Sunday, 27 May 2012

What a difference a day makes at Stodmarsh

"You should have been here earlier". A day earlier to be precise. With two White-winged Black Terns present all day Saturday, We decide to make the trip early Sunday morning.
A little over an hour and we reach the car park to find it already packed with cars, no doubt with birders having the same idea as we do.
Leaving the car we make for the main lake and Tower hide. On the walk round we get prolonged views of two Bitterns flying around the reedbeds. There's another Bittern "booming" close to us. The two flying birds stay in the air for some ten minutes before dropping down into the reeds and out of sight.
Reaching the lake we scan the area, But are disappointed to find only Common Terns flying over the lake and perched on the raft.
Mute Swan
Apart from the Common Terns there's very little else on the lake, With two Grey Herons and a few Pochard and Mute Swans all that's seen.
Meeting from familiar faces and with none of them having seen any sight of the White-winged Black Terns,We still give it another hour before moving on towards Marsh hide.
There's plenty of Warblers around with Cetti's, Reed and Sedge all present in large numbers. We manage some brief but frequent views of the Cetti's while walking around the reserve.
After entering marsh hide, I have only just managed to squeeze into one of the few remaining spots left when a shout goes up "Wood Sand flying in". I manage to get my bins on it before it drops down behind some thick reeds and out of sight. After a while it walks into view and I get some views through the scope.
The hide empties and we scope the area where the bird was last seen. There's 3-4 Redshank and two Greenshank seen but no further sign of the Wood Sandpiper.
Marsh frog
In front of the hide the Marsh frogs start to become very vocal and they are a good distraction while we wait for the Wood Sand to hopefully reappear.
Another birder joins us and we tell him of the wood sandpiper, He's keen to see it as like us it would be a year tick.
While scanning the area, A Lapwing puts the Redshank up and shortly afterwards the presence of a Male Marsh Harrier puts all the waders in the area up. The Wood sandpiper is among them, It's noticeably smaller than the Greenshank and with no white trailing edges to the wings it's easy to distinguish it from the Redshank. Maybe Green Sandpiper might come into the equation, But it doesn't look black and white in flight and we are happy it's the Wood Sandpiper.
Although there are no White-winged Black Terns present, We are happy to have added the Wood Sand to the year list.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Scanning for gold at Lakenheath

Bird Carving along the entrance track
It's 5.30am and we meet Brian at the usual spot and set off for Lakenheath. A little over an hour later and we are pulling into the car park. Normally the car park at this time of day is empty, But today it has over twenty cars already parked and the second and third parking areas both have reserved signs around them.
The weather is not ideal, It's overcast with a slight drizzle in the air, We walk along the path towards the view point overlooking Hockwold Washes. There's no sign of the Garganey that has been reported from here, But there is a pair of Great crested Grebes displaying to each other. A Barn Owl is spotted flying low over the fields behind Hockwold Washes, It drops to the ground and then reappears to continue it's hunt for prey.
Walking the public footpath along the edge of the River Little Ouse we hear plenty of Sedge and Reed Warblers singing from the reedbeds and there's Common Terns hawking along the river.
We are hoping for a sight of Grasshopper Warbler, but our luck is not as good as Chelsea's last night so we move on.
Reaching the front edge of the 3rd poplar plantation Brian spots two Common Cranes moving through the taller grass on New Fen. We get some great views through the scope as they move around. It's a year tick for me, But Brian has already got them on his list from an earlier trip to Horsey. Making our way towards the Joist Fen viewpoint Brian calls me to say there's a Hobby sitting on the old brick building. It allows us to get quite close and we get super views through the scope. The bird fills the scope and it has to be the best views I have ever had of hobby.
Taking the grass path we head for the 3rd plantation there's calling Sedge and Reed Warblers present and a booming Bittern is near by. Bearded Tit's start to "ping" around us and it's not long before we catch sight of them as they climb the reeds at the edge of the water.
Another carving 
There's a small group of birders present in front of the poplar plantation, But they haven't had any luck spotting an Oriole. We decide to walk further down the track and use the bench to sit and wait. After a short time the Oriole is heard calling from the second plantation. It flies from here and heads towards us, flying through the trees it start's calling again from the far end. So we make our way back up the track and try to locate the bird. Another birder shouts "got it" and with some rough directions I have my bins trained on the bird for a second year tick of the morning.
It's a bright yellow bird sitting among a tree of green leaves but it's frustratingly difficult to pick out. I grab the scope and find the bird surprisingly quickly. Brian hasn't picked it up with his bins, So he's pleased when he gets a view through the scope. Dad's next and he's quickly followed by a small group of eager birders wanting a look.
Just as we reach the edge of the 2nd plantation we get close views of a Bittern as it flies across the path in front of us, followed by a female Marsh Harrier heading for the Joist Fen reedbeds.
At the New Fen viewpoint we hear the Oriole calling again and then watch it fly high up and over the reedbed into the poplars of the 2nd plantation.
Cuckoo's start calling and we spot three birds flying around the trees in front of us. One or two of these birds start to make a strange "popping" sound before resuming their normal cuckoo calls. It's the first time I have ever heard them make this sound. Back at the reserve centre we have a quick chat with the friendly staff and after Brian gets himself a coffee and dad a tea we head for the car.
Barn Owl, Hobby, Bearded Tit, Golden Oriole, Bittern, Marsh Harrier and three Cuckoo's, along with plenty of commoner species. It's been a good morning at Lakenheath.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Loch Arkaig Tour

