Poole Harbour and Purbeck

4 February 2017

Weather forecasts didn’t look good for much of the week but with 24hrs to go the storm fronts had whipped through the English Channel and opened up the possibility of a good day ahead. Seven of us met up, some at Whitminster. We departed with a Blackbird, Song Thrush and Robin dawn chorus at 0700am. We met up with others on the way south down the M5.

A singing roadside Corn Bunting forced a reactive and brief layby stop on the Wiltshire/Dorset chalk downland. Although we could only hear the bird we soon spotted a pair of Stonechat, a Red Kite and Roe Deer and a few released Red-legged Partridges before moving on.

Out first stop was to take on the flooded lane and fields to visit RSPB Lytchett Fields which is situated on the north shore of Poole Harbour. The viewing area over the first pool held two Water Pipits, a few Teal and we heard a calling Water Rail. A female Marsh Harrier hunted over the reed bed shore of Lytchett Bay and distant Avocet, Curlew, Wigeon and Shelduck could be seen on the mud.

Moving on to the viewing areas overlooking the newly excavated pools we noted a Green Sandpiper in a ditch (JV) saw a Dartford Warbler in the gorse. At the viewpoint a bonus male Green-winged Teal was among the Teal flock. The Lapwings had a single Black-tailed Godwit for company. A Stonechat and a Long-tailed Tit flock were appreciated.


gwt 2


Keen to catch the tide our next stop was at Upton CP, the park grounds had plenty of singing and calling passerines including Nuthatches. After a hot drink and snack we made our way to the shore of Holes Bay where the waders were roosting. A large flock of Avocet could wait it out in deeper water with the ducks however large numbers of busy Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit were pushed in closer, a strange leucistic godwit sported a white head and shoulders which stood out.

Smaller numbers of Redshank and Curlew were also seen in the saltmarsh as well as Pintail, Gadwall and Shelduck, a few Little Grebe were also spotted. It actually felt warm in the strong sunshine in this sheltered part of the park.

Our next port of call was the chain ferry at Sandbanks, the ‘voyage’ didn’t last long but it was nice to be out in the sunshine. I saw two Black-necked Grebe, one in the channel and the other in Shell Bay. A quick unload of the ferry meant we had to gather everyone up at the toll, soon after we stopped at a good spot for Dartford Warblers.

A short walk from the car and we were soon watching two of these tiny long tailed warblers as they posed on the gorse and heather. Well done CC for being alert. A Sika Deer ran across the path as we walked to a better spot to scan Poole Harbour. Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebe, Brent Geese, Grey Plover and Knot were all seen.

Another short drive away was the Studland Middle Beach, a calm sea gave up at least six Black-necked Grebe, three Great Crested Grebe, two Great Northern Divers, a few distant auks (probably Guillemot) and 11 Common Scoter (inc 2 adult drakes). Two Mediterranean Gull circled offshore.

Moving on to the Arne moors we spent the rest of the day scanning from the high ground of Slepe Heath looking over Hartland Moor to Corfe Castle and back across the reeds of the Wareham Channel to Swineham Point. Our patient efforts gave us Marsh Harrier,Green Woodpecker (on call), flyover Meadow Pipits, Linnet and Great spotted Woodpecker and Greenfinch. Another Dartford Warbler from the scrub. The Grey Herons began heading off to roost which was a handy signal for us. We didn’t get to see our final target bird of the day, no Hen Harriers appeared, it was still a good day full of birds in a lovely part of Dorset.

Thank you to everyone who joined me for the day out.


North Norfolk 7-9 December 2016

Dark-bellied Brent Geese near Burnham Overy

Dark-bellied Brents, Norfolk, MJMcGill

7 December 2016

We all assembled early in the morning, all of us ready and raring to go birding in North Norfolk once again. A stop or two to take in a brew and a rest stop along the way was welcome,  we did pass a few birds along the way, pick of the bunch would have been the Whooper Swan flock. The first birding stop was at Burnham Overy, a walk down the hill from the coast road to link up with the seawall path. This route took us past flocks of Pink-footed, Greylag and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, among them a few Barnacle Geese grazed. Marsh Harriers hunted over the marshes between here and Holkham NNR, these raptors were often responsible for putting up the flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover.

