Sunday, June 17, 2007

Anser Birding Upper Teesdale and Northumberland 13-17 June 2007 trip report

Anser Birding Upper Teesdale and Northumberland trip report all images M.J.McGill

13 June 2007 I collected four of the group at four different but close locations in Gloucestershire and then our 5th and 6th in North Birmingham en-route. A couple of hours and comfort stops later we were looking toward the hills where Upper Teesdale beckoned. The weather was worsening from hot and sunny to cold, wet and wind, on arriving at Langdon Beck we stopped at a bridge to watch Common Sandpiper feeding among the boulders. It was now too cold for shorts so we donned our waterproofs and headed for a nearby farm to search for some of our target birds. This site is visited by Anser to appreciate the breeding waders of the area and we did just that! Lapwing chicks were found next to the path and the pairs of Redshank, Oystercatcher, Curlew and Golden Plover were all vocal in defense of their young. The luxuriant meadows were stunning and are full of Orchids and other flowers as the wader chicks were obviously hiding in this impressive sward we kept moving. Curlew perched on the walls, Golden Plover atop the boulders and Snipe were drumming overhead. A single Black Grouse flew over the top of the hill. A Wheatear was seen along a wall and a pair of Redshank had chicks, one of which ran along it until out of view. On reaching the farm a female Ring Ouzel gave an alarm call and fly-pasts and we soon realised that she had a nest. It was located in the wall of the barn so we moved off to a much less sheltered spot to scan the crag and slopes. Another female Ring Ouzel fed along with a few Wheatear but the weather was too poor for much else to be showing. We stopped at the Langdon Beck hotel to take advantage of coffee and a log fire to dry off. To finish up we parked the car and viewed from a safe distance a very rainy Black Grouse lek to find a lone male waiting for some attention. He also eventually gave up with the heavy rain so we left the area passing many Lapwing with chicks along the roadside.

Black Grouse in atrocious weather

14 June 2007 We headed straight to Seahouses to see about boats to the Farne Islands and arrived to be told of a fifty-fifty chance of going and to check back at 1200pm. We hang around the harbour and town buying provisions and birding until I checked the boat again and decided to book on the 1000 boat for an all day. A good move as we eventually (after the tide floated the stranded boats) got to the islands and landed on Staple and Inner Farne plus a full tour of the archipeligo. We got back at 4.30pm for tea and cakes in the cafe. The pictures show what birds we saw but as ever these islands provide one of the best birding experiences in Europe.

Guillemot and Razorbill on Staple Island

Puffin on Staple Island, Farnes

Guillemots on Staple Island

Sandwich Terns on Inner Farne Arctic Tern on Inner Farne Arctic Tern and chick in the courtyard, Inner Farne Puffins on Staple Island

We ended the day with a quick visit to Budle Bay at high tide where more Eider with ducklings and at least 9 Red-breasted Merganser were found.

15 June 2007 The weather was a windy but it was dry with sunny spells so I thought it best to cross the causeway to Holy Island (Lindisfarne) and to make sure we allowed time to get back before 1300. A quick stroll through the Snook and a scan of the beach offered 300 Starlings and Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Stonechat. Orchids were in abundance as well as Viper's Bugloss. We also realised that the sea was rather interesting so a relocation in the dunes, out of the wind and we set up for a seawatch. In less than 1.5 hours we had logged 1 Black-throated Diver, 1 Arctic Skua, 350 Gannet, 23 Sandwich Tern, 1 Little Tern, 25 Manx Shearwater, 40 Fulmar, 100's of auks and Kittiwake, 8 Common Scoter all passing south. A lunch/coffee stop and then check of the channel between the village and mainland added 3 more Little Terns, 12 Teal and dozens of Grey Seals. We returned across the causeway and then the rain began to fall again. A 40 minute drive to Amble to find the boat was not running to Coquet Island so we tried to scope the Roseate Terns from the coast car park. Torrential rain and an onshore gale did not help, we abandoned this idea after having lunch in the bus. The only option was to try Hauxley NR where a comfortable, heated hide was a saving grace. On arriving an Otter greeted us below the hide an showed for 20 minutes as it ate Eels and other fish.

Otter at Hauxley NR

I set myself up to scan the terns that were passing through or stopping to wash/drink en-route to, presumably, Coquet Island. They were all moving in the same direction and only one bird was carrying fish so I am unsure of what was happening. I logged over 500 Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns and checked every one for Roseate. A dark-phase Arctic Skua was seen chasing them over the trees. Everyone else continued watching the other wetland birds and the Otter. A displaying Ringed Plover was nice to see. We enjoyed the birding and shelter but eventually headed back after a quick check of East Chevington (Water Rail calling, Reed Warbler, Wigeon and GBB Gull added) to end the day.

16 June 2007 We woke to find the whole coast shrouded in sea-mist, it was not even possible to see the other side of the field at the back of the hotel. This was officially now the worst set of weather ever experienced on an Anser trip. After breakfast we drove very slowly along the local lanes with the windows down listening. We saw a few Teal on a roadside pool but soon found singing Yellowhammer doing their best to brighten up the day and encourage the sun out. At Seahouses the boats were not running, Coquet Island was off so a walk around Beadnell Bay was on the cards. The damp mist had not cleared and any hope of migrants was dashed when only the local breeding birds were seen. We could hear the tern colony and for a few minutes at a time it cleared to show Little Terns nesting among the hundreds of Arctics/Commons and when bathing in the Long Nanny a few Sandwich Terns. We returned to the car park where it was warming up and after a coffee got the news I was hoping for. After searching in the mist earlier and failing the male Red-backed Shrike was relocated and showed excellently as it chased Bees and other insects. It was mobbed by four species at one time, Sedge Warbler, Linnet, Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting. Is must be ingrained for them to mob this species as they are unlikely to ever have had breeding pairs in their area during their lifetimes. Finally some luck.

