West Scotland including Islay and Mull- 24-28 November 2015

24 November 2015

Our small group assembled in Gloucestershire to load up our baggage and take on the drive to Scotland. Conditions were none too favourable but we carried on and made a couple of stops along the way to break up the journey and have a hot drink and a bite to eat. Our first birding stop was at Silloth which situated on the south side of the Solway Firth mouth, it was windy here too but at least the rain has eased. Flocks of Oystercatcher headed out of the Firth as the tide dropped no doubt to feed on the sandbanks. A Rock Pipit skulked under the seawall and a few Redshank picked about in the rocks. After leaving Silloth for Anthorn we saw a small flock of Pink-footed Geese along the way.

Driving back east we stopped at Anthorn Harbour where we found our first flock of Barnacle Geese grazing the saltmarsh, among them was a fine leucistic bird, completely white! A pair of Red-breasted Merganser fed in the river channel with two female Goosander on the sand and mud were Curlew, Redshank and Lapwing. It was a busy spot but we had to press on to our hotel for the night near Tarbert. After getting through Glasgow we were soon in the countryside.

Nearing our destination the moonlight beams were fabulous as we drove along the loch side, the blue light was constantly flickering as we drove through the trees at the water’s edge. The hotel was fronted by a castle, they offered comfortable rooms, a tasty menu and the first whisky bar of the trip. Some participants sampled a nightcap before retiring for the night. Although brief, a Woodcock was noted by a vigilant IH in the moonlit grounds from the dining room!

25 November 2015

Up for breakfast at the earliest time available, it was still windy out we would have to see if the ferry would be running,  on arrival at Kennacraig the staff seemed unconcerned, gave us the tickets and loaded us aboard. We found the most sheltered part of the ship ready for the voyage and recorded 20+ Red-breasted Merganser, 2 Slavonian Grebe, 2 Little Grebe, 6 Goldeneye, a male Long-tailed Duck, 2 Black-throated Diver, 5 Red-throated Diver, 30+ Great Northern Diver, 15+ Eider, 4 Shelduck, 2 Kittiwake and a Black Guillemot that took flight as we entered Islay’s Port Ellen harbour.

Once ashore we scanned the harbour again and saw a Great Northern and 2 Red-throated Diver and c 10 Shag. We followed the minor road out to the rugged Mull of Oa, stopping  and scanning we saw a distant male Hen Harrier ghosting  its way across the moor. A large bird, possibly a Golden Eagle was seen distantly on the sea cliffs which encouraged us head in its direction. A male Stonechat and Mistle Thrush were noted as we stopped at the RSPB car park as well as large numbers of Redwing nearby before a squall came through. This meant we could only bird from the car but certainly enjoyed some very close flocks of Greenland White-fronted, Barnacle and Greylag Geese were seen before we left.

A stop at Bowmore town was welcome for snacks and facilities before making two brief stops to look over the south shore of the impressive Loch Indaal.  At the head of the loch bobbed a very close raft of 53 Greater Scaup, among them a single male Tufted Duck courtesy of RG. A nice diving duck role reversal for what many of us are used to in the West Country. Heading back to a shelter belt at Bridgend we scanned the mudflats on the rising tide to watch the Barnacle Geese arriving, c3000 had dropped in before we had to leave. Other species included 40 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, a Red-throated Diver, 8 Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Shelduck and 5 Red-breasted Merganser. This concluded our day in the field so it back to the hotel for the evening whisky tasting and a hearty meal.

27 November 2015

After breakfast we headed back to the Bridgend roost to watch the Barnacle Geese, c3500 were present along with a similar assembly of species as the day before so we moved on to Loch Gruinart RSPB. Passing many flocks of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese along way we realised that their behaviour toward vehicles had changed from all previous visits. It was impossible to stop the car adjacent to a flock, as soon as you slowed they became nervous and flew off. Perhaps they are now being shot at or scared from vehicles?

Looking over the wetlands and fields from the vantage point we could see plenty of birds including Whooper Swans. Around the farm buildings were flocks of Chaffinches and Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Next stop was out in the Ardnave Point dunes, we scanned the wild and windy loch and got really close to nine feeding Whooper Swans, they looked fabulous in overcast or sunny conditions. Also on the loch were 5 Goldeneye, a male Pochard, female Tufted Duck and Teal and Wigeon. 

Plenty of Jackdaw were foraging the dunes, IH saw a female Hen Harrier in the distance. As were leaving Ardnave a pair of Chough finally flew by calling, they carried on up the loch and out of sight. We made for Loch Gorm and surrounds still dodging the heavy showers. In one large field a flock of 200 Rock Dove demonstrated just how beautiful a bird they are as they fed in the stubble. A female Merlin was spotted clinging onto a fence post next to the car so we turned around to allow the other side of the car to have close up views too. Large flocks of geese were feeding in the area, 2000 Barnacle and 4000 Greenland White-fronted were estimated on our drive around this stunning setting. The hill tops were shrouded in low cloud which ruled out eagle spotting. Another scan of the Chaffinch flocks did not reveal any Twite. At Bruichladdich we stopped for a hot drink to scan this section of Loch Indaal, a single Common Scoter drake and a few Dunlin were seen as well as a dead first winter Kittiwake. Unfortunately no Purple Sandpipers were seen.

Returning to Loch Gruinart we watched a Peregrine hunting and all got good scope views of at least three ringtail (female/juvenile) Hen Harriers as they hunted the low ground, one was watched interacting with a Buzzard. Some great birds but we had to leave to catch the ferry from Port Askaig to Kennacraig (2 hour crossing) and drive an hour north to Oban where we would be staying immediately on the seafront. The crossing produced a few birds but was it dark not long after departing. At the hotel the sea was splashing over the harbour wall road due to the high tide and the storm, indoors you wouldn’t know anything was going on at all, quiet, cosy and warm.

Another windy and wet dawn greeted us. I don’t think I have ever studied the weather so intensively as on this trip. I was relieved that we had got on and off Islay without any interruption, the rain and wind had certainly affected bird behaviour and made everything more challenging, a good group spirit and positivity fended off the conditions. I had made alternative plans to go birding on the mainland as we headed to the ferry terminal at Oban not expecting to sail. Picking up ticket from the Caledonian Macbrayne office was as efficient as ever, everything was going ahead as normal! The staff in the office and vessels were so helpful and friendly.

Another crossing ensued with plenty of birds seen especially Great Northern Divers and another Black Guillemot or two. Making port at Craignure on Mull it was not long before we were on our way. A stop to scan over the channel produced Ringed Plovers on the beach, Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers, I spotted an Otter running along the top of a long rocky island but it went over the other side before anyone else got to a scope to see it. Further on a more sheltered wooded bay (which is good for Otters) was scanned from the hide as well as the next bay with no luck, it would be worth trying again on the way back.

Pressing on to Loch na Keal we got out to scan the bay at low tide, giving instructions to scan everywhere to see if we could locate the local White-tailed Eagles. A number of birds were seen but the first of our eagles was located by IH, two young White-tailed Eagles sitting up in a sheltered spot in the trees. This was a good start and the weather was improving, the cloud was lifting and it was even becoming brighter. Another eagle was located at the mouth of the loch, it looked to be a White-tailed, further scanning turned up a second eagle, this looked to be a Golden so after enjoying the two nearer WTE we moved off to get closer.

More Great Northern Divers were seen close inshore including the spot where we parked to scan. A pair of displaying Golden Eagle were on the wing over the island and gave good, constant views, a second pair did the same over the high sea cliffs. Eventually a White-tailed Eagle flew the length of the loch to give a comparison. That was a special half hour or so. We had been so lucky with the weather to allow this window.

With CalMac staff earlier advising that it may be wise to come of Mull on the 3.30pm ferry I was mindful of time, one or two last stops were on the cards before leaving Loch na Keal but before departing this special place we checked the gull flocks feeding where a stream flowed into the loch. A spectacular flock of Goldeneye were jostling just offshore. Our last stop on Mull was a chance to check the bay that we had scanned earlier, IH immediately spotted an Otter feeding just offshore and everyone had great views of it before we had to catch the ferry.

Back on the ferry to Oban we noted yet more Great Northern Divers before it got dark so we retired below for a coffee and bite to eat and were soon ashore after the 45 minute crossing. Back on the mainland it was time to head back south to the borders, we were staying at a hotel in Lockerbie for our final night.