Reaching the seawall we passed flocks of busy Dunlin as well as Redshank and Grey Plover. At the dunes we headed along the beach looking for an autumnal leftover, a long-staying Issabelline Wheatear. Fortunately a flock of 20 Snow Bunting dropped in and gave us great views as they moved up and down the beach and fed on the strandline. A good search of the beach and adjacent dunes did not reveal the target bird, it was getting very breezy so we headed back enjoying the open, wild scenery and birds.

At the guest house we received a warm welcome with tea and cake. After a wash and change what followed was a team effort putting up the Christmas tree! I couldn’t claim to have helped out but it was up and ready for decorating in no time, a first for an Anser trip. Our hosts may have meant it as a jovial comment but at least it saved them a job. A good meal followed in one of the local Dersingham pubs and we were all ready for an early night.

8 December 2016

Breakfast was leisurely and was enlivened by the skeins of Pink-footed Geese heading from the Wash inland for the day. We made our way across country toward Docking, North Creake and Burnham Market to look for flocks and connected with a few groups here and there. It wasn’t long before we were at the Lady Anne’s Drive where we saw Wigeon and Snipe in the fields and were soon heading out to the beach, BW was last to set off and noted a Grey Partridge in the field next to the drive.

Out on the salt marsh between the dunes and woodland belt we searched for our target bird, 19 Shore Lark flew in toward us and landed nearby, the flock scuttled across the sand gleaning seeds as they went.  It is always a treat to spend time with these charming birds and there was no hurry to leave them. It has been a brilliant winter for this species in the UK.

Shore Larks

Shore Lark, Holkham, MJMcGill

Shore Larks in flight, MJMcGill

Shore Lark, Holkham Bay, MJMcGill

Eventually we walked the short distance to the beach to make full use of the high tide to scan for birds. Out on the sea we logged Great Crested Grebes, a fly by Great Northern Diver as well as a few Red-throated Diver. A flock of c25 Velvet Scoter were fairly close in, a larger flock of Common Scoter with 15+ Velvet Scoter were further out with 4 Long-tailed Duck. Heading back through the Holkham Gap we took time to scan the mobile 400 strong Linnet flock, four Twite showed themselves to us when the flock settled on the beach.

Moving on quickly we wanted to catch the high tide period at Titchwell RSPB beach so we didn’t stop to take in many of the birds on the way. KL spotted a Kingfisher as it fished unconcerned by our presence from WW2 pill box. Reaching the beach as soon as we could was a good strategy, we enjoyed a great hour or so going through the birds that drifted past, many were close in. A few Red-throated Divers and a Black-throated Diver were seen well plus Great Crested Grebes and a hide and seek Guillemot. The birding was great, at least 25 immature/female Velvet Scoter were joined by 45+ busy Long-tailed Duck including some brilliant adult males. An adult male Common Scoter with two females, a few Red-breasted Mergansers, c 20 Goldeneyes and c8 Eiders also bobbed about in the waves, further out a flock of scoter were mostly Common but also contained more Velvets. Quite a show and among the best ‘sea-ducking’ for many years.

Wandering back we were able to enjoy the many freshwater dabbling ducks, Little Grebes, Grey Plover, Bar and Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Avocets and  Shelduck. Once again KL alerted the group saying she had seen a raptor with a white rump and suspected a harrier. A short wait and it appeared again, we watched a female Hen Harrier as it hunted the dunes and saltmarsh before flying high to the east. More Marsh Harriers were seen over the reed bed on the return walk.

With a bit of light to spare we tried our luck at Thornham Harbour and at Holme next the Sea for a dusk Barn Owl but it was just too windy and was now getting dark, time to head for our accommodation in Dersingham. The evening destination was a ‘Pub of the Year’ in Snettisham for a meal and a drink to celebrate a good day.

9 December 2016

Another morning and another Pink-footed Goose fly-by breakfast, replete we loaded up the car with our gear for a drive inland searching for geese inland, when able to stop and scan safely we settled on a large flock of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese, although no other species were seen we could at least appreciate the birds in full view and without causing them to take flight.