Male Red-backed Shrike at Beadnell Bay

The afternoon was spent further south around the excellent Druridge Bay where at the pools a dark phase Arctic Skua was sat on the marsh along with Whooper Swan and 1st summer Mediterranean Gull. A Willow Warbler sang in the willow scrub. After birding at Cresswell Pond we returned to these pools for a reported Wood Sandpiper and Garganey but is appears they were flushed by a Barn Owl! Only a Common Sandpiper could be seen. Cresswell had 3 1st-summer Little Gulls among the terns and gulls. Shelduck had ducklings here and a few Ringed Plover were present. On the sea we found another tern chasing Arctic Skua, 200+ Common Scoter, 1 Manx Shearwater and many seabirds. A short stop on the way home gave us an active adult Spoonbill at Longhirst Flash.

17 June 2007 We got up early had breakfast and had a couple of stops before stopping off at Leighton Moss RSPB. Our first stop was at Whittle Dene Reservoirs for Hobby and Osprey but both had departed. We did have lots of Yellow Wagtail including one pair feeding young. A Grey Partridge on the road before we got there was a bonus. We arrived at Leighton and parked at the visitor centre and then joined hundreds of other birders to watch the White-tailed Plover that had been present for a week. The views were distant but it was an impressive bird nonetheless, especially in flight. We also saw Marsh Harrier quartering the reedbeds here. After and hour or so we loaded up and arrived back in Glos for 1800.

Martin J McGill

Friday, June 08, 2007

Anser Birding 5-9 April 2006 Extremedura trip report

Anser Birding trip to Extremedura 5-9 April 2006

This visit was arranged to take in the best of the displaying steppe birds including bustards, arriving migrants and breeding raptors. The whole area is outstanding, totally unspoilt and only a three hour drive from Madrid.

We all flew conveniently from Bristol to Madrid without a problem and after collecting transport headed off toward Torrejon el Rubio. A few species were noted but we waited until the next morning to really start birding. We had a late meal in the restaurante, relaxed with a drink and retired for the evening.

6 April 2006
After breakfast we headed straight for Monfrague National Park in slightly overcast conditions, the recent rain was not really expected but was actually very welcome later on in the week. Around the spectacular rock pinnacle Penafalcon and the Salto de Gitano we could not note down the variety of birds quickly enough. A few Woodchat Shrike, 4+ Red-rumped Swallow, 40+ Crag Martin, nest building Black Stork in a cave, 100+ Griffon Vulture, 1 Black Vulture, a pair of Rock Bunting, Black Redstarts, 2 pairs of Blue Rock Thrush, 10 Black Kite, numerous Serins and Linnets all entertained us. A flock of Cormorant flew over high.

The Bridge
A spectacular flock of 1000 House Martin hawked below with 3 Alpine Swift and 2 Rock Sparrow for company. Another Rock Bunting sang with plentiful House Sparrows and Serin.

Villareal de San Carlos and surrounds
A Crested Lark was around the restaurante along with many nest building Swallows in action, a pair of Egyptian Vulture and least 3 Black Vulture cruised over a nearby ridge. At one point one of the pharaohs Chickens went low across the road giving us great views. Red-legged Partridge was seen and heard calling, 2 male and 2 female Black-eared Wheatear chased around the boulder strewn slope. As a great comparison one each of the males was of the black and pale throated forms. In addition at least three Woodlark were in song.

The Dam
Our target was Crested Tit here but they only gave brief flight views. The pines held Serins, Short-toed Treecreeper, and a skulking Sardinian Warbler. Most impressive was the flock of 40+ Hawfinch that were feeding on blossom. Graham located a Red Kite and Booted Eagle over the southern ridge. A flock of 35+ Bee Eaters were hunting from the roadside with more Woodlark in song. A Short-toed Eagle hovered nearby hunting for snakes.

After lunch at the restaurante we headed off to look over the steppe areas for the afternoon. A stop at one White Stork colony added the usual Spanish Sparrow city underneath the nest structures. Dozens of pairs were found under each nest. Everywhere we went for the next few days we saw White Storks sat on piles of twigs with attendant spugs. Some storks nested on a rock on the ground building towers on which to perch their eggs on top. Other were on poles, some put out especially.

Embalse de Talavan
A productive stop a this little reservoir produced Crag Martin, Coot, Moorhen, Little and Great Crested Grebe, 6 Gadwall, 1 Zitting Cisticola, 1 Sedge Warbler, 20+ Calandra Lark, a sub adult Spanish Imperial Eagle (good GRC spot) Woodchat, 2 Cattle Egret, 1 Southern Grey Shrike, 1 Bee Eater and 2 Hoopoe. MJM spotted three Otters right next to the bus and they slid and spiralled through the water a drake Garganey nervously watched from beyond.

The Cuartro Lugares Steppe
It is worth pointing out now that the steppe is alive with birdlife. We ended up seeing 1000,s of singing Calandra Lark and Corn Bunting and Spotless Starling, Crested Lark, Hoopoe, Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrike were encountered in every likely spot. It is always a wonderful experience to see and hear so many birds without any other noise.

We located the following birds 4 Great Bustard, 2 Little Bustard, 3+ Short-toed Lark, 3 Black-bellied Sandgrouse, a total of 18 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.4 Montagu’s Harrier including a melanistic bird (bird of the trip for some), 1 Northern Wheatear, 2 Little-ringed Plover, White Wagtail, Merlin, Black Kite

We stopped on the way back to the hotel to view a Spanish Imperial Eagle nest atop a pylon. One bird was incubating and this brought an excellent birding day to a close. We had a great evening meal with some wonderful wine on Bob (as he had 24 lifers).

Another overcast start to the day and we headed south after breakfast to the southern rice fields. En-route we saw many Azure-winged Magpies, Hoopoe, a Great spotted Cuckoo and at another area of steppe a male Whinchat, a pair of Montagu’s Harrier, 20 Lesser Kestrel, 3 displaying Little Bustard and a total of 34 Great Bustard with two parties of 10 and 18. Both had males engaged in the full foam bath display, a stunning sight. At least two Quail were heard, 100,s of Calandra Lark, 2 Zitting Cisticola and Little Owl were all seen.

2 Common Sandpiper, 6 Lesser Kestrel, Coot, 10+ Black-necked Grebe and 30+ Great Crested Grebe. We ate lunch at a nearby restuarante and as ever had some great coffee.