28 November 2015

Another comfortable night and good breakfast and it was back on the road in horrendous conditions, we really were not having much luck with the weather. One nearby site offered much needed sheltered birding and was well known to me and some of the other party members.

At WWT Caerlaverock we passed large flocks of Barnacle Geese on the way in, it was too wet to stop as the roads were flooded. At the car park we donned out waterproofs and made for the Whooper pond. A flock of Icelandic Whooper Swans were sheltering in the lee of the hide along with a variety of wildfowl.

A first winter female Greater Scaup bobbed about among the Tufted Ducks. After half an hour or so one of the local scarcities finally flew in from a sheltered ditch and joined the fun. A first winter male Ring-necked Duck, apparently a first for the reserve was giving us all brilliant views, all from the comfort of the hide. Perhaps the current gale was similar to conditions it faced when crossing the Atlantic. We listened to Joe’s excellent commentary at the feed and enjoyed being inside.

It was time to brave to weather again, we stopped briefly to watch the Tree Sparrows among the passerines at the feeding station before scanning the Folly Pond wildfowl. Snipe were spotted and the Wigeon and Teal flock scanned for another rarity. Changing view from the hide to the tower was rewarded with the American Green-winged Teal feeding right under us. Not a bad set of birds and worth celebrating with a hot drink in the cafe before getting back on the road to head home.

The weather did not improve in the afternoon so we made a group decision to press on for home eventually arriving in good time after a stop to refresh. Thank you to everyone who joined me for this winter tour, despite the challenge of the weather we logged some great birds, scenery and had a good time.


West and North Norfolk- 28-30 January 2016

Snow Buntings, Cley Lapland Bunting, Blakeney, MJM

Above- (L) Snow Buntings over Cley Beach and (R) Lapland Bunting Blakeney Marsh
Below- Shore Larks in a sandstorm at Holme Dunes and the Pallid Harrier at Flitcham.

Shore Lark, Holme Dunes, MJMcGill

Shore Lark, Holme, MJMcGill

Paillid Harrier, MJMcGill 

Below-Pallid and Hen Harrier at Flitcham

Pallid and Hen Harriers, Flitcham, MJMcGill

A small group gathered at Whitminster for a 0700 start out on the road, a bit of traffic slowed progress but we made it to the usual stop near Kettering and were soon seeing a few Red Kites on what turned out to be a very sunny day, in fact despite the gales on Friday and Saturday we recorded three near full  days of sunshine. Our first port of call was at Downham Market, we saw flocks of Whooper Swans in fields prior to reaching the town and after leaving. The reason for taking this route was to visit the Serin that had been present during the week.


Serin, Downham Market, MJM

It was rather confusing actually finding the right spot but we eventually found the muddy, weedy mounds it had been visiting. Two small parties of people were present, one group of contractors who may have been involved in placing the mounds there originally and some birders/photographers, some of which had seen it drop into cover. We moved away from this spot, one or two of us heading for slightly higher ground to scan. Not long after the bird flew in over me (MJM) calling as it went and dropped behind us.

A careful shuffle and repositioning in two groups made sure that we could all see it at times, this small finch fed among the ground hugging plants. It was mostly a dull brownish individual but some yellowish feathering was appearing around the face. We were able to scope it for a prolonged period as it showed on and off, the mild winter perhaps responsible for this bird and others being seen during January.

Moving on we then made our way to another unusual and very popular wintering species at Flitcham. The target bird this time was a long staying juvenile Pallid Harrier. While we waited for it to show we were all distracted by a large flock of Chaffinches with good numbers of Brambling, Linnet and lower numbers of Tree Sparrow, Greenfinch and Yellowhammer. It was great to see plenty of Grey Partridge in the vicinity. Eventually a Hen Harrier appeared and gave a few fly-bys as it hunted, we moved to get a better view and waited. The Pallid Harrier finally decided to take flight and came up out of the stubble to join the Hen Harrier, both played on the breeze with interactions and allowed a brilliant opportunity to compare the two together.

The day was nearly done so we decided to stay local, a cruise around the Wolferton triangle gave up a spectacular if naturalised species, a male Golden Pheasant. Car views only as it was rather wary. Heading back south we headed to an area of heath to watch out for Hen Harriers. It wasn’t long before we were on to our first Barn Owl of the trip, it was followed by a pair of Stonechat and as the light faded..one, two, three, four and with the eventual arrival of a stunning male, five Hen Harriers. It was nearly dark so we went to our hotel for the night.

As forecast the day dawned with strong and strengthening winds, we made for Thornham and immediately got onto a flock of c25 Twite that fed on the ground near to us. This was as usual a good spot to start logging various wader and wildfowl, the first of many Brent and Pink-footed Geese were seen as well as Marsh Harriers. A bracing march to the Holme East dunes was rewarded with a party of three sandblasted Shore Larks on the beach. Hat’s off to this trio for getting on with it in 60+pmh winds.

The sea was rather quiet, a few Red-throated Diver in flight, a pair or two of Red-breasted Mergansers and a Sanderling so we headed back, it was tough going, three of the party forming a link and the ‘lads’ doing their best to be a windbreak at the rear. Quite a tiring walk back with a Reed Bunting or two but too difficult to use optics effectively. Our next stop was a bit more sheltered and provided a good list of birds. Titchwell RSPB gave us the following highlights..two very brief Water Pipit on the way out to the sea. On the sea were 120 Common Scoter with two female Velvet Scoters, a male flew past West, a male Goosander, two or three Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Divers. Tunstones, Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwits fed on the beach. On the scrapes we noted Little Grebes, many wildfowl species including a female Goldeneye, 29 Avocet, Knot, Ringed and Grey Plover, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, three Marsh Harriers. From the Parrinder hide a Snipe was close and a male Hen Harrier went through East. A female Brambling was on the feeders back at the visitor centre.

Nearby we searched the area around the Choseley Barns for either or both of the wintering Rough-legged Buzzards but the gale was not in our favour, we did see Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier. Moving to Burnham Overy/Holkham we scanned the marshes and dunes and noted flocks of Brent and ‘Pinkfeet’ and 7 Barnacle Geese fed among them. In the distance a Barn owl hunted with 3 Marsh Harriers and 13 European White-fronted Geese were also located. At Lady Anne’s drive we listened and watched the large flocks of Wigeon and Pink-footed Geese as the sun set. Driving back a Woodcock flew over the road at Old Hunstanton.

Our last day saw us trying for the Rough-legged Buzzards again, the winds were a lot colder and we did not locate them hearing later that they were seen after we left. We parked at Blakeney on Sea and walked out to the freshmarsh passing Brent Geese and a male Stonechat along the way. We located up to 5 smashing Lapland Buntings among the Skylarks, Twites, Meadow and Rock Pipits spending time re-finding them over and over as this mixed flock were always on the move. On the way back we saw a Greenshank.

A brief stop at the NWT Cley Marshes visitor centre for a hot drink, snack and scan allowed us to locate where the Snow Bunting flock was to be found. A walk along the East bank to the beach shingle and we were watching a flock of 24 of these popular winter visitors as they fed near a breach. Other wetland species were to be found on the fresh water marshes but as we had reached the early afternoon period it was time to head back to Gloucestershire. A good run back with just the one stop was most welcome, the highlight was seeing 30+ Red Kite coming in to roost en-route. We arrived back by 6.30pm to conclude the trip.

Thank you to all who participated.



Brittany-Finistere and Islands, 12-17 October 2015

Finistere and Islands, 12-17 October 2015
All images M.J.McGill unless stated.

Sunset at La Faou, Brittany

Sunset, La Faou

Lighthouse, Pointe de Raz  Sein lighthouse Sein

Black Redstart, Ile de Molene

Black Redstart, Ile de Molene

Delightful Firecrests, L’Ile de Sein (following five)

Firecrest, MJM

Firecrest, Sein, 2, MJMcGill Firecrest, L'Ile de Sein, 3, MJMcGill

Firecrest, Sein, MJMcGill Firecrest, L'Ile de Sein, MJMcGill

Goldcrest, L’Ile de Sein

Goldcrest, L'Ile de Sein, MJMcGill

Goldcrest, Sein, MJMcGill

Zitting Cisitcola (Fan-tailed Warbler) L’Ile de Sein

Zitting Cisticola, Sein, MJMcGill

Blyth’s Reed Warbler, L’Ile de Sein

Blyth's Reed Warbler, L' Ile de Sein, MJMcGill 1 Blyth's Reed Warbler, L'Ile de Sein MJMcGill, 2 Blyth's Reed Warbler, L'Ile de Sein, MJMcGill

12 October

A very early departure at 0445hrs from Whitminster allowed for regular pick-ups along the way. The route was via rather slow moving Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset lanes to the Poole ferry terminal for a 0830 sailing. The traffic made things tight but as always the smoothly run ferry company loaded us in time. Once aboard Barfluer it was time to get on deck to see what could be seen on Poole Harbour’s Brownsea Island as we cruised past. The ferry provides a very high vantage point albeit a fast moving one.