We decided as a group to try our luck back at Burnham Overy Dunes again, another good birding walk this time from the harbour to Gun Hill followed, a thorough search delivered Stonechats and a few thrushes but it wasn’t until we nearly gave up when NS found the Issabelline Wheatear feeding between the saltmarsh and dunes. We spent a good while enjoying it, taking in the features until everyone was satisfied. This is still a very scarce bird in the UK and unusual to see one in the month of December.

Issabelline Wheatear at Gun Hill

Issabelline Wheatear, Gun Hill, 9 Dec 16 MJMcGill

Issabelline Wheatear, Gun Hill, 9 December 16, MJMcGill

Issabelline Wheatear, Gun Hill, MJMcGill

As it was our travel day back home we discussed various birding possibilities but we could only manage a short stop at Choseley Drying Barns. A Rough-legged Buzzard had been reported, we could only find a very white Common Buzzard in the location where the RLB was last seen so it may have been a case of mistaken identity. It was busy at the barns with farm machinery so this concluded our birding for this trip other than seeing dozens of Egyptian Geese near a roadside pond.

Thank you to everyone who joined me on another successful visit.



Catching up with chat and a Stonechat

Bob Radford and I set off in good spirits during a horrendous Friday afternoon trip to Lancashire, it was a six hour journey! We made the effort to visit the NW to catch up with Graham and Jeremy at the formers home and have a night out in the excellent Burscough Bridge public houses. On Saturday we had tickets to join the travelling ‘Gasheads’ (Bristol Rovers supporters) at Boundary Park, home of the Latics (Oldham Athletic). Bob is an avid Oldham fan so we had some fun with the football banter. All of us could have done with an earlier bedtime!

After a highly favourable 0-2 win for the Pirates (Bristol Rovers) we dropped Graham and Jeremy back, had a snack and said goodbye, Bob and I made a late decision to head to the East coast so we booked a room in Hull, ate an Italian meal and settled down for a much needed early evening. We stayed at the functional Gril Campanile Motel, had a continental breakfast surrounded by Blackbirds, tits flocks and Goldcrest and were soon on the road early for Kilnsea, We parked up in breezy sunshine and took a look at the sea. 2 drake Eiders and 4 Gannet went N, Red-throated Divers were heading S.

We briskly walked the three miles from Kilnsea to Spurn Point seeing various birds on the way, the light would be better on the way back so we didn’t linger. At the point we searched the Sea Buckthorn and dunes for the interesting Stonechat reported the day before. This active bird could well be a Stejnenger’s Stonechat, a far eastern representative of the Saxicola group. Initially it was hiding, we spent the time scanning the Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests, Reed Buntings and watching thrushes such as Redwing and Fieldfare drop out of the sky.

Putative Stejnenger’s Stonechat at Spurn Point
I was struggling to digi-scope this mobile bird, there were plenty of photographers present that will undoubtedly produce detailed images.

Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (3)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (4)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (6)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (7)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (9)_edited-1

Eventually the Stonechat re-appeared and gave us good scope views but it was always on the move, it often towered into the sky to catch flies and never stayed on one perch for long as it ranged the sheltered side of the point. After a good hour or so with this busy bird we wandered back along the peninsula birding along the way. Apparently droppings were collected for DNA analysis, this and the hundreds of photographs taken should help identify the origin.  Dark-bellied Brent Geese, scores of waders, a Northern Wheatear, Great Tits, Blackcaps and commoner passerines were all noted. It was generally quiet especially compared to recent weeks here. Back at Kilnsea we put or feet up, had a brew and a cake in the Blue Bell Café and decided to start back for home.

A very enjoyable sociable weekend with a bit of birding thrown in, thanks to Bob for all the driving and good company throughout.

A forty eight hour day trip! Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire, 7-8 October 2016

Pallas’s Warbler, Donna Nook, Lincolnshire.
What a cracking little entertainer.