An injured Common Crane had been abandoned by its’ friends who were no doubt back in Northern Europe. At least 5 Southern Grey Shrike, a Great Egret, 6 Little Egret, 2 Cattle Egret, 3 Red Crested Pochard, 3 Pintail, Teal, Shoveler, 3 Pochard, 2 Greylag, 1 Shelduck, 2 Zitting Cisticola, 1 Water Rail, 3 Green Sandpiper, 30+ Red Avadavat (introduced Indian species) and 2 Tree Sparrow were seen around the large storage reservoir. A Collared Pratincole flew over and Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers quartered the fields. A minimum of 30 Stonechat also found this area to their liking.
A flock of 50+ Collared Pratincole were found hawking over one particular field and an Egytpian Vulture cruised over.

We spent the lunch and early afternoon in Trujillo to see the famous town and of course it’s Lesser Kestrel colony.

Refreshed we took a very scenic drive through the most amazing dehesa and steppe with not even any pylons around. A view of Trujillo in the distance was impressive and it soon felt like a safari. We were rewarded by three grounded Black Vulture waiting for a ewe to leave its’ dead lamb, Buzzards, Montagu’s Harrier, Mistle Thrush and the usual steppe species. A few European Terrapins were noted in one riverbed.

A return to one pre-visited site at the end of the day produced one of the best half hours of birding possible. A Black-shouldered Kite was found atop a fig tree and it was decided that we should try another track to get closer. As a pair of Booted Eagle displayed above a flock of 20+ Bee Eater hunted insects around the trees. The kite was showing well for everyone as it preened but we were distracted by a pair of Golden Oriole and 2 Great spotted Cuckoo as they chased around the bus. Back at the hotel another great meal and some good wine ended another day.

8 April 2006
We returned to the Cuartro Lugares steppe between Santiago and Hinojas as is was so close to the hotel and rewarding before and almost immediately discovered what was probably the same melanistic Montagu’s Harrier as we had seen previously. A walk along the road, a stop at a vantage point and driving along some farms tracks produced 5 male Little Bustard, 5 Great Bustard, 1000,s of Calandra and Crested Larks with stop at the riverbed to watch Thekla Lark displaying. A flock of 20+ Bee Eater were also present here. We also saw and heard Black-bellied Sandgrouse in groups of 2, 4 and 7. Two Tawny Pipit and 20+ Short-toed Lark were also noted. Griffon Vulture and Black Kite were ever-present we did see Black Vulture on the ground once again.

Another visit to this lovely area surrendered 100,s of Azure Winged Magpie, a pair of Subapline Warbler below the castillo, 2 Black Stork, 10+ Black Vulture, 100 Griffons, 2 Golden Eagle including a pair on the nest, 2 Alpine Swift, 2 Short-toed Eagle, 2 Egyptian Vulture, many Crag Martins, Blue-rock Thrush all seen from the castillo. An ice cream was a welcome bonus as it was very warm.

We visited the Griffon Vulture colony opposite the picnic area where Hawfinches nervously fed on the blossom. The vulture chicks could be seen clearly and a pair of Egyptian Vultures actually flew in and mated. An intimate moment shared through a Leica 27x 62mm scope!

Tietar Cliffs
This site gave another chance to see vultures on the nest with a back drop of Nightingales singing and sometimes showing and bursts of Cetti’s Warbler song. It was a warm afternoon so many birds were quiet.

Arroyo de la Vid
A quick stop as Cirl Bunting was singing but could not be seen. A Grey Wagtail fed on the stream.

An evening visit to search for more species was very productive. We stopped at one of the lay-bys and quickly picked up a male Cirl Bunting, a stunning male Orphean Warbler sang and showed within feet. It continued to show on and off as it sang. Two pairs of Woodchat Shrike were also present with 20 Bee Eater, 2 Red-rumped Swallow, 10+ Crag Martin and a showy Mistle Thrush. MJM heard a Wryneck also. As it got dark we birded from the Salto de Gitano but did have to compete with noisy tourists and perform a PR session for birds. The Eagle Owl called a number of times but did not show. After a patient wait with many species resting up for the night and bats active, Graham found the owl perched up on the rocky ridge giving memorable views. A great end to the day and although late we were able to enjoy a full meal afterwards.

9 April 2006
On the last day it was decided to drive through the Monfrague National park and out the other end to take in the sites and try for some more birds. At Tietar we had a Black Stork flying past at the hide and enjoyed views of Spanish Imperial Eagle on the nest. It even stood up and moved the eggs to give us great views. At least 500 Griffon Vulture, 3+ Nightingale, Blue-rock Thrush and a flock of Long-tailed Tits offered distraction. MJM watched an Eagle Owl fly from the crag and into a cave. A pale phase Booted Eagle soared over which drew the birding to a close. It was time to head off.

Embalse de Arrocampo
This stop was intended to add a few wetland birds to our trip and it did just that. Purple Heron were seen well but the Night Heron was a little distant. A Polecat type animal swam a long way towards then past us before crossing the track. A flock of 30+ Bee Eaters hawked insects. We had another slight distraction of bikini clad girls in waders (not dreaming, it really happened), they were also keen to see what we were watching which turned out to be a singing Savi’s Warbler in full view. A couple of Reed Warbler were also in song. Black-winged Stilts were seen from the bus on roadside pools.

As we had a little time to spare we stopped off at the Rio Alberches to check some likely habitat. At least 10 Blackcap, 3+ Nightingale and 2 Willow Warbler were seen and heard. A party of 5 Griffon Vulture flew over but the highlight was a male Penduline Tit calling and feeding on poplar buds. This was the last bird seen away from the bus or airport and concluded the tour and we flew back to Bristol.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Anser Birding Finland 7-12 June 2005 trip report

Anser Birding Finland 7-13 June 2005 trip report
report by Mike King

This trip to Finland was organised by Anser UK with three days guiding from Finnature Guide Toni Uusimaki. The main purpose of the trip was to find the Finnish specialities, in particular the owls. There were eight species of owl to be had - Short-eared, Long-eared, Pygmy, Great Grey, Ural, Tengmalm's, Eagle and Hawk Owl. Hawk Owl was the only one we were uncertain about, as there were no known sites this year. This was to be a two-centre break with time in the Oulu area before travelling north to the Kuusamo area and then returning to Oulu for some more relaxed birding before flying home. In the event, because it didn't get dark at all, it was extreme birding with only about 20 hours sleep all week. It was the longest day because from when it got light on the Tuesday we didn't see darkness again until we arrived back at Stansted on Sunday night.