On the lagoon birds of particular note included c34 Spoonbill, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwits, Teal, Avocet flocks, 7 Dark-bellied Brent, Dunlin, Little Egrets and a roost of Oystercatcher. It was not long before we were leaving the chalky stacks ‘Old Harry and his Wives’ behind and heading into the channel. Flocks and singles of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and a few Swallows were all noted crossing the sea to the North, a winter plumaged Black Guillemot in flight was a highlight but generally seabirds were scarce. Only a few Guillemot, 2 Razorbill, Great Skua and Gannets were seen on the crossing.

Arriving in Cherbourg we made our way through Normandie passing many historical WW2 sites to Brittany with a stop along the way. We reached  our destination, La Faou and were rewarded with a stunning sunset and a few birds- Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher, an Egret roost and a couple of Great Crested Grebe.

13 October

An early start to catch the boat to the Ile de Molene  which departed from Le Conquet at 0945. A brief stop to look over the estuary at low tide gave us Greenshanks, Curlew, Redshank and Grey Wagtail. All aboard the ferry for a pleasant crossing with few birds, only Guillemot and Gannet were noted. The sun was shining again as we stepped onto the island, it was breezy and we were soon watching birds. It seemed to take a while to get very far as we looked over a vantage point and noted Ring Ouzel, Blackbirds, Redwings, Chiffchaffs, Swallow, Siskin, Stonechat, Blackcaps, Cetti’s Warbler and common passerines in the scrub. At the nearby beach a few Rock Pipits were on the strand, I noticed one bird sporting a darvic ring and eventually managed to read it. P3A yellow ring, black letters/no’s. It seems to be from a Norwegian ringing scheme!

Other species that were seen included Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and a Marsh Harrier. We stopped at the Creperie for coffee and a sit down, a Firecrest soon joined us along with a few Goldcrests. Refreshed we spoke with a very helpful French birder and looked for the Red-eyed Vireo that had been seen on the preceding days before our arrival. No luck there despite him showing us every bush it had been in and some great pictures of it, we did note 2 Firecrest and a Black Redstart or two in the area. Looking over the uninhabited island adjacent we watched 2 Marsh Harriers together and scoped the waders in the harbour, Sanderling, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Dunlin joined the Curlew and Oystercatchers.

Deciding the follow the coast path a dog had adopted us and followed, it was something of a pain as it was flushing birds before we could scan them. A bunting flew up and away with the Meadow Pipits. Rounding the island to the South a Ring Ouzel appeared near to the standing stones and gave us views on the ground and perched up. Careful searching of the pipits was in order, a few Chiffchaff were found.

On the cultivated ground we saw a large flock of House Sparrow and Linnets and 4 Skylark. Another piece of cultivated/rough weedy ground was busy with Meadow and Rock Pipits, a bunting called and flew away to the scrubby slopes. Chiffchaff and Goldcrest were seen in the bracken and around 10 Swallow and 2 House Martin overhead whilst we waited. The bunting returned and dropped into the field again. At least three times it flew out and disappeared into the scrub, I even saw it on the ground briefly as it alighted on the coast path. We all saw it well in flight but struggled to make out much in the bright light. It called a few times and headed up the slope to the cultivations.

Following the bunting was a good move, although two locals were hand digging spuds the birds came and went around them, a Short-toed Lark flew over head and landed in the ridge and furrow but gave us scope views before moving out of view. No further sign of the bunting but on calls and size/shape it was a Rustic Bunting.

Other birds noted included five Golden Plover and a Grey Plover flying North over the island. We were now running out of time and had not got all the way around Ile de Molene so we cut through the village seeing a close Black Redstart on the way. Our final bird of this visit was a Wheatear near the port. Another quiet crossing for seabirds ensued with time on the mainland to scope the estuary again. A large Cattle and Little Egret roost had formed in the sheltered part of the creek, they were all enjoying the sunshine as were we.

14 October

Up early for breakfast and away to the next ferry port of Audierne, our destination for the next two days would be L’ Ile de Sein. Another quiet crossing aboard ENEZ SUN followed, it is not at all surprising as England and France had been under a high pressure for weeks with an easterly airflow, the calm seas were a joy to sail on, no coffee spillages.

Arriving on Sein with our luggage mid-morning we walked the short distance to the hotel and checked in, this was followed by coffee outside on the patio to enjoy the spectacular views. We were joined by a Firecrest and some very tame Goldcrests. Some great scope work by JB added Peregrine, Merlin and a Hobby to the trip list as well as a pod of Bottle nosed Dolphins, the latter leaping out of the water and tail slapping as they fished. A French birder joined us and was delighted with the cetacean show, he told us of a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and took us to the area giving detailed tips on how to locate it!

It was not long before we spotted the BRW as it sunned itself (the sun had now burned through the cloud) and preened, the scrubby area was a boatyard and heliport and storage for all sorts of things but equally doubled as a weedy, scrubby and sheltered place for tired migrants. The BRW is a plain bird, you have to look very carefully to appreciate minute details for identification but it did seem stand out in the field on plumage tones alone, it had also been trapped and ringed by the visiting birders/ringers. We had plenty of time to watch and enjoy it despite it being a very skulky, ground hugging bird.

Wandering about the island we saw plenty of Firecrest (c20) with lesser numbers of Goldcrest, Chiffchaff (c12) and commoner passerines. I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler that called once but remained unseen in gardens. The bays held feeding waders at low tide and we looked through them all. A sea pool held a Little Grebe and as the tide turned and flooded we saw Purple Sandpipers among the Turnstones. The French birders had contacted me, I had received a message that a Richard’s Pipit was on Kelaorou (adjoining island) but the tide was due to rise so we decided to leave that one for now. At the heliport a high tide wader roost was forming, Ringed Plover, Dunlin a single Knot and the Turnstones/Purple Sandpipers among them. Just behind us the BRW showed again the late afternoon sun, 2-3  Zitting Cisticola (Fan-tailed Warbler) joined it, we had again been tipped off by our French birding crew about the latter.

More exploration of the gardens and bays gave us good views of other species, c20 Mediterranean Gulls were ever present in the bay and I managed to read a ring from one of them, BS27 green with white letters/numbers. A Common Gull lingered briefly but flew off over the town. The day was rounded off with an hour or two at the west end of the island, a few Redwings, Blackcaps, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and common birds were eclipsed by part of the group seeing a Short-eared Owl  very well overhead! A Kingfisher flashed east from the lighthouse and we strolled back to enjoy close views of the Lapland Bunting and dozens of other birds on the high tide strand near our hotel.   It had been a good day on the island, that night we ate at a restaurant down on the harbour as it was the hotel staff’s night off.

15 October

All day exploring the L’ Ile de Sein beckoned so after a good breakfast, we set off west toward the lighthouse looking down on the many Rock and Meadow Pipits, Wheatears and waders along the way. A few Stonechats were in the bracken and once again we were seeing Firecrest and Chiffchaffs. Once again the Lapland Bunting gave us good views as well a smart juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. It was interesting to see the Blackbirds foraging with the Turnstones, pipits and Wheatears.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper, Sein Curlew Sandpiper, Sein 2,

We headed for the Phare de Goulenez to check the bushes and sit, listen and watch for migrants and a Snow Bunting that had been seen, we logged a Serin through, 5 Wheatear, Siskin (c15) and JB spotted the dolphins again. BE put up a Snipe as we wandered through the bracken.