Pallas's Warbler 1, Donna Nook, MJMcGill  Pallas's Warbler 2, Donna Nook, MJMcGillPallas's Warbler 3, Donna Nook, MJMcGill

A day out was promoted with a week to go, the night before I mooted making it an overnight stay. All who were keen to attend were flexible, brought an overnight bag. We had a very early start on Friday morning (0530hrs) and set off North up the M5. The decision as to which direction we should head in was made as we reached Birmingham, we turned to the East to meet the many migrants that were still arriving. Over the previous few days an Eastern Crowned Warbler had been showing at RSPB Bempton Cliffs and we gambled on it remaining just one more day.

 with plenty of other birds about if it decided to move on it was to be our first stop. We had our answer well before reaching this East Yorkshire site, the bird had gone but carried on to see what else may have arrived. After passing through the swanky visitor centre we studied the adjacent copse and enjoyed good views of tired, grounded Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and at least two Yellow-browed Warblers as they fed in the sallows, a few other common passerines were also seen around this site.

A good tristis Siberian Chiffchaff candidate was among the dozens foraging about the site. Five Barnacle Geese flew South and flocks of Redwings streamed inland. It was difficult to ignore the large numbers of noisy Tree Sparrows around the car park, visitor centre and copse, it was brilliant to see so many.

A short drive to Thornwick Bay followed and we took a cliff top walk above the chalk cliffs and stacks, two Wheatear, three Stonechat, a Peregrine and numbers of feral pigeons pretending to be Rock Doves were all seen, Gannets streamed by over the sea below which made the Black-browed Albatross seen a couple of days before something to dream about, sometimes it is all about timing. We didn’t see the Great Grey Shrike that had been seen an hour earlier but it was fairly breezy.

High above the sea cliffs a Short-eared Owl was flapping about being mobbed by Jackdaws, it hung in the air waiting to be allowed to descend and presumably hunt the grassland. At the North Marsh we had great views of a juvenile Taiga Bean Goose in the company of a small party of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese.

Moving on to the lighthouse we joined others who had seen a Ring Ouzel, the field and hedges were full of Redwings and Fieldfares, Linnets,  Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers and Song Thrushes. After looking over the sea and lighthouse fields we loaded again up to head south toward Alkborough Flats to try for the Western Swamphen before dark.

Arriving at the site we overlooked the vast wetland area from a vantage point, the birds were distant but as the conditions were so calm it was possible to hear most of the birds calling. A few Marsh Harrier came in to roost. Large numbers of Avocet, a few Ruff, Greenshank, Dunlin, Snipe, Bearded Tits and other unidentified species busied about in the reeds and on the flood.

The light faded, it was too late to see anything else so we headed back to the car, twenty minutes of information gathering and a group decision to seek accommodation and stay in the East was made. We booked bargain rooms above a busy Scunthorpe pub hotel, checked in and settled down to a drink, bargain evening meal and a pub singer belting out tunes we all know.

We had an early night as we had to be up and out at 0630 to try for the Swamphen again, it was great to watch the sunrise at Alkborough Flats and see the birds waking. Pink-footed and Canada Geese stirred and headed out for the day, Water Rails were bold and ventured out to the open mud. Six Little Egrets left the roost for the creeks, scanning through the waders a couple of Spotted Redshank were seen chasing fish, whilst we all focussed on them the Western Swamphen came out of its roost site and flew across to its chosen feeding site to give us a variety of action views albeit distantly.

Happy with our start we moved off to the Lincolnshire coast with a quick stop at a pleasant tea room for breakfast near North Somercotes, a few late juvenile Swallows still begged their parents for food on the roof. I am glad to say our breakfast was a little more civilized. Getting back to the birding we drove the couple of miles to Donna Nook and walked out along the sheltered seawall scanning the bushes along the route. We racked up 40+ Goldcrest, 5 Redstart, a Ring Ouzel, 40+ Robins, 20+ Reed Buntings, 5 and 6 Brambling, thrushes, pipits and other common passerines including a female Blackcap. Neil spotted two Hen Harrier that were hunting over the rough grassland and a party of Common Scoter from the seawall, as we walked back toward the car park we had more views of passerines and a few flocks of different wader species flying over.

Back at the car park we saw three Blackcap feeding on berries and were soon all watching a stunning Pallas’s Warbler as it hovered to pick insects from the sallow. Yet another party of Tree Sparrows fed nearby. We decided to take on the walk to where a Siberian Stonechat was showing but it wasn’t straightforward to access, we tried a route through the dunes seeing more Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs along the way, the fields held Curlew, Golden Plover and flock of Starlings.