Phil Abbott, Pete Cranswick, Steve Dark, Ernie Davis, Nick Goatman, Brian Heasman, Mike King, Martin McGill, Paul Marshall, Perry Smale, Neil Smart and Jeremy Squire.

Tuesday 7 June 2005
Weather: Warm and sunny
We left Gloucester mid-morning for Stansted Airport arriving early afternoon for the Ryanair flight to Tampere in Finland. We met with the four lads from Devon at the airport completing our party of twelve. The flight was smooth and uneventful and we arrived at Tampere at around 10pm local time. A Swallow flying around the terminal was our first Finnish bird followed by a roding Woodcock. We picked up the two minivans and headed northwards for Oulu, where we would be staying at Liminka Bay. The journey north would take around six hours with several rest and refreshment stops along the way. A few birds of note were seen along the way including singing Fieldfares at the first rest stop, a Short-eared Owl at Rantsila and then the first of many Hooded Crows and White Wagtails at Tyrnävä (Hoodies replacing Carrion Crows and White Wagtails replacing Pied in Finland). We also saw Elk at Tampere and Pikhala.

Wednesday 8 June 2005
Weather: Bright and sunny with some cloud and a cool northerly breeze
We arrived at the Liminka Bay Centre at around 6am. A few notable birds around the Centre included a Short-eared Owl, a male Pied Flycatcher, a singing male Ortolan Bunting and a couple of Whinchats. We were met by our guide Toni, a cheerful guy who was immediately apologetic that the rooms and breakfast were not yet sorted. He suggested we went out for breakfast and then went birding. We agreed readily and also that Great Grey Owl should be first on the agenda. He led us to a service area where we enjoyed the Finnish equivalent of an English fry-up. On the way here we saw our third Short-eared Owl being mobbed by a Lapwing and also three Ravens.
After this refreshing break we drove to a wooded area in Paavola where Toni led us a short distance into the pinewood. He pointed out to us the now empty Great Grey Owl nest and just a few moments later an adult Great Grey Owl was located. This was a big moment for me as it was my number one most wanted world bird. It was huge and stunning to look at. A moment later, after moving around quietly to find a better position, we realised we were within a few feet of two downy owlets sat on a rock. The difference in size was considerable. The warning grunts emanating from the adult made us quickly back off. I was able to get some great shots of the birds before we retreated to the vans.

We also had our first Willow Tit here, this northern race looking different to the British race.
Along the way to our next stop near Saarikoski on the road to Mankila we saw a male Hen Harrier and twenty Whooper Swans. We pulled up just before our destination when an owl was spotted sat beside the road in broad daylight. It was a Long-eared Owl, behaving nothing like we would expect at home. There were also two more Short-eared Owls nearby. At the site we had come to was an Ural Owl nest box and as Toni approached it we watched as an adult Ural Owl left the box and flew the short distance into some birch scrub. It resembled a large greyish, long-tailed Tawny Owl. He assured us we would get better views later. Also here we saw four distant Common Cranes, a ringtail Hen Harrier and heard a Black Woodpecker calling distantly. A Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was here too.
Our next stop was to be near Hietalanoerä where there were two pairs of Pallid Harriers (a Finnish rarity). We immediately had stunning views of the silvery male Pallid Harrier as it quartered the fields. Eventually we saw a female as well. Other birds of note included a singing male Common Rosefinch (nice to see a red one) and yet another Short-eared Owl.
We left here at 11am and moved on to Ylipää near Siikajoki. This was another Ural Owl site. Toni first showed us the nest and then after a couple of calls to a Finnish friend he staggered everyone by picking out the Ural Owl perched amongst the treetops. Very impressive, he was proving to be an excellent guide and a very sharp birder. This time we enjoyed scoped views and everyone left satisfied. The mosquitoes had also found us to their liking and we had all become unwilling blood donors. Also at this site we saw male and female Redstarts, more Common Rosefinches, including a pair mating, and two Waxwings, nice to see in their natural habitat rather than supermarket car parks.

Moving on we stopped near Karinkanta where we enjoyed excellent views of a pair of our only Red-backed Shrikes of the holiday. We then drove to Varjakka where we experienced the by now unfamiliar feeling of dipping on a Three-toed Woodpecker. Here we did have a singing male Brambling, gorgeous in breeding plumage, a flyover Mealy Redpoll, several Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and on the sea 10+ Arctic Terns and three Red-breasted Mergansers. We travelled back to Liminka Bay arriving there at 5pm, here we would have three hours to unpack, freshen up and maybe grab forty winks before hitting the trail again at around 7:30pm.
We went to the Hotelli Vihiluoto for our evening meal, which for most of us was a reindeer steak, stuffed with cheese and Lingenberries and coated with breadcrumbs, very nice. After dinner Toni led us into the grounds where he played a tape for Blyth's Reed Warbler. A warbler, which was definitely a Reed sp, responded immediately but whether it was Blyth's or not we couldn't be 100% sure. Whilst here two adult Little Gulls flew over and nearby our seventh Short-eared Owl of the day was seen.

At 10:30pm in glorious sunshine we arrived at a wood near Saninjok. After a short walk we came to a Tengmalm's Owl nest box. After Toni had given the tree a light tap the female Tengmalm's Owl appeared at the entrance and peered at us inquisitively for half an hour providing a tremendous photo opportunity. After we had all packed up the cameras and were just leaving the male Tengmalm's Owl flew in and gave stunning close views.