Checking the bay during a dropping tide we picked up 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Seals, a Whimbrel, another birding break and as we enjoyed a coffee at the hotel repeated sightings of many of the birds we have seen previously. JB picked up a distant Marsh Harrier flying West across the bay. The scenic spot is hard to leave as we had Firecrest with us once again but we headed for Kelaourou as the tide was now low. This small uninhabited island is covered with bracken and bramble, it has a neolithic chamber on the east end and a large area of reef exposed at low tide. As with the rest of the island, evidence of shipwrecks are obvious. On the island we noted two Merlin, a Short-eared Owl, 2 Fieldfares and 8 Redwing.

Back on Sein we had time for another sunshine ‘brew’ before exploring the boatyard again, the BRW showed fairly well at times as did a Zitting Cisticola, the Kingfisher showed again fishing from the rocks and a Swallow flew over the area. Back at the hotel we stopped for another scan, JB spotted a Great White Egret which flew from South to North without stopping. A large warbler made its way along the beach and headed for the town, it looked like Garden Warbler but unfortunately did not stop.

We went back into town to search the gardens, at least 6 Firecrest showed very well near the church and an interesting Chiffchaff was seen nearby, it was rather scruffy and looked rather out of condition. The day finished up with us all checking  bushes and likely cover and the birds that appeared. That evening the hotel provided a great meal in the evening to top off another good day.

16 October

The final day on L’Ile de Sein again greeted us with yet another light easterly breeze, we set off for the Phare checking everything very carefully, we began racking up Firecrest again (40 by the end of the day), a few more Chifchaff and Goldcrest were about too. The Curlew Sandpiper was still present but and additional three Knot were also seen, a few Fieldfares/Redwings were at the lighthouse, a Serin went through, a single Swallow fed and I heard a Penduline Tit calling high above (one was seen by the French birders at the boatyard not so long after). A single Reed Bunting and a couple of alba Wagtails flew through and a good candidate for a Scandinavian Rock Pipit fed near the chapel. We saw the Short-eared Owl again and 6 Skylark flew West.

Short-eared Owl


There were more Chaffinches and Linnets on the island and over 10 Blackcap seen during the day. In the town we watched a Garden Warbler and other species feeding on apples. Nearby a  Snipe was put up in the boatyard, it flew around the town and came back to its favourite spot. Hearing news of a Yellow-browed Warbler near our hotel we naturally went to look for it. At least seven Firecrest were noted in the small gardens, a few were feeding on the lawns. Intense searching of the tamarisk was rewarded when KL located the bird for us all to see well. Concentrating on gaining views of  the YBW we ignored the Greenshank in the bay.

It was time to take our luggage to the harbour and snatch a little more birding, back at the boatyard we saw one of the Zitting Cisitcola and a few finches and crests but had to call time on the island and board the boat for the mainland. Yet another quiet crossing was brightened by the appearance of a Balearic Shearwater.

With the sun dipping we made for the Baie de Audierne, to be precise the Etang de Trunvel and adjacent Kermabec beach, the former is a well known spot for migrants, especially for Aquatic Warblers during August. The beach hosted a large roost of gulls and Oystercatcher and a couple of busy flocks of Sanderling. Overlooking the lake we picked up 2 Marsh Harriers that were waiting to go to roost, another flew in as we left. One or two pairs of Mallard were seen and where the scrubby slopes met the reed bed and yet more Firecrest and Chiffchaff. Water Rails and Cetti’s Warbler were certainly heard, a large roost of White Wagtail, Greenfinch and Reed Bunting. A Crested Tit called as it went to roost. This gathering concluded the day for us.

17 October

A later breakfast and visit to the supermarket meant we were on the road by ten o clock, a new destination awaited-The Crozon peninsula. With Red-billed Chough being a target bird on this trip the first stop did not disappoint, the Pointe de Penhir delivered a pair mobbing a pair of Raven as soon as we stepped out of the car. A Wheatear, calling Cetti’s Warbler and a few Stonechats were also seen, another pair of Chough were flew over a WW2 German bunker that was converted into a museum. Also visiting the nearby Pointe de Toulinguet and carefully checked the cover for migrants, our last port of call was the Pointe des Espangnols which turned out to be quiet other than common passerines. Our time was up, we had to drive to Cherbourg to catch the ferry to Poole.

A smashing sunset over Alderney with a couple of Gannets for company rounded of the birding, World Cup Rugby was a distraction for some and time in a reclining chair with feet up a priority for others.

Finistere is a brilliant birding destination, we were kept very busy checking every bird that appeared in front of us and gained some memorable views of a number of sought after birds. The scenery was wonderful, feedback certainly proved it was a popular trip, thank you to all for your company and sharp eyes.


Other participants on this trip took some stunning images that were enjoyed by all, it would be great to share these.  I will publish a selection when/if they are submitted. One ‘culprit’ is depicted in action below.

A selection of Bob Radford’s images can be seen here


Bob Evans and the Sein  lighthouse


Lincolnshire and Norfolk 1-3 October 2015

 Dark-bellied Brent Geese

Dark-bellied Brents arriving, Frampton Marsh, MJMcGill

Lincolnshire and Norfolk 1-3 October 2015

1 October

The fine forecast for the few days that we visited the east coast played out correctly, non-stop sunshine, even  I was wavering on wishing for overnight showers. A reasonable run up to Lincolnshire partly in fog with a stop on the way saw us arrive at Gibraltar Point NNR. The windows were down on the car as we cruised toward the car park, a Yellow-browed Warbler called along the way!

A party of noisy Pink-footed Geese arrived from the north and continued south looking spectacular in the sun, a few Siskins and Meadow Pipits passed over in the same direction. As it was midday, drinks, a bite to eat and the opportunity to use the temporary visitor centre facilities was taken. Our first stop was to seek out one of the five Yellow-browed Warblers that was present, one chap had seen three together. It wasn’t long before we were watching one of these little gems as it skipped through the canopy of a very mature sycamore. It also played chase with a Pied Flycatcher, such is the magic of migration.

A variety of common passerines were noted in our search for more Yellow-browed Warblers. Stiff necks forced moving on to the wetlands we all got amazing views of 5 Spotted Redshank that seemed very reluctant to leave each other’s sides. In addition three Greenshank, a couple of Black-tailed Godwit, a party of feeding Avocet, a Lapwing flock (70) and even larger flock of Teal (200) with Wigeon made the site much busier. A single Snipe sunned itself. One or two Chiffchaff were heard plus overflying Linnets, at the next hide and pool within the dunes we added a showy Goldcrest, more Teal, Wigeon and Pochard to the day list. A Kestrel was ever present and it was nice to see a flock of Greenfinch fattening up on berries.

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks, Gib Point, MJMcGill

The dunes were rather quiet, the warm day was probably to blame. The sea was miles away as it was low tide, not really worth battling with heat haze. Crossing back to the VC via the saltmarsh we took refreshment again before having another search of the wooded area, a few Goldcrests were seen but no further YBW views. It was time to move on and we made our next stop RSPB Frampton Marsh.

As soon as we arrived on the reserve we could see hundreds of birds thanks to the open vistas. Making for the 360 degree hide we had excellent light and lots of birds, large numbers of Teal and Wigeon, a few Pintail represented the ducks. Golden Plovers flew down to the marsh in numbers and looked brilliant in the sunshine. A few Snipe fed in sheltered spots and c20 Black-tailed Godwit probed belly deep in the mud. Whilst scanning the back of the marsh I noticed a Jack Snipe as it whizzed through my binocular view only to disappear on the other side of the reeds. A Ruff came in with the Goldies.

We left the hide to get on the west side of the marsh and try to relocate the Jack Snipe, a scan of the likely spots and we managed to spot  it, the bird bounced along to whatever tune it was listening to and gave us all good views. As if on demand a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese came in from the Wash, circled a few times before dropping in, such marvellous birds.

Strolling down to the Wash seawall we passed a Spotted Redshank, Ruff and a tame Greenshank on the grazing marshes. I returned to the car to bring it down closer whilst everyone else scanned over the area. I saw a Barn Owl near the visitor centre so collected everyone so we could watch it hunting over the reserve as the sun set, perfect. 

Staying near King’s Lynn was a good move as it was more central, we had a short journey to end the birding day.


Greenshank at sunset, Frampton Marsh, MJMcGill

2 October

A glorious morning greeted us, we set off at 0730 for the North Norfolk coast, a bank of mist over Roydon Common was burning off, no doubt this also pleased the pumpkin pickers who were busy crating up the autumn harvest. Another short journey and we arrived in the picturesque Cley next the Sea village making straight for the beach. Whatever the weather a short seawatch here will reward the watcher with twice as many seabirds as you usually see during a Gloucestershire gale. A steady passage of Gannets and Red-throated Divers with small parties of Common Scoter and a few Guillemot, Kittiwake and un-identified auks. Wigeon, Teal and Gadwall were also going about their business but one that slipped through the net was probably a Scaup.