We gave up trying to get to this bird, MOD land and the Sea Buckthorn hedges being part of the reason, we decided to call it day seeing more Tree Sparrows and the Pallas’s Warbler again on the way back to the car, a good drive back saw us back in Whitminster by 5.30pm to conclude this ‘day’ trip.

Thanks to my three eager birding companions for the company.


Birding notes from Malaga and Cadiz Province, Andalucia, 4-12 August 2016

A relaxing break from work.

Beer sunset at Villa la Palma

A week spent in two Andalucian provinces that are among my most favourite areas to watch birds in Europe, I just keep going back and love exploring new sites and visiting productive scenic places again.

I have put together some wildlife related notes and images from my family holiday this year that you may enjoy or find useful, although this was not a birding trip I often get a little bit of time to explore in the mornings whilst everyone else is waking or taking their time to get up and about. We rented a quiet villa in the mountains with spectacular views and great sunsets. Despite it being the hottest time of year and birds being in moult, the area still offered decent birding.

I made no real attempt to take pictures, just reacted to what came my way, this trip was all about relaxing and spending time with my family who do put up with me forever being distracted by wildlife. On the flip side I put up with ‘stuff’ too so it all balances out.

 Villa la Palma is near Gaucin, Malaga province, situated on the south side of the Rio Guadiaro within the Serrania de Ronda. The views from the house take in the Sierra de Grazalema on the north side. It is surrounded by Olive groves, woodland and some very steep open grazed fields with livestock the bells of which are among the only sounds you’ll hear, it is one of the sounds of the mountains. Cicadas and crickets also sing, it is a very tranquil place.

Griffon Vultures were present every day and seemed to be trying their luck at what has been described as a vulture restaurant or feeding station on a distant hillside. I noted up to 50 daily and they did circle very low over the pool at time giving brilliant views. Every single one carefully was checked for the rare Ruppell’s Vulture but I had no luck. I did a bit of research and visited this site, it is reached by turning off on a minor road to Colmenar west of Cortes de la Frontera.

The vulture site was very productive for birds but I did not see any vultures on my visit, it is within a fenced area to prevent ground predators from helping themselves to the food with interpretation and a public viewpoint on a nearby hill. I am not sure if food is being put out or not.

Other daily visitors from the garden were Booted Eagles (a pair were feeding young in the woods below the pool), Short-toed Eagle, Swift, Pallid Swift, Crag and House Martin, Red-rumped and Barn Swallows, Sardinian Warbler, Bonelli’s Warbler and I also saw or heard House Sparrow, Wren, Nuthatch, Serin, Golden Oriole and Blue and Great Tits. Nearby we saw Hoopoe, Alpine Swift (Venta/radio masts), Kestrel and Stonechat. A single Turtle Dove flew through. Best of all was the constant presence of a flock of c25 Bee Eaters with some juveniles among them. This flock gave us regular insect catching displays over the pool as they moved up and down the slopes. I did see two other flocks that went through South, a flock of 50 and 15, they did not stop so they may have been migrating.

Short birding/insect finding excursions were as follows

We visited Ronda to get provisions for the week and had a good walk around the old quarter, 30+ Red-billed Chough, Crag Martins and a Short-toed Treecreeper were all seen, it was a sweltering 40c.

A morning out with my son exploring took us the Jimena de la Frontera area. A slow drive across a country track south of the town took us past open fields, eventually we reached a copse on the edge of a village. We had great views of Stonechats, Red-rumped Swallows, 4 Short-toed Eagle, Little Owl, Woodchat Shrikes, singing Golden Oriole, Melodious Warbler, Kestrel, Sardinian Warbler, Hoopoe and more.

We also walked a stretch of the Rio Horzgarganta from the bridge below the castle seeing Red veined and Scarlet Darters, Violet Dropwing, a bunting sp and a few frogs. It was getting very hot at midday so we headed back to the villa. A repeat visit later in the week was made to climb to the castle and enjoy tapas at a restaurant during the heat of the day, at the castle we added two Lesser Kestrel, Booted Eagle, Crag Martins and Griffon Vultures to our list of species seen.