After another short drive and a walk along a rally track through the woods Toni led us into the dark mozzie-infested undergrowth at 11:20pm. He played a short burst on the CD player and a Pygmy Owl shot towards him so fast he had to duck. This aggressive little character was probably no bigger than a sparrow. It perched up in a nearby tree calling and I managed a couple of record shots, but a much better shot by Paul Marshall is below. We were glad to be back in the van to soothe our bites after that and were soon heading back to Oulu to a quarry that was an Eagle Owl site. We saw another Elk along the way. Unfortunately the quarry was locked up so we had to try elsewhere.

Thursday 9 June 2005
Weather: Cloudy with sunny periods
It was now a new day, still daylight and we were still going. After Toni had talked to other guides we found ourselves on the A86 in Oulu, we weren't sure what we were supposed to be looking for as Toni was in the other van. However when we pulled up Toni told us there was an Eagle Owl atop a lamppost on the central reservation. We walked along the embankment and gained scoped views of this huge cat-like owl. Two Woodcock flew over whilst we were watching. We arrived back at Liminka at 2am and fell into bed. Most of us had now been on the go for 40+ hours without any proper sleep other than a snatched nap here and there.
At 6am we were back on the road and returning to the woodpecker site at Varjakka. Within minutes this time Toni had located a male Three-toed Woodpecker, a stunning bird, which showed really well and was much larger than several of us had imagined being about Great Spotted size. We drove down to the quayside for a quick look before moving on and were rewarded with a Grey-headed Wagtail, three Red-breasted Mergansers, six Goosanders, two Goldeneye, a Whooper Swan and six Arctic Terns.
Our next stop was the oil terminal in Oulu, which was terminally ugly. However this grotty piece of waste strewn habitat produced excellent birds. The best of these was a displaying Terek Sandpiper, which perched beautifully on top of a stick before anyone had a camera set up. Also here we had a brief Temminck's Stint, two Little Ringed Plovers, a Ringed Plover, two Oystercatchers and a male Wheatear. We also saw Brown Hare and Rabbits here.
After this little interlude Toni dropped his car off at his house and joined us in the vans for the journey north to Kuusamo. On the journey north two Common Cranes were at Kifina, a Wood Warbler and a Red Squirrel was at the services at Pudasjarvi and we also saw 50+ Reindeer, the first of many. Mmmm! Reindeer!
We stopped at Taivalkosk, which was a Black Woodpecker site and also had an outside chance of Hawk Owl, but we saw neither. New species here included Common Crossbills and Tree Pipit and a male Redstart showed well.
Next stop was a landfill site near Kuusamo. Here the star bird was a second-year Siberian Gull heuglini, which Toni showed us. There were also many Baltic Gulls f.fuscus, a Great Black-backed Gull and a drake Teal were new for the trip. There were many Hooded Crows and Ravens over the tip, a Grey-headed Wagtail flew over and a male Cuckoo showed well on a post.
Next a stop for Siberian Tit drew a rare blank with only a pair of Willow Tits being seen. This was followed by a stop by a lake, which was excellent as we had cracking views of five pairs of Velvet Scoters in breeding plumage, the sort of views you would never get on a seawatch. Also here were ten male Goldeneye and a drake Smew.
A final stop by yet another tree-lined lake produced two singing male Little Buntings, one seen and a second further away heard.
We checked in at our hotel where we would be overnighting. After a rest, a shower and a good meal we were heading back out at 7:30pm. From a nearby forest road Toni quickly located a gorgeous singing male Rustic Bunting. A classy bird.
We drove on to Lake Kovajarvi where we joined up with another birding group to make another attempt on Hawk Owl. In the event it was a failed attempt but the lake was very good for waders, the best of which was a singing Broad-billed Sandpiper, but sadly it remained out of view. We then took the long haul towards Valtavaara Ridge near the Russian border. En route we saw three Little Gulls on a roadside pond, another Short-eared Owl and a Fox. Toni stopped eventually after much checking of the map and declared that we were in the right spot at 11pm. Minutes later a Hawk Owl was spotted atop a fir tree. Cue much celebration, as we became the first Finnature-led group to achieve all eight owl species this spring. We watched it for over an hour as it remained on top of the tree, occasionally being mobbed by Redwings. An added bonus were seven lekking male Black Grouse in the field behind us.

Friday 10 June 2005
Weather: Cloudy with sunny periods
Another day arrived with Hawk Owl becoming the first bird of the new day. Four Black Grouse remained too. We left then for the long drive back to the hotel. We stopped at Konttainen a known site for Red-flanked Bluetail and Siberian Jay on the way, but neither of them was obliging. We passed Mountain Hares and more Reindeer on the way back.
We dragged ourselves out of bed at 6am after only four hours sleep and piled into the vans for the journey to Iivaara (see pic on left- RFB at the top). On the way a Black-throated Diver flew over the car and another Red Squirrel was seen. After parking up we ascended first the boardwalk and then an ever-stiffening climb towards the summit. A singing Goldcrest was new for the trip and half way up a female Capercaillie burst from cover and flew away. As we cleared the top and descended a short way down the other side Toni said he could hear a Red-flanked Bluetail singing. Soon we found a beautiful male singing it’s Redstart-like song from a treetop. It reminded me a little of an American Bluebird and looked very different to the bluetails I have seen in Britain. On the descent we saw our first bright Northern Bullfinches of the trip and then we heard Hazel Grouse whistling thinly. It was glimpsed by one or two of the party but not me. Shortly afterwards we realised that Martin had briefly had two Pine Grosbeaks while we searched for the grouse, which were the only ones of the holiday. We returned late to an excellent breakfast at the hotel.
After breakfast we travelled back to Konttainen, seeing another Red Squirrel and more Reindeer on the way. Siberian Jay eluded us (and just about all other parties) again but I did get some nice shots of Northern Bullfinch.

We travelled on to Kansallispuisto Oulanka National Park. Toni took us straight to a nest box near the visitor centre where Siberian Tit was nesting and it duly gave excellent views within minutes. In the trees behind a male Parrot Crossbill showed well feeding two juveniles. Leaving the visitor centre we travelled a short distance to a forest road where we could hear Hazel Grouse but not see them again. Then at the next stop most of us managed short but tickable views of a Hazel Grouse in the undergrowth. Moving on we came to a café on the Russian frontier. There was a Red Squirrel on the bird table as well as a pair of Common Rosefinches. Toni showed us the rare Fairy Slipper Orchid, which grew in the café grounds.