A short walk along the beach shingle to scan the marsh was rewarded with outrageously close views of a confiding Snow Bunting. The bird fed a few feet away and even decided to come closer. A nice start to the day which deserved a coffee and cake at the Cley Marshes NWT visitor centre, we passed a hovering Stonechat along the way.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting, Cley next the Sea, MJMcGill


Snow Bunting, Cley, MJMcGill


The balcony and indeed the VC  commands great views across the marsh so we scanned the birds to pick out Knot and Ruff among the godwits and goldies. A Red Kite circled overhead which was a bonus. A brief visit to Salthouse beach allowed another short sea watch as well as Skylarks on the pebbles and a few Redshanks on the pools. As per usual we continued along the coast to call in at various sites. Our next stop was at the Wells Woods migrant hotspot called the Dell.

Coal Tits were calling from the pines, Goldcrest doing the same from the thorns, we were very lucky to walk into a father and son who had located a smart Firecrest. This bird showed initially but then gave us a game of hide and seek until we all managed to gains views as it worked its way through the undergrowth and scrub. This area was a suntrap, plenty of Migrant Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies were present.

Next stop was at RSPB Titchwell for lunch (except John B, who walked the reedbed trail) and then to search the area. From the path we scored with a pair of Bearded  Tits that pinged and posed briefly, Cetti’s Warbler called and  another duck-filled marsh greeted us.  On the brackish marsh we saw two Ringed Plover and a few Grey Plover, 15 Dunlin fed in the distance. On the walk back we added a Chinese Water Deer, Water Rail and Kingfisher. We spent a bit of time in the car park looking for the Yellow-browed Warbler seeing plenty of common passerines but not it.

Moving on to Holme next the Sea we searched the scrub and dunes near the golf course but found it to be rather quiet,  a few Chiffchaff and Greenfinch as well as House Sparrows. A final destination for the day was Roydon Common, the heath provided a large gathering Meadow Pipit roost, two Stonechat and Green Woodpecker. It was also a great spot for the amazing sunset before heading back to the hotel.


3 October

We departed on our last day a little bit later and once again began with a visit to Cley beach for another seawatch. The Red-throated Divers and Gannets were still on the move but we added Razorbills, Sandwich Terns and overflying Rock Pipits. Reports of a Marsh Sandpiper on the nearby marshes did not come to anything, we had walked past the showy Snow Bunting but this time it had attracted quite a crowd.

Another stop at the Cley NWT visitor centre for refreshment was brightened by a flock of arriving Pink-footed Geese, this was followed by a search of the poolside scrub at Walsey Hills NNT. A Yellow-browed Warbler called a few times but never showed for us, some compensation in the form of a Bullfinch. The still, calm and sunny weather was perfect for seeking out Bearded Tits, the East Bank did not disappoint us, great views of four or more we gained out in the open along with a much sought after Tufted Duck.

We moved on from Cley to Hunstanton cliffs, it was low tide and the Wash was a millpond, Red-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes were easy if distant to pick out and Bar-tailed Godwit showed among the Oystercatchers on the beach. Two Peregrine scrapped noisily overhead. This was our final stop for birds as we made our way back to Gloucestershire to conclude a good few days, over 100 species were noted in a relaxed birding trip. Thank you to everyone who accompanied me and special thanks for the messages, I am glad you enjoyed it.


Switzerland- Lausanne and a day out to the Bernese Oberland, 5-7 June 2015

I have composed the following notes and images to help any visitors that may be heading to either place and have an interest in wildlife.  Despite being very well travelled in Europe, the most mountainous country wasn’t on my list. My wife booked surprise flights and accommodation at he Ibis Hotel, Lausanne for a weekend break to remedy this. We flew from Bristol to Geneva with Easyjet, took a train to Lausanne where we stayed for two nights. We used the metro and our legs to explore the town and shores of Lake Geneva. In addition we hired a car from Hertz for the day to explore the Bernese Oberland for a day, this spectacular region was only a two hour drive away. Highlights and images (copyright M.J.McGill) to follow.

Junkers Ju-52 from Murren, Bernese Oberland- 6 June 2015
This aircraft was built in 1938 and has an interesting history, it was used in the 1968 film-Where Eagles Dare, a much repeated but favourite childhood film.

JU-52 Junkers, Murren, Switzerland, MJMcGill

An early start due to a 2 hr drive to our target area, we stopped for provisions at the supermarket in Wilderswil and arrived at our destination in good time. The drive up through the Lauterbrunnen Valley to reach the car park is awesome, with more time to explore it has Wallcreeper written all over it. Offering sheer rock faces, spectacular waterfalls and sun spots aplenty it seems perfect, one for another day. Taking the Stechelberg 922m cable car (c£150 for us both) to the summit passing a close group of Chamois (one kid) which browsed the choice bits of a scree slope. We cruised past the limestone walls, crags, forests, meadows and snow fields.

At the top of the Schilthorn 2971m I estimated 15+ individuals of Alpine Accentor, many were viewable from the ‘James Bond’ revolving restaurant/cable car station. Pairs seemed to be in competition and males were in full song. I left the ‘safe’ area and followed a walking trail away from the busier tourist area. It was quiet, only birds, the breeze, Alpine Marmots calling (and showing below), this was a new species for me. The loudest sounds came from the rumble of avalanches on the steep mountain slopes adjacent. Snow Finch have been recorded here but I could not locate any, possibly too early or just not nesting in the area this year. Inquisitive Alpine Chough were numerous both here and lower down at the Birg cable car station. We had a drink and a bite to eat from the Piz Gloria restaurant and enjoyed the changing scenery as the restaurant rotated, Bond fans may want to visit the ‘museum’ below as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was partly filmed here.

Views from all of the cable car stops are stupendous, we watched a Golden Eagle rise from beneath us and soar to great heights within minutes from the Birg platform. Having the Eiger and Jungfrau as a backdrop in bright, sunny and clear weather was brilliant. Dropping down to the Murren platform we walked back up hill through alpine meadows and butterflies to initially have a drink at a restaurant (it was another very hot day, 30 C+)then to picnic next to a stream. I chilled the food and drink in the cold water, it allowed our melted Toblerone to reform but not in the distinctive shape.

I was pleased to see and hear a 1930’s Ju-52 transport plane  in the valley, pic above. Around the car-less village we saw Black Redstarts, Serins, Siskin and Redpolls as well as Continental Coal Tit and Firecrests, both feeding young.

Alpine Accentor (next three images) Summit of the Schilthorn.

Alpine Accentor, Shilthorn, 002, MJMcGill

Alpine Accentor, Shilthorn, 003, MJMcGill

Alpine Accentor, Shilthorn, Switzerland, 001, MJMcGill

Black Redstart- singing male, framed in a Murren Chimney Pot with the Eiger beyond.

Black Redstart and the Eiger, Murren, Switzerland, MJMcGill

Alpine Choughs (next two)

Alpine Chough, Shilthorn, Swiss Alps, MJMcGill

Alpine Chough, Shilthorn, MJMcGill

Lausanne Ouchy
Note the Red-crested Pochard

Ouchy, RCP, MJMcGill

Tour de l’Ale, Lausanne- this medieval tower was the home for many Alpine Swifts, their chattering calls could be heard all over the town but concentrations both here and around the cathedral were noted in the evenings. A Hobby at the latter site caused them and the hirundines to form up a dense nervous party, I estimated c 30 Alpine Swift. The tower acts as a giant nest box, it may have been home to these boomerang winged birds for centuries. Black Redstarts were very common about the town.

Tour de L'Ale Tower, Lausanne

Red-crested Pochard
These smart ducks were common on Lake Geneva and approachable, we hired a pedalo and got some great views! It just goes to show once again that being approachable does not always mean that they escaped from a captive collection. This species has increased rapidly in Switzerland from the 1990’s, improved water quality allowing aquatic vegetation (their choice of food) to grow again.