A morning out at in the cork oak woods on the way to and back from the Vulture feeding station between Colmenar and Cortes de la Frontera was productive. Short-toed Treecreeper, Blue, Great and Crested Tits were roaming in a large flock, many Bonelli’s Warblers were among them. A Dartford Warbler or two hid in the roadside brambles and three Short-toed Eagles cruised overhead. Pretty sure I saw a Rock Sparrow on wires below Cortes de la Frontera on the drive up.

One of my favourite drives takes in circular route with a stop at Grazalema, the Mirador de Boyar and Puerto de la Palomas, we also stopped in Zahara where we found La Gallo bar, this provided us with a great table outside and an extensive range of vegetarian tapas for 2.5 euro per dish, delicious! Birds seen included a smart Black Wheatear below Grazalema village, the mirador was a busy spot, Subalpine and Melodious Warblers, Woodlarks, Jays, Stonechats and  a Hawfinch. At the pass we watched a large eagle sp that drifted off before I could scope it, lots of Griffon Vultures, 30+ Red-billed Chough, Rock Bunting, Black Redstart and more Stonechats.

We visited the excellent Roman ruins at Acinipo and saw a pair of Black-eared Wheatear, two probable Thekla Larks (never looked at them through binoculars) and plenty of Swifts. A few individual Rock Sparrow flew past and a small flock also whizzed through down the hill. A pair of Turtle Dove rocketed through and zig-zagged over me, no doubt seeing any human contact as a potential death threat. I was shocked not to see this species regularly during the week.

Two Alpine Swift were seen over Cuevo de Gato near Benajoan, I have seen flocks of them here before. Worth visiting for the blast of natural air conditioning as the water spouts from the cave entrance. It is very busy with people on a hot August day.

Got to make a special mention to encourage anyone passing to stop at the store in the small mountain village in Algatocin, modest entrance but the place is a cavern full of stock, everything you need and refreshing to see an independent store. The bars and restaurants of these mountain towns were all very good and we did very well for vegetarian tapas pretty much everywhere we tried.

I hope you enjoy the images, they are a nice reminder of what was a great week.


Sunset view from Villa de Palma, Malaga Province


Villa la Palma sunset

Red-billed Chough over Ronda, Malaga Province.

Red-billed Chough, Ronda

Bonelli’s Warbler and Griffon Vulture, Villa de Palma, Malaga Province

Bonelli's Warbler, Villa la Palma Griffon Vulture, Villa la Palma

Juvenile Woodchat, Marchenilla track

Juvenile Woodchat Shrike, Marhenilla, MJMcGill

Stonechat, Marchenilla track

Stonechat, Marchenilla, MJMcGill

Short-toed Eagles (Marchenilla and Colmenar road)

Short-toed Eagle, MJMcGill Short-toed Eagle, Cortes de la Frontera, MJMcGill

Booted Eagle diving below Casares Castle

Booted Eagle, Casares castle

Weathervane or vultures this way?

Casares weathervane

Cork Oak woodland

Cork Oak woodland, Sierra de Grazalema

Bonelli’s Warbler, Cortes de la Frontera, Cadiz Province

Bonelli's Warbler, Sierra de Grazelema, MJMcGill

Bee, Grazalema

Black-eared Wheatear, Ancinipo, Malaga Province

Black-eared Wheatear, Acinipo, Cadiz, MJMcGill

Probably Thekla Lark, Acinipo, Malaga Province

Crested Lark, Acinipo, Cadiz, MJMcGill

Melodious Warbler, near Mirador de Boyar, Cadiz Province

Melodius Warbler, Grazalema, MJMcGill

Woodlark, near Mirador de Boyar, Cadiz Province

Woodlark, Grazalema, MJMcGill

Bee Eater, Villa la Palma, Malaga Province

Bee Eater, Villla la Palma

Bird sign, Bennaraba


Northumberland (plus Teesdale and South Yorkshire) 6-10 June 2016


Northumberland with a bit of Teesdale, Durham and South Yorkshire 6-10 June 2016

A selection of images from the Farne Islands (all images Martin J McGill).