We had to leave the café and start the long journey back to Oulu then. As we rounded a bend we ground to a rapid stop when bizarrely a pair of Hazel Grouse were right in the middle of the road. Everybody gained wonderful views of this usually shy game bird. The journey south became a procession of failed attempts at turning up the very elusive Siberian Jay, but all to no avail. At Sarkelä we saw two pairs of Waxwings, a Honey Buzzard and a Great Grey Shrike (found by Martin). Soiperoisentie produced no more than two Cuckoos and that was that, no Sibe Jay this time. As we approached the Hotelli Vihiluoto for our evening meal at around 8pm we saw a Marsh Harrier from the vans. We bid Toni goodbye at this point, we were sorry to see him go, he had been brilliant, but in return we had taught him some new English words. After a nice Salmon supper we returned to Liminka Bay where at last we got a reasonably early night – except for those who went birding, me included. From the tower we saw all the usual suspects as well as the first Shovelers, a Marsh Harrier hunting, 13 Spotted Redshanks in breeding plumage, a Whimbrel was calling but remained unseen, two Snipe were displaying and as we returned to bed a juvenile Long-eared Owl was doing the “squeaky gate” call from a small copse. A pair of Elk were also out in the bay.

Saturday 11 June 2005
Weather: Very warm and sunny with high clouds
I was up again at around 5:30am and out by 6am. I went straight down to the tower hide and spent a couple of hour’s quiet birding. The first Coot were seen, as were Pintail and Redshank. Snipe were displaying all around, both Marsh Harrier and Short-eared Owl were hunting, 100 Whooper Swans were out in the bay and a male Common Rosefinch showed well. I returned for breakfast and then we hit the road at 9am. We drove the short distance to Liminka Sewage Farm where as Toni had promised a Thrush Nightingale was singing. However it was a couple of hundred yards away on private land, so frustratingly it wasn’t seen. The small pond was excellent and held a breeding plumage Slavonian Grebe, some female Goldeneye with lots of ducklings, and there were flyovers by a couple of Marsh Harriers, two Common Cranes, seven adult Little Gulls and nearby a Short-eared Owl was displaying and a young male Common Rosefinch was singing. A breeze hampered photography here. The next stop was Papinjarvi, which was a little disappointing, but the lake there did have three pairs of Common Scoter and a Common Sandpiper. Next we tried another pond in Oulu, which was a Blyth’s Reed site, but although we saw a Reed sp again we couldn’t be sure it was Blyth’s. Another lake was checked and we found four female Goosanders with 12 young collectively. The next lake at Pyykhojarvi had an amazing flock of c600 Little Gulls, nearly all adults, the mass calls of the birds was memorable. Also here were 25 Arctic Terns and three Baltic Gulls. On leaving here to return for lunch we saw a male Hen Harrier from the vans.
Following lunch it was a free afternoon, several of the boys just wanted to sleep but the rest of us went to the tower. An adult White-tailed Eagle had landed on a field in the bay and remained all afternoon, occasionally flapping its huge wings. We also had an Osprey, three Marsh Harriers, two males and a female, a Goshawk and 65 Common Cranes.
At 5:30pm we all went out again first to the peat bog at Lintujarvi. Male Marsh Harrier and Camberwell Beauty butterfly were seen from the vans. At the bog a Hobby was seen, an Osprey caught a fish, two drake Smew were out on the water and masses of Black Darter dragonflies flew around.
We then all succumbed to the delights of an XL Star Burger, except Ernie and Martin probably wisely. Next carrying a little more weight we checked another of the bay’s tower hides from where we saw wild Greylags. At this point we split up for the first time, the Devon/Wales contingent went off to buy beers to take back and the Glos boys went for some more birding, after we had bought beer. We checked both Blyth’s sites to no avail and at the second four Finnish girls made Jeremy an offer he couldn’t refuse (but he did). Then we had a final look at the Oil port but could not find the Terek or the Temminck’s, just all the other species we had seen before.

Sunday 12 June 2005
Weather: Warm and humid with some light showers
At midnight we joined up with the other lads again and drank beer around the campfire until the early hours. Even this was disrupted with more birding when a Caspian Tern was found in the bay from the tower; most of us went to look.

At 8:40am I was back in the tower for the last time. The tern had gone, as had the eagle but all the usual suspects were seen. Nick and I found a Camberwell Beauty near the boardwalk as we returned to pack, this started a minor twitch. I was well pleased, as it was my first.
The long journey south started then, both groups had decided to make their own ways back to Tampere airport. We saw an Osprey near Onkineva, a pair of Whooper Swans with three cygnets at Nurmesperä, before stopping beside the lake at Vuonlahti at 2pm. This was inspired because here we had five Black-throated Divers, a Red-throated Diver and two Red-necked Grebes all in summer plumage and a female Goldeneye with 14 ducklings and another Baltic Gull. We made one final stop at another National Park where we failed to find anything new and got sent packing by the fiercest mozzies yet. The other group managed to add a booming Bittern and a Lesser Whitethroat to the trip list.
We all met up at the airport for a pleasant flight back to Stansted arriving 25 minutes early. We had totalled around 150 species between us and had all had several life ticks, in particular those magnificent owls.
Species Lists
Not all of the species were seen by everyone and I may have missed out one or two common ones.