Red-crested Pochard, Ouchy, MJMcGill

Red-crested Pochard, Ouchy, Lake Geneva, MJMcGill

Red-crested Pochard, Lake Geneva, MJMcGill

RCP and pedalo, Ouchy, Switzerland, MJMcGill

Red-crested Pochards, Lake Geneva, MJMcGill

The Ouchy marina held a variety of common water birds including White Wagtail, Yellow legged Gull, Common Tern, Mute Swan, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Red-crested Pochard and Cormorant.
Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe, Ouchy Marina, Lake Geneva, MJMcGill

Lausanne Ouchy marina, busy with waterbirds, some kind soul had provided a raft for the grebes to nest among the boats.

Great Crested Grebes and Red-crested Pochard, Ouchy Marina, Lake Geneva Great Crested Grebe, Lausanne Marina

Other species of note were the numerous Black Kites along the shore of Lake Geneva and in the lowland valleys, 100’s were seen during the weekend. One Red Kite was seen between Bern and Interlaken both on the way and returning from the Bernese Oberland. I hope you enjoyed the images and notes.

Martin McGill July 2015






Day out to Marsh Lane NR, Warwickshire-Friday 26 June.

Three of us set off for Warwickshire at 0700 experiencing some traffic around Birmingham arriving at around 0900. Road closures played a part in some congestion, we arrived on site and aimed for our first target of the day . A long-staying (16 days) and highly vocal Melodious Warbler was well worth seeking out, this bird had been discovered by a local birder along a nearby bridleway. Following the directions we passed a small wood with Great spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest and Coal Tits showing and calling. Approaching the compost plant perimeter fence the warbler was in full flow and audible from some distance.

A very enjoyable hour was spent in this songster’s company, it gave us excellent views and the full repertoire. It was concealed for periods but with patience came out into the open every so often. The MW would engage any bird that appeared in the sallow with, whether this was territorial or it was just so pumped up and sang at anything I couldn’t be sure. It was difficult to walk away and leave such a great little bird. Sand Martins, Pied Wagtail, Green Woodpecker and Kestrel were also noted here.

Melodious Warbler, Marsh Lane, Warks.

Melodious Warbler, MJMcGill Melodious Warbler, Marsh Lane 2

Melodious Warbler, Marsh Lane, 003, MJMcGill Melodious Warbler , MJMcGill

Melodious Warbler, Marsh Lane, Warks, 26-06-15, MJMcGill

A brief stop at the Truck services across the road allowed us to use the facilities, the staff were very friendly, a coffee and egg roll certainly pepped me up. We had to purchase a permit and collect the gate key to access the private Marsh Lane NR, a nearby golf course (1.5 mile) is where the fishing lodge is located that issues the paperwork. Permits were £4.00 per person but the biggest surprise was the £50.00 deposit for the key. Back at the site (entrance at truck services)  a couple of gates were negotiated and we parked on the old road. The car park was unusable as Little-ringed Plovers were nesting. Avoiding the breeding site of these birds we skirted around to the first hide and spent a while scoping and studying the birds that were gathered.

A very busy Black-headed Gull colony was highly productive, at least 90 juveniles had fledged. Common Terns were present with more Sand Martins and Swifts, Gadwall were dabbling out on the lake, this included a brood of 9 well grown young. Great Crested and Little Grebes were also seen, the latter on the nest. Our third grebe species was a stunning breeding plumaged Black-necked Grebe, good views through the scope for all. Some scruffy Tufted Ducks and Mallard were in moult and a pair of Teal were seen.

The most interesting birds to watch at this busy site were the nesting Little ringed Plovers and territorial Ringed Plovers. Lots of display, ‘broken wing’ feigning to attract bumbling Black-headed Gulls away from nest sites by LRP’s and mate displays from the RP’s. Simply great little birds to watch. A few pairs of Redshank, A flock of post-breeding Lapwing and noisy Oystercatchers all added to the busy scene.

Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers

Ringed PLOVER Little ringed Plover, Marsh Lane

Great Crested and Black-necked Grebe

Great Crested Grebe Black-necked Grebe

Further exploration of the hides (6-7 on site) produced an ever increasing list of birds but more importantly, good views. Linnet, singing Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, more Common Terns on nests and Black-headed Gulls with 110+ more juveniles were all seen. Sedge Warbler was singing from typha in front of one hide, a trio of Cormorant sat in the dead trees. The skies darkened as some weather loomed, fortunately we were dry in one of the well placed hides. After the rain shower a smart full hooded, second summer Mediterranean Gull dropped in to bathe. A nice bird to end on. Back at the car before leaving a Willow Warbler sang.

This reserve is worth a visit despite the long-winded way of accessing it. The hides are well positioned and there is plenty to see even without a couple of star birds for the day. After returning the key and claiming the deposit we returned to Gloucestershire by 3.15pm and concluded the birding day.





Zeeland, Netherlands and Belgium 25-28 February 2015

 Netherlands- Zeeland and (+ a little bit of Belgium) 25-28 February 2015.


25 February 2015
I could try but would struggle to be positive about the weather on the day of our departure, a wet and grey day heralded the start of our travels, the spray and traffic around London making things a little more unpleasant than we had liked. Despite the traffic we all arrived at Folkestone for the Channel Tunnel crossing on time and parked up for the ride over to Calais. It was soon time to make our way to our first birding destination. The weather was still poor but we decided to gamble on the favourable forecast and try our luck for the wintering Wallcreeper in Dinant.

Once again traffic at the Belgian border held us up, the cloud and drizzle refused to lift as we arrived on the River Meuse in the charming town of Dinant, our priority was to scan the citadelle, the church and any sections of limestone cliff and buildings for the outrageous visitor. It continued to rain until dusk so we failed to find the Wallcreeper, the chance to have a coffee and chat in the local Leffe Bar was taken before we headed via Brussels to the Netherlands.

We eventually arrived and checked in to our comfortable accommodation near Renesse (Resort Land and Zee) which was situated behind the coastal dunes on one of the Zeeland Islands known as Schouwen. Arriving in the dark we were unable to take in the scale of the dams that formed our route across to the islands. Some of the group opted for a meal and a few drinks others plumped for an early night.

26 February 2015

Up at the earliest opportunity for a substantial breakfast and we were soon on the lanes heading out to goose country, it wasn’t long before were located a large flock of very close Barnacle and Greylag Geese and parked up to enjoy them. The surrounding wetlands held a variety of wintering wildfowl and waders, it was interesting to see that large areas in Duiveland were left or restored for wildlife, this was noted in many other parts of Zeeland. A scanning stop using the car as a hide was made on the Grevelingendam. A flock of Dark-bellied Brent grazed the car park grass, a thousand more fed on the tide line. Mergansers were feeding further out and a few grebes were noted. Slavonian were in various stages of moult to confuse things and some hide and seek Little Grebe were also present.

Our main destination for the day was the Hoeske Waard near Strijen and we were not dissapointed. Driving slowly along the many tracks that criss cross the area allowed some close goose watching, Barnacle Geese and European White-fronted  Geese were found in dozens of flocks in some cases numbering thousands. A Tundra Bean Goose was located close to the road amongst one flock of ‘fronts’. The support car located a few Smew on one of the ditches and the first couple of interesting goose hybrids was seen on the polders among the dense grazing flocks.

The rest of the morning was spent cruising, scanning, stopping and enjoying the birds from the car or if outside, behind it. For a lunchtime stop we headed to a bar in Strijen which offered a decent toasted sandwich and soup as well as a coffee, it was pleasant stop as we chatted to the friendly guy who was working there.

The afternoon saw us resume the exploration of the local polders and the careful searching of the goose flocks. Despite a small number of Lesser White-fronted Geese being seen in the area previously we could not find any in the birds we checked. Plenty of other species were seen during the day including Green and Great-spotted Woodpecker that were located in the orchard gardens of the dike banks. Hoping to end the day at another site we moved on to the mainland of Nord Brabant and made a short stop at Willemstad harbour. The WW2 bunkers and defences were prevalent at this spot as were the huge barges shipping cargo out in the channels. Red-breasted Merganser and Little and Great Crested Grebes were inshore, the weather had been windy and overcast but we had remained dry for much of the day. A sheltered pond nearby held a colony of Cormorant and Grey Heron, both species were present on their nest sites. We made our way to a nature reserve which held a variety of birds including a mega flock of thousands of Barnacle Geese on the adjacent farmland. The hide was a WW2 bunker which bridge the gap between wildlife and history. This devastating conflict had a huge impact on humans but in some cases created habitat for birds back home. The light was fading and the weather changed to a heavy shower as we scanned the flock, a Cackling Canada Goose was spotted as well as a couple of hybrids. We were beaten by the sunset and had to end the birding for the day.