Seabirds, Inner Farne Sandwich Terns spiking Razorbill Puffins

Kittiwake on nest, Inner Farne, MJMcGill Guillemots, Farne Islands, MJMcGill Guillemot, bridled, Farns Islands, MJMcGill

Grey Seal, Farne Islands, MJMcGill 3 Grey Seal, Farne Islands, MJMcGill 2 Eider take off, Farne Islands, MJMcGill

This was a repeat visit to this attractive area with visits to Teesdale and South Yorkshire along the way. We travelled 980 miles during the trip and enjoyed some brilliant birding, most of it in sunshine with near cloudless conditions. We explored some new sites and visited some very familiar ones assembling a decent list of birds and some memorable birding.

6 June 2016

Our party of six (including me) met early for departure at Whitminster to make the most of the long June day. We encountered some traffic along the way, after North Lancashire it was clear. All congestion issues were quickly  erased with stunning views of moorland scenery and excellent weather. Our first birding stop followed soon after leaving Brough on our way to Middleton in Teesdale.

Scanning the moors whilst eating our lunch we spotted over 20 Red Grouse, three Buzzard, two singing Meadow Pipit, 3+ Golden Plover, Kestrel, two families of Greylag Geese and pairs of Curlew with young. Our next stop was at the magnificent High Force waterfall, it was very warm and sheltered here as we all watched and listened to a male Redstart singing, in addition we saw 3+ Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler (including a bird feeding young in the nest), Dipper, Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail on the river and Chaffinch, Bullfinch and Siskin in the woods/plantations.

Our next stop was at Langdon Beck where it was a pleasure to watch 9 Black Grouse feeding,a  Redshank  was ‘chipping’ Curlew ‘bubbling’ and Lapwing ‘pee-wit-ing’. Another Spotted Flycatcher was seen on wires near the hotel as we passed by. A walk to Widdybank gave us more excellent wader activity, Curlews, Oystercatchers,  Lapwing, Snipe and Golden Plover all called, displayed or kept an eye on their young as we passed.  We were briefly caught in a shower so sheltered behind a stone shed, not before seeing another 8 Black Grouse fly across the fields.

Watching from our latest viewpoint we picked up two male Ring Ouzel and a juvenile worming in the rain, a pair and single female Red Grouse, Pied Wagtails and undeterred a male Wheatear sang. Back at the stream a Song Thrush posed and Grey Wagtail fed, skipping from stone to stone. The area is also notable for Spring Gentian and other wild flowers.

We had used the time well and although we had already done very well there was time for another quick stop. Grindon Lough was a new site, it sounded to be an interesting place but also had a specific attraction. Arriving at the Lough it was not long before we spotted the recently reported Red-necked Phalarope spinning on the water, though it quickly disappeared.

Other species included 4 Ringed Plover, 6 Dunlin (some singing), 8 Redshank, a Greenshank, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard and 20 Wigeon. Subsequently searching the shoreline the female phalarope was relocated on the shoreline fast asleep with Redshank. A fine end to the birding day but we had get to our accommodation, we arrived mid evening making a short shopping stop and arranged to meet up the following morning.

7 June 2016

The weather was still favourable if a little cool on the coast so it was decided to stick to our plan and visit the Farne Islands, it took a couple of journeys due to an issue at the accommodation (small scale wetland creation) but we were all eventually reunited on the quay in readiness for the boat trip out to the rock stacks and islands.  As usual the Grey Seals and seabirds did not let us down, the crew skilfully got us in close to enjoy views but not cause disturbance. The seabirds were superb, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Kittiwake, Shag were all seen in vast numbers about the boat or on the cliffs. We landed on Inner Farne to be among (as well as plenty of other visitors) the vast tern colonies. Huge numbers of Arctic Terns with Common and Sandwich Terns in their respective colonies. Eiders and a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers were also great to see.

Back on the mainland we stopped at Beadnell Bay where it took seconds to get onto our fourth tern species of the day- two Little Terns fished the beach at high tide. Our next stop was at Amble for high tide, on the river Coquet we watched Eiders with young some of which were struggling to eat small crabs, also Sand Martins, Shelduck, two female Goosander plus in the fields behind a welcome find by Ian was a single Grey Partridge.

Another nearby stop overlooked Coquet Island, in the distance some of could make out 20+ Roseate Tern as well as the Sandwich , Common and Arctic Tern colonies and plenty of Puffin. A Stonechat fed in the dunes nearby. This concluded another day in the field.