Bird list
1. Red-throated Diver
2. Black-throated Diver
3. Great Crested Grebe
4. Red-necked Grebe
5. Slavonian Grebe
6. Bittern (Heard only)
7. Whooper Swan
8. Greylag
9. Shelduck
10. Wigeon
11. Teal
12. Mallard
13. Pintail
14. Shoveler
15. Tufted Duck
16. Common Scoter
17. Velvet Scoter
18. Goldeneye
19. Smew
20. Red-breasted Merganser
21. Goosander
22. Honey Buzzard
23. White-tailed Eagle
24. Hen Harrier
25. Marsh Harrier
26. Pallid Harrier
27. Goshawk
28. Sparrowhawk
29. Common Buzzard
30. Osprey
31. Kestrel
32. Hobby
33. Peregrine
34. Hazel Grouse
35. Black Grouse
36. Capercaillie
37. Pheasant
38. Coot
39. Common Crane
40. Oystercatcher
41. Little Ringed Plover
42. Ringed Plover
43. Lapwing
44. Temminck's Stint
45. Broad-billed Sandpiper (Heard only)
46. Snipe
47. Woodcock
48. Black-tailed Godwit
49. Whimbrel
50. Curlew
51. Spotted Redshank
52. Redshank
53. Greenshank
54. Green Sandpiper
55. Wood Sandpiper
56. Terek Sandpiper
57. Common Sandpiper
58. Little Gull
59. Black-headed Gull
60. Common Gull
61. Baltic Gull (fuscus)
Siberian Gull (heuglini)
62. Herring Gull
63. Great Black-backed Gull
64. Caspian Tern
65. Common Tern
66. Arctic Tern
67. Feral Pigeon
68. Stock Dove
69. Woodpigeon
70. Collared Dove
71. Cuckoo
72. Eagle Owl
73. Hawk Owl
74. Pygmy Owl
75. Ural Owl
76. Great Grey Owl
77. Long-eared Owl
78. Short-eared Owl
79. Tengmalm's Owl
80. Swift
81. Black Woodpecker (Heard only)
82. Great Spotted Woodpecker
83. Three-toed Woodpecker
84. Skylark
85. Sand Martin
86. Swallow
87. House Martin
88. Tree Pipit
89. Meadow Pipit
90. Grey-headed Wagtail
91. White Wagtail
92. Waxwing
93. Wren
94. Dunnock
95. Robin
96. Thrush Nightingale (Heard only)
97. Red-flanked Bluetail
98. Redstart
99. Whinchat
100. Wheatear
101. Blackbird
102. Fieldfare
103. Song Thrush
104. Redwing
105. Mistle Thrush
106. Sedge Warbler
107. Blyth's Reed Warbler (almost certainly this species)
108. Lesser Whitethroat
109. Garden Warbler
110. Willow Warbler
111. Wood Warbler
112. Goldcrest
113. Spotted Flycatcher
114. Pied Flycatcher
115. Willow Tit
116. Siberian Tit
117. Crested Tit (Heard by Toni)
118. Coal Tit
119. Blue Tit
120. Great Tit
121. Treecreeper
122. Red-backed Shrike
123. Great Grey Shrike
124. Jay
125. Magpie
126. Jackdaw
127. Rook
128. Hooded Crow
129. Raven
130. Starling
131. House Sparrow
132. Chaffinch
133. Brambling
134. Greenfinch
135. Goldfinch
136. Siskin
137. Linnet
138. Mealy Redpoll
139. Common Crossbill
140. Parrot Crossbill
141. Common Rosefinch
142. Pine Grosbeak (MMcG only)
143. Northern Bullfinch
144. Yellowhammer
145. Ortolan Bunting
146. Rustic Bunting
147. Little Bunting
148. Reed Bunting
1. Elk
2. Reindeer
3. Fox
4. Brown Hare
5. Mountain Hare
6. Rabbit
7. Muskrat
8. Red Squirrel
9. Mouse sp.
1. Common Frog
Butterflies & Dragonflies
1. Large Skipper
2. Large White
3. Small White
4. Blue sp.
5. Gatekeeper
6. Orange Tip
7. Camberwell Beauty
8. Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary
9. Black Darter
Our thanks must go to Toni Uusimaki, our excellent guide, who showed us all bar one of our target species.
Thanks must go to all the guys that did the driving (and I didn't) for which the rest of us are very grateful.
Finally thanks to Martin for his organisation of the holiday. © Mike King 2005
The Gloster Birder

Friday, June 01, 2007

Anser Birding Norfolk and Suffolk 23-27 May 2007 trip report

Anser Birding Norfolk and Suffolk 23-27 May 2007 trip report

Golden Oriole basket nest at RSPB Lakenheath/Hockwold Fen

Avocet at Minsmere
Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint (wing strectching) at Titchwell RSPB

23 May 2007 The guides on this trip were Martin McGill and Neil Smart. It was a hugely sucessful tour, thank you to all who have contacted me with such kind words, if I could just use one line then it would be.....a very big thank you to you and Neil for the best holiday I have ever had, Len.
It was a pleasure to be on this tour as everyone was so enthusiastic about birds and there were one or two new species for all. To see the same genuine level of satisfaction from Iberian Chiffchaff and Montagu's Harrier says it all, keep on birding guys.
We set off from Gloucestershire at 0730 numbering a group of 10. We travelled to Lakenheath/Hockwold RSPB stopping at a couple of rest breaks en-route. The weather was very warm and after seeing Hairy Hawkers and Four-spotted Chasers at the new visitor entrance we were quickly hearing and watching Reed and Sedge Warblers plus Common Whitethroat and Reed Bunting along the river. A few Banded Demoiselle were also noted. Birds noted on our visit included 3 singing male Golden Oriole and a female, we were lucky enough to see the nest (but the location will be kept a secret), 4 male Garganey in various moult stages and the clicking call was heard, 3+ Hobbies, the breeding Common Cranes were heard but kept a low profile in the marshes, 2 Turtle Dove, 2 Cuckoo and a selection of wildfowl on the washes. We spent nearly four hours birding this site. We drove to our hotel, settled in and enjoyed the evening meal (quickly for those who requested the viewing of the Champions League final, bad luck Jim) while those wanted an early night headed off to their rooms.