27 February 2015

A brighter day with sunshine greeted us but the strong wind continued, a short drive away across the Brouwersdam to our first stop of the day, this was a small harbour/breakwater and the tide was high. We scoped the surf from the shelter of the car, the sea was very busy with c 30 Red-throated Diver, two drake Eider and numbers of Great Crested Grebe on show. The breakwater provided a steadier spot for a local rarity, a Black Guillemot bobbed about among the Red-breasted Mergansers, the auk even climbed out on the rocks to show off its crimson feet. A small number of Slavonian Grebes were also noted as well as a pair of Goldeneye.

To cap of the great birding here a flock of roosting Oystercatcher were joined by a flock of Sanderling, a single Grey Plover completed the roost.

Sanderling and Oystercatcher

Grey Plover

Heading North across Goeree and into the Westvoorne area we saw plenty of goose flocks along the way. We stopped in the woods with all but me, the driver, taking a stroll along the quiet roads back to the museum (Bezoekerscentrum Tenellaplas) to search for a flock of Waxwings. The pond held a few duck but the mistletoe clad trees were quiet. The Waxwings were located by dutch folk on the far side of the pond but flew off before we got there. A flock of Siskins sang and dropped down to the ditches in ones and two to drink.

Our next stop was nearby at Maasvlakte, this vast port area boasts huge sea defences to protect the land that has been claimed from the sea. We scanned the harbours picking up more grebes and mergansers. A large sandy area of fenced off weed strewn habitat was alive with life, the abundant prey had clearly attracted the raptors. We spent over an hour here and noted Sparrowhawk, 5+ Kestrel, a female Merlin, Common Buzzard and Rough-legged Buzzard, memorably the latter birds in  conflict allowing a great comparison. Another short drive away was the Slufter, a large lagoon seemingly used to house the results of dock dredging.  It was full of birds with Smew being the most notable.

We stopped at a service station along the main port canal not too far from Rotterdam for lunch and a brew, those dining inside ended up  striking up a conversation (in English) with a chap that ran a duck decoy. After refuelling we retraced our previous route tried our luck at a few different spots on the way back, the result was basically logging more wildfowl (a flock of Mute and Whooper Swan spotted in one field) . A longer drive back to the northern part of Duiveland  resulted and on arrival we followed the dike top road (Den Osse) stopping at a couple of harbours (Scharendijke and Brouwershaven) along the way. One stop was very rewarding due to the stunning light on the birds, flocks of Brent and Barnacle fed below us on the floods. Looking out with scopes over the horse grazed islands of the Grevelingenmeer, it was clear they were a haven for birds, a fishing boat arrived to unload its catch and a local character with a can of refreshment came to see what we were up to.

Barnacle and Brents


Following the roads back out to the Grevelingendam we crossed Overflakkee and returned to catch the birds coming in to roost at the reserve we visited the day before. The mega Barnacle Goose flock was still present with a small Canada seen in flight and couple of Barnacle x Canada Goose hybrids. A Peregrine was out on the marshes as well as Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew. White-fronted Geese began to arrive to roost as it got dark, we stayed until the light had gone ending a busy but satisfying day. In the evening the hotel restaurant once again did us proud, a relaxed atmosphere witnessed a few bottles of wine disappearing amongst the chatter.

28 February 2015

A later departure time followed  yet another good breakfast, it was time to begin our journey back to England. We headed south toward Middleburg and the stopped at various sites along the Versemeer, a huge movement of geese inland was in evidence so despite being time limited we tried to locate the masses, sadly we could not find the birds on our route, next day I found out that a Red-breasted Goose was in the very area we passed through. If only we had a bit more time.

Checking timings we had one more stop on the cards before boarding the Channel Tunnel  train back to blighty. Before this  I took a magical mystery tour via the Westersheldetunel. Leaving Zeeland (Beveland) behind we followed the canals into Belgium and we eventually arrived in Ghent, to be precise,  Wondelgem. A small wetland sandwiched between railway/houses and the highway was worth visiting for the passerines that were wintering there.

A small flock of Penduline Tit were soon located, these birds were delightfully confiding and extremely busy as the sought out grubs in the reedmace heads. We all had intimate views and heard the distinctive calls, we also got showered in the clouds of reedmace seeds that these little birds had set free. I was fortunate enough to experience the same behaviour as recent as  November 2014 when I the first for Glos dropped out of the sky in front of me.

A Common Chifchaff was notable but even better was the Siberian Chiffchaff that Ian had located near the Penduline Tits. A brilliant stop with classy birds but we had to move on, driving through the Belgian polders evoked thoughts of goose watching in future, many of the birds that had wintered here had moved North already. At Calais we had time to stop at a supermarket before boarding the train and making landfall in Kent. The drive back was straightforward with nothing more eventful than Ring-necked Parakeets and Red Kites thus ending our trip.

Penduline Tit, Wondelgem, Belgium, MJMcGill Penduline Tit, 2 Wondelgem, Ghent, Belgium

Martin J McGill

North Norfolk, a Cambridgeshire Fen and a Lincolnshire jaunt, 22-24 January 2015

Sunset at Thornham
Sunset at Thornham Harbour

Five of us left Gloucestershire with a Red Kite or two to add to our list on the way (A14) . We were meeting up with our sixth member of the party in Cambridgeshire to begin birding at Holme Fen. This was a very birdy area, the fenland restoration seemingly working well for our avian friends. On getting out of the car we were onto a Short-eared Owl immediately.  Large flocks of Linnet, Goldfinch and Greenfinch really made some noise and a flock of 30 Reed Bunting crept onto the track to feed/grit. Stonechat, 2 Little Egret and 2 Foxes kept us busy and a second Short-eared Owl began hunting, on a few occasions it came very close. Peregrine, 3 Buzzards, 2 Kestrel (we had noted 14 in total before leaving the area), Sparrowhawk, Raven and eventually a Rough legged Buzzard were all found. The latter bird dropped onto the ground among the Lapwing and Fieldfare to search for worms. The Rough-legged Buzzard was showing well hopping around possibly taking food from the plover and thrushes.

Rough-legged Buzzard Short-eared Owl, Holme Fen

Rough-legged Buzzard and Short-eared Owl

It was time to head on to Norfolk but we did see flocks of Whooper Swan before departing this fenland county. Our first stop was opposite Tesco in Hunstanton, even if I had not said everyone would have already guessed which species had been present. The two Waxwings showed before and after we were present so no luck today but we did not want to hang around in a car park for too long, not when there were so many great birds to see.

At Thornham Harbour we parked up and were immediately watching a charming flock of Twite, around 45 were skipping about the area feeding on the saltmarsh seeds. The low tide creeks held Redshank and Curlew with Grey Plover and Shelduck out on the mudflats. A Kingfisher fished by using the poles in the creeks as a lookout. At least six Marsh Harrier were around including an adult male, Pink-footed Geese came in to roost as well as a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Goose. Yet another highlight was a Barn Owl hunting the seawall, it caught a vole and flew off to the wood with its meal. Three Rock/Water Pipits flew over calling as did a Snipe but alas it was getting dark and time to head back to the hotel at Hunstanton.


I did see another Barn Owl sat atop a telegraph pole at Holme/Thornham on the way back to Burnham Deepdale in the late evening.

23 January 2015

I was up an out early to check on the Tesco Waxwings but they were having a lie-in, it was clear to see that a large movement of Fieldfare was underway. At the hotel we did a sea-watch from Hunstanton seeing 4 drake Eider, 6 Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebes, 3 Common Scoter, Fulmars and a steady stream of vocal Fieldfare (2000+) were coming in off the sea and heading along the Wash coast.