8 June 2016

Our destination for the morning was Holy Island (Lindisfarne), the tides were favourable so we crossed early in the day, as a reward for being the first car in the car park a Barn Owl flew past (Barbara called it). A very pleasant walk along the Crooked Lonnen, out to the Lough and back along the Strait Lonnen was enjoyed although migration was almost non- existent. A Willow Warbler in the sallows perhaps the only bird classed as still moving. The breeding birds were much as you would expect, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Lapwing,House Sparrow, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Gadwall, Reed Bunting, Reed and Sedge Warbler.

A search of the dunes at the Snook gave us two Grey Partridge, Stonechat and Meadow Pipits. Moving off the island to Budle Bay we stopped to scan the channels and mudflats, Little Egret, Mute Swans, Gadwall and Eider the best we could muster.

Driving south we headed for Hauxley NR which was closed so it was off to East Chevington instead, we saw a pair of breeding Marsh Harrier, Great Crested Grebe with young, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Tern visiting to bathe. We had booked boat trip to circumnavigate Coquet Island with time drifting off the tern terraces. A similar range of species were seen but a Red-throated Diver flew past South on our way out. The crew were very good to give us a few drift pasts aboard and to really look at the many Roseate Terns in detail and compare with the other tern species present.

Everyone seemed to be very happy with the views of Roseate Terns and agreed it was now acceptable to count as our fifth tern species of the trip. Being so focussed on our target bird it was easy to forget the thousands of seabirds that were also on show. Back ashore a quayside stop for a chippy tea was followed by our drive back to the accommodation to end another good day.

9 June 2016

After breakfast we made a visit to a local gravel pit and surrounding fields, breeding Goldeneye was a bonus and a brief Tree Sparrow was nice but we also saw/heard 2 Redpoll, 3 Common Sandpiper, Reed Warbler, Blackcap, Yellowhammer, Tufted Duck, Little and Great Crested Grebe.

We moved off South to Widdrington open cast (now full of water) and picked up on two first summer Little Gulls hawking over the lake as well as more familiar wetlands birds. At Druridge Pools a brief Grasshopper Warbler was seen, Whitethroat, Tree Sparrows with broods, Lapwing, Shoveler, Teal, 2 Yellow Wagtails, Gadwall, Snipe displaying and Curlew on the shallow floods and marsh.

At Cresswell Pond we watched more Tree Sparrows (on feeders) and a few Lapwing and Shelduck, the nearby cafe was a popular stop for a fresh brew. Having a  bit of time on our hands to finish the day off I decided to go even further South to another new site- the River Wansbeck river mouth.

We arrived in good time but took a while to establish where the footpath actually was, a local boatyard chap pointed us in the right direction so we walked along the cliff top looking down onto the channel and mudflats. It wasn’t long before everyone was getting great views of our afternoon target- a first summer Bonaparte’s Gull. This North American visitor fed on the mud and stream despite getting a bit of negative attention from the other gulls. This happened to be another sun trap so the chance to soak up a bit of heat was taken before finishing for the day.

10 June 2016

A travel day to make our way home with an iffy forecast on the cards, we decided to get going and take in a site on the way. The weather was not great on the homeward drive, we abandoned any notion of looking for Honey Buzzards in Yorkshire so planned to visit another new site- Potteric Carr YWT. Approaching the reserve the rain had stopped and sun was out, we made our way through the visitor centre and walked the whole route taking in a stop at the cafe along the way. The reserve was superb.

Species seen on our interesting route included a large variety of wetland birds but the highlights were Pochard, Mediterranean Gulls, breeding Black-necked Grebe with chicks and the dragonflies and Roe Deer , it says it all that we didn’t even mind not seeing the Hobbies and Bitterns. This was our last stop before getting home. Thank you to all five for joining me on this very productive June tour.

A few more images from the trip follow.

Martin J McGill

Coquet Island

Coquet Island

Coquet Island


Kittiwake flock

Kittiwake 1

Roseate Tern (left)

Roseate 3

Roseate (left) with Common Tern

Roseate 4

and another

Roseate Tern 1

and another

Roseate Tern 2

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern 1

Bonaparte’s Gull, River Wansbeck.

Bonaparte's Gull, MJMcGill

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow, 2, Northumberland

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.


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