi, the rogue Willow Grouse duly performed, attacking us all with sideways lurches and coming within centimetres. Once again, by 09.00 birding was finished and it was back to the hotel for breakfast and some of that precious stuff known as sleep.

Black Woodpecker

In the afternoon we visited Nissinvaara for Siberian Tit. A pair was nesting in one of the specifically designed nest boxes and one bird showed very well. From here we drove to Valtavaara, which is just opposite Konttaisnen, in Oulanka N.P. With more singing Red-flanked Bluetails, at least another two, we had our brightest bird yet. From the top we could watch Red-throated Diver on the lake below and admire the Russian scenery once more. One of our group flushed a female Capercallie from a nest while walking, and after giving her an hour to return and feel secure we returned and got close but obscured views of her incubating her clutch of nine eggs. Common birds at Oulanka included Crossbill, Redpoll, Brambling, Redwing, Fieldfare, Redstart and Common Rosefinch, with the odd Crested Tit whispering from conifers but always reluctant to show. Driving back to the hotel we had a family party of Whooper Swan, 2 adults and five chicks, on a small pool at Helilampi with Red-breasted Merganser, Little Gull and Artic Tern also present.

Capercallie nest

Monday 11 June 2007
Another very early start in the hope of catching up with displaying Broad-billed Sandpiper at Koujärvi, It did give bouts of the flight display call but remained out of view. Willow Grouse and Black Grouse could be heard and displaying Spotted Redshank gave some excellent views.
At Kurkijärvi those in the front of the van were lucky to see Siberian Jay fly across the road and into woodland. A mad dash out of the van and only I managed a few brief views before it dropped to the ground and was lost. After a tip off from a passing birder that nearby Oüjuslouma was worth trying for both Pine Grosbeak and Siberian Jay we headed straight there, but had no luck with either.
Next stop was Väkäranperä, a splendid male Little Bunting showed beautifully in full song with three Ruff on the nearby lake. On the drive back through Virkkulantie at least six Hazel Hen flew across the road in front of the van but none could be located when we stopped to search. Fortunately, most of the group had their best views of Hazel Grouse at Ivaara later on, with brief glimpses of Crested Tit here for a few of us. Back at Helilampi the Whooper Swan family were not being as photogenic as yesterday (now we all had our cameras ready). Birding stopped late afternoon as we made the journey back to Oulu.

Tuesday 12 June 2007
First stop today was Siikäjoki for Three-toed Woodpecker. Great views were had of the male and female making non stop sallies to the nest. One of my favourite all time woodpeckers, it is difficult to beat three-toed. In the same area we had our first Ortolan Bunting of the trip and also our first Elk, a mother and calf. A pair of Woodlark feeding in the open sandy fields was a good find, with other birds including Whinchat, Wheatear, Pied Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat and Common Rosefinch. The bubbling of a Black Grouse lek could be heard here too. We had heard Black Grouse lekking at most sites during our trip but never managed to pick them up.

The lake at Oulunsalo, Papinjarvi, was without hyperbole simply enchanting. Maternal groups of Common Scoter tended to their chick nurseries and flocks of Little Gull elegantly scooped midges from the surface water. A pair of Black-throated and Red-throated Diver were also here with Smew, Red-breasted Merganser and good numbers of Goldeneye. Best bird for many was the juv Goshawk that decided to take a bath and then dry off on the bow of a fishing boat, superb. Equally impressive were the 500+ Common Crane feeding in the roadside fields at Kempele, Tupos.
From now on the birding was coastal. At the Hietasaari Terek watchtower we had no Terek but did have Little and Common Tern, Redshank, Ringed Plover and a large group of Baltic, Common and Argentatus Herring Gull. At Liminka Bay we did our first hide birding of the trip, and took part in a Finnish twitch, although the distant Great Egret was a not a patch on many of the other birds we had already seen that week. These coastal marshes were alive with displaying waders and the air was full with calls of Blackwit, Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper. Wildfowl were in good numbers here, particularly Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler and there was a few wild Greylag too. Marsh Harrier quartered the reedy areas and we had more Thunbergi wagtails, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Ruff and Little Ringed Plover. Best birds for me here had to be the displaying Montagu’s Harrier pair.

Wednesday 13 June 2007
Our last day, and with just enough time to squeeze in a few hours birding for the long drive back to Tampere, Matti decided to stay with us to help us in the search for the elusive Terek Sandpiper ‘not as a guide but as a friend’. Back at the Hietasaari watchtower our luck was still out but we all managed to get some views of the Wood Warbler that had been singing here yesterday. From here Matti took us to another area in the more industrialised area of Hetasaari where Terek was known to hangout. First bird to be picked up was a Temminck’s Stint in full breeding plumage feeding along the rush lined edged of a small bay, and there on the opposite side of the same bay was our quarry, Terek Sandpiper. It was the last bird of the trip, and what a bird to end on.

Other wildlife
Brown Hare was probably the most common mammal of the trip, although Reindeer was reasonably numerous too, with many emergency stops made to allow family groups to pass nonchalantly across the road. Red Squirrel were seen at several sites, so was the odd Mountain Hare, but I was surprised that we only had the one sighting of Elk. The only other mammal was a single Red Fox.

With birds being the main focus of this trip chasing butterflies was low priority and there were several that got away as we focussed our attention on the birds that we had come to see. Green Hairstreak was at several sites and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was seen at Siikajoki. In the heat of the day we would probably be sleeping, so we saw few odonata except for the colony of White-faced Darter that was present in the small pool next to our cottage in Oulu.

Plant wise we didn’t keep a list but one of the group was good on the plants with a few pointed out, Artic Bramble being my own personal favourite.

Quite simply, you have to go. The owls will probably remain in my top ten list of all time great birding experiences, right through to my death bed.
Species List

Graham Jones 2007