24 May 2007 After a 0700 breakfast we headed straight for Minsmere RSPB and on nearing the end of our journey we stopped to enjoy Nightingale in full song along with displaying Turtle Doves, breeding Great Spotted Woodpecker and Yellowhammers. On arrival we made our way to the busy Bittern hide where patience and careful manouevers got all the Anser guests a seat with a view, the continual presence of Marsh Harriers in the air was a joy to see, the 17 pairs in the area show just how successful they can be with a bit of help. Not a moment went by on the reserve when you could not see one on the wing or perched atop a post or bush. Neil picked up a Purple Heron for the whole hide to enjoy in flight and a variety of species were seen from here including Sand Martins, a few calling fly by Mediterranean Gulls and the busy throng of a rich wetland habitat. A booming Bittern was all we had as reward for the time we put in for this reedbed foghorn. A distant Red Kite, Water Rail and Kingfisher were also seen.

The next stop was the Island Mere Hide which was also very busy but again we settled in to eventually watch the busy activity of all wetland birds. A number of Bearded Tit sightings led to everyone seeing them well as they hurried back and forth feeding young. We had a bit of lunch at the centre and then worked our way around the scrape hides and beach. The large colonies of Avocet, Common Tern and Black-headed Gulls provided great viewing as the former and latter had young. Neil and the group spent much of the time sifting through the scrape birds while Martin continued a solo vigil for a Bittern sighting, a couple of Purple Heron views were the only reward and after all the effort it was Jim Sines who picked up a Bittern flying over the reedbed that all managed to see before it dropped into the reeds again. A few Little Terns were also present on the scrapes and beach but the 4 pairs of breeding Mediterranean Gulls were a real treat to see among their commoner relatives. At least three Ringed Plover were seen on the scrapes but they were devoid of much in the way of passage birds.

After dinner we headed back to the coast where a quick stop on the Blyth estuary confirmed the lack of passage. We headed for Walberswick for Grasshopper Warber and found one singing but even this bird could not compete with the Navy helicopter training offshore so we and it gave up. A Tawny Owl called as we walked back in the dark. A short drive to Westleton Heath and we immediately heard churring male Nightjar and 3 Nightingales in the still, warm moonlit night, perfect setting, temperatture and weather.

25 May 2007 We left the hotel after breakfast and headed for Colney near Norwich where we located the long-staying Iberian Chiffchaff which was in full song and view. This is still a very rare bird in the UK and has attracted many visitors not least due to it being a first for Norfolk. Everyone enjoyed this little bird who at the time of writing is still singing away. We left for the Great Ryburgh raptor watchpoint but whilst there a cold front carrying rain arrived and the hot weather duly dissappeared. At least 4 Buzzard and 4 Hobby were seen but alas no Honey Buzzards showed. The weather changed our plans and after a coffee stop at Creake Abbey (where we saw a male Marsh Harrier) we ended up at Titchwell RSPB. The passage waders were great here with 2 breeding plumaged Curlew Sandpiper, a Little Stint, flocks of Dunlin, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and a Little-ringed Plover on show. Small groups of Little Gulls popped in to the scrapes with adults, second-summers and first-summers all resting or feeding. The scrapes were very busy for wildfowl with Shoveler, Wigeon and Pintail all being seen among the Gadwall and Mallard. Two Spoonbill flew over with perhaps another feeding on the scrape on our return walk. A Bittern was booming from the reedbed and of course Marsh Harriers were seen again. The sea held flocks of Common Scoters and Gannets and Fulmar were also noted. A fledged Great Tit was on the path as we neared the visitor centre which we placed back in the bushes. The rather cheesy photo of me was taken by Len Ingram.
After a large dinner we tried a few different spots for Barn Owl without luck and finally another place at Holme for Grasshopper Warbler where everyone got scope views of a reeler in the fading light. A plesent end to the day.
26 May 2007 Neil looked after the group from the pre-breakfast birding trip to dropping off in the evening after dinner at 1030pm and all had a full day packed with birds. Martin travelled to London fulfilling a promise of taking his son Joseph to Wembley Arena seeing Bristol Rovers beat Shrewsbury 3-1 and clinch promotion to League 1. Many of the group enjoyed watching Barn Owl hunting near to their accommodation first thing and this was followed by a 0630 start with Neil taking in a couple of male Montagu's Harriers at an undisclosed site. The site also held calling Quail, male Marsh Harrier and singing Lesser Whitethroat. After breakfast Neil took the group to Cley NWT reserve where passage was more in evidence. Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and Ringed Plover were all among the other breeding waders of which Avocet had chicks (one on the path!) more wetland warblers were seen including Cetti's. The Marsh Harriers performed along with some great views of Bearded Tit. One of the highlights on this visit was a Temminck's Stint showing on the Eye field and the long walk around the reserve was worth it.

The afternoon was spent on a Bean's boat trip from Morston to Blakeney Point where the seals were seen very well to a few feet and landing on the point offered views of the tern colonies. Little, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns were all seen and compared. Some winter birds were still in evidence with 5 Eider including an adult drake and 9 Dark-bellied Brent Geese plus 3 passage Turnstone. After the trip a return to the Montagu's Harriers rewarded all with 2 males and a female, the calling Quail and 2 Grey Partridge plus the farmland bird supporting cast that included Corn Bunting. The slight communication problem with text was resolved with the Devon girls adding these birds on their trip list.

27 May 2007 The atrocious weather caused us to head inland to the Brecks where we arrived at the excellent NWT Weeting Heath visitor centre and were soon enjoying Stone Curlew (male and female brooding 2 chicks), Neil located a Woodlark on call which showed very well on the ground in front of the hide, Green Woodpecker, Linnets, Little Owl, Tawny Owl, Lapwing, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were also heard or seen.

Stone Curlew at Weeting Heath NWT

The weather conviced us that WWT Welney would be the best place to visit and to have lunch. From the hides the fluctuating water levels had caused problems for the breeding birds but the Black-tailed Godwits were again displaying after having the nests flooded out. Many Lapwing, Redshank, Avocet, Black-headed Gull and Common Tern were busy on eggs and a Yellow Wagtail was heard and a few mobile Little-ringed Plover were seen. We ended the trip here and headed back to Gloucestershire arriving at c1830. Thanks to all who came on the trip for their company and enthusiasm, it is much appreciated. Let me know if there are any ommisions for editing in this report.

Martin J McGill