Moving the short distance to Holme dunes it did not take long to locate a flock of 30 Snow Bunting. This mini blizzard settled on the frost laden high tide strand keeping company with Skylarks. The saltmarsh was busy with Knot, Redshank and Reed Bunting and the wader roost on the point was very busy with Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin, Knot, Sanderling, Grey Plover and Redshank.  Out on the sea some distant Red-throated Diver and Merganser were noted.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings

At Titchwell RSPB the drained pool W of the path held a Rock Pipit, an elusive Water Pipit, and a few Snipe and Redshank. The fresh marsh was frozen but 7 Avocet and a band of hardy Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon were sat on the ice waiting for milder times. On the brackish marsh things were more busy, 2 Little Grebe, Grey and Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and a nice comparison side by side of a single Bar and numerous Black-tailed Godwits. A couple of Linnet dropped among them. Out on the sea and beach a few wader species were present with a few Turnstone and Sanderling.  In the surf scattered Goldeneye, Merganser and Great Crested Grebe were present but sadly only a few female Common Scoter.

Along the coast we had to stop to scope the 4500 Pink-footed Geese and 2 Buzzard at Brancaster Staithe. The geese allowed us to watch them from a gap in the hedge, the only other goose species in the field was a Brent.  As we drove on  a trio of Egyptian Geese were seen near the windmill.


A stop at an advantage point overlooking Burnham Overy/Holkham dunes revealed at least three Red Kite, 2 Buzzard, 6 Marsh Harrier and best of all 2 Rough-legged Buzzard. One of these Arctic wanderers demonstrated its hovering hunting technique. On the marshes flocks of Greylag and Brent Goose had c60 White-fronted Geese among them. A couple of Mistle Thrush were also noted.


Next stop was Wells next the Sea and first bird a first winter Shag roosting on the quay, a couple of Little Grebe fished nearby, one visiting birder speculating that these were responsible for the reports of Red-necked Grebe over the last couple of days. Out over the saltmarsh a female (ringtail) Hen Harrier hunted with a fly through male that headed inland. A couple of Marsh Harrier were also seen. A male Sparrowhawk was on sentry duty near the quay and showed in the bright sunshine eventually a large flock of noisy Brent Geese arrived.


On scoping through the flock one really stood out, a big, robust and very black plumaged bird with a well marked throat slash was studied, in the strong sunshine a neck sock was just discernable from the mantle so it may have been an intergrade with Dark-bellied Brent or a genuine Black Brant.



Wells next the Sea Brents

Wells next the Sea Brent flock

Marsh Harrier, Holkham

Marsh Harriers were constant companions


The day was drawing to a close so were relocated to Warham Greens  for some dusk birding. It was pretty good, three male Hen Harrier (in same scope view), a ringtail female, 2 dashing Merlin and 2 more Marsh Harrier rounded off the day in style.


24 January 2015


A post breakfast seawatch was abandoned quickly at Hunstanton as the cold, eye watering wind was coming in off the sea. Changing venue to Brancaster met with one small problem, the tide had flooded the access road so we walked the bank to the beach. Ringed Plover, Redshank and Oystercatcher fed on the golf driving range, on the sea 20 Goldeneye, a few Red-throated Diver included a closer bird. Small parties of Common Scoter (3,4), Red-breasted Merganser and Great Crested Grebe were all seen.


A drive inland to search for geese was unsuccessful but a Bullfinch and a Grey Partridge were found near Choseley, scores of Red-legged Partridge and c40 Brown Hare were present. Another brief stop at Hunstanton beach to look for Waxwing was not rewarded by the crested wanderers but Turnstone and Ringed Plover were enjoyed between the groynes. We collected our non-Gloucestershire based team member’s car as we were heading back out of Norfolk that afternoon.


Our first stop was the Grimston Warren/Roydon Common area to search for the wintering Great Grey Shrike, a quiet but picturesque heath was eventually livened by the target masked predator. It gave us a number of views in the sunshine culminating in a flyover of our position. Moving on through Cambridgeshire we saw thousands of Fieldfare gathered over a large orchard as they feasted on the windfalls. Reaching Lincolnshire we drove along the drains that held Tufted Duck, one field held Golden Plover among the Lapwing. Our destination was Deeping Lakes LWT for late afternoon and from the hide we watched the roosting Long-eared Owl tucked up in the ivy, a few Goldeneye and four Goosander in the setting light. Many other wildfowl and wetland species were present on these pits.


We had reached the end of the trip with over 100 species of bird noted, lots of sunshine despite the cold wind and some memorable sightings.  A huge thanks to the group for good company, birding focus and such enthusiasm  that we did not notice it was winter.



Gloucestershire half day trip 10 January 2015

We began at 0900 with a  slow drive along the lanes of Fretherne which produced a total of 26 Little Egret, all were presumably worming in the wet fields. A forecast of gales was accurate so we began by meeting the incoming Severn estuary tide from the footpath just in case any seabirds made an appearance. A squall went through which forced us to shelter for a while but moved on allowing us to scope a flock of Curlew and take note of Meadow Pipits and Goldfinches that braved the exposed shore. Moving into the bushes we found shelter along with a couple of Chiffchaff that were fly catching. Out on the estuary Shelduck and a variety of gulls moved off with the tide.

A short drive away and we were soon looking through the ducks on the Court Lake at Frampton, it was busy with birds especially Tufted Duck, Coot, Shoveler and Gadwall. The first winter Greater Scaup and female Goldeneye were among the Pochard and a male Pintail was notable for this site. The sun was out which had enticed the Tawny Owl to sunbathe in the entrance to its hole.

It was a case of what to do as the wind had not abated so we tried our luck birding around Sharpness Dock recording a number of bird species, 2 Peregrine, Bullfinches and a Stonechat were the highlights but no Black Redstart was found on this occasion.

Heading back to Fromebridge we stopped to scan the gull flock roosting on the floods seeing all the expected gull species. The best surprise was a Green Sandpiper feeding on the edge of the water. The trip out ended at 1.30pm.

South Devon- 20 December 2014

Cirl Buntings– male and pair

Cirl Bunting, Broadsands, MJMcGill Cirl Buntings, Broadssands, MJMcGill

20 December 2014

We left Whitminster at 0700 and headed to South Devon stopping at Exeter services for a short break. A calm and sunny start to the day was ideal for watching passerines, Broadsands in Torbay is well known for Cirl Buntings along with other species that shelter in the valley. The buntings were showing well around the car park with 20+ present, Reed Buntings were also found among them. A range of common species were basking or fly-catching with Chiffchaff being obvious but the real star was a vocal and very showy little Yellow-browed Warbler that we all got to see very well.

A look on the sea revealed a Great Northern Diver fishing off the rocks, a few Shag loafed among the gull flock with the Great Black-backed Gulls dwarfing all around them. Further out a few Guillemot and distant Razorbill flew by on the horizon, a few of the former were diving a little closer in. Colin counted 36 Great Crested Grebe and among them two Black-necked Grebe were found. A small number of Gannet fished offshore.

A short drive away was Dawlish Warren with the promise of more birds but an immediate distraction for some was the seaside chippy. This sorted out the sea-watchers from the lunch takers, Colin was off to set up his scope for a scan. We all joined him for a look over the sea. Grey Seal, c 4 Common Scoter and a number of Great Crested Grebe were present, a few Red-throated Diver were picked up in flight or distantly floating. A flock of Shag were also fishing the beach. The biggest surprise was watching a flock of very distant white birds flying in from the east, it took a while to see that they were 11 Avocet. This group of waders eventually landed on the sea off the mouth of the Exe for a while. The eventually took flight and continued westward, perhaps to the Teign or a Cornish estuary, maybe beyond to the continent. Wherever they were going it was great to see migration of this species in action. We headed along the dune path heading toward the point scanning at various spots along the way, we picked up Stonechats, flocks of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and in the estuary a selection of waders, 4 Greenshank being the most notable. Red-breasted Merganser were in the low tide creeks but sadly we did not pick up the wintering Bonaparte’s Gull that was seen off Finger Point. Back on the sea a single Slavonian Grebe was in the mouth of the Exe.

Everyone was keen to get to Bowling Green Marsh RSPB at Topsham not least because 2-3 Penduline Tits had been seen again in the morning so we spent the rest of the day in that area. They did not show whilst we were present but the usual wildfowl and Black-tailed Godwits were on the marsh. From the viewing platform over the R. Clyst a full suite of estuary waders were feeding on the mud. The tide was just turning and the sun setting so the Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Avocets, Dunlin and Knot were all busy gleaning food. A search from the new viewing screens over the low tide creeks gave us Water Rail, Spotted Redshank, 2 Greenshank among the more numerous Redshank. The sun had now gone a it was time to return home, we got back at 6pm.

Thank you to all four of you that joined me for the day.

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