The Commando memorial
A final morning for birding and some sight seeing before we head back to the airport.We decide to stay around the Fort William area and gradually head south towards Glasgow.
First stop is along the B8004 to the Commando Memorial. We spend a while here just looking at the statue and the garden of remembrance.
From here it's on to Chia-aig waterfalls. This is where Liam Neeson leapt across the river between the falls in the film Rob Roy. I may have to watch the film again at some point.
Chia-aig Waterfall
A little further along the road we stop at Allt Mhuic. Brian is keen to try for some butterfly species, But during the walk we don't see any and it's probably to early and not warm enough. We can hear a Cuckoo calling and after a bit of searching find it sitting on a fence post. It's a youngster being feed by it's adoptive mother. On the walk back down we somehow lose contact with Brian. Thinking he's making his way back to the car dad and I carry on down the slope and find a nice Tree Pipit sitting at the top of a tall tree. It goes into it's song display flight and returns to the same tree to start all over again. To think I had never seen a Tree Pipit until a week or so ago. and now I've seen at least five. 
Nearing the bottom of the slope I hear a Wood warbler singing. It's not long before we catch sight of it as it sings then flutters up and onto the next branch to start singing again.
On the drive around Loch Arkaig there's four Common Sandpipers seen feeding along the edges. Then we spot a diver on the loch close in to the shoreline. Scoping the bird reveals it's a superb summer plumaged Black-throated Diver. There's also a Red-breasted Merganser present.
Neptune's Staircase
Heading along the Caledonian Canal, We stop off to take a look a series of eight locks know locally as Neptune's Staircase. This also gives me the chance to grab a couple more shots of Ben Nevis.
Feeling hungry we stop at Macky d's and head round to Fort William harbour. Scanning the harbour we find double figures of Goosanders, Plenty of Eider, a single Red-breasted Merganser and a single Ringed Plover. There's also a handful of Common Gulls that seem more interested in the chips that Brian has left in front of the car. It's a good opportunity to try to grab a couple of shots.  
Sitting in the car Brian spots two shapes moving through the water, Bins up and he's calling OTTER!. Having not seen an Otter in the wild before, I'm already out of the car before he has finished the word. Scope up and I'm on the two Otters. A quick shout to dad and superb views are had as they swim across the lake and then leave the water and run across a small island. We watch them for at least twenty minutes as they swim and dive searching for food. Seems like we are finding something new at each stop we make today.
Common Gull
We decide to drive to Corran ferry in the hope of bagging a decent view of Black Guillemot, having only had brief glimpses at two other spots. The weather is brighter than on Monday morning, When it was hard enough to see the ferry let alone any birds on the water. Brian spots a single bird to the East of us. It disappears beneath the surface and is not re-located. Then I spot a bird flying East to West low across the water, It lands in front of the lighthouse and I at last get some decent views of Black Guillemot.
Time is passing so are have time for one last stop. This time it's The Falls of Falloch. As we leave the car we can hear Wood Warblers singing and when we step down closer to the river Brian spots a Spotted Flycatcher on a nearby tree branch. It's another year tick for dad and me so we are more than happy. We spend some time sitting and watching a pair of Flycatchers catching insects and returning to the nest site which is in a nearby tree on the opposite side of the river.
Ben Nevis
At Glasgow airport we check in and grab a coffee at Starbucks before boarding the plane heading for Stanstead.
The trip has produced 123 species in two full days and two half days. Within this total there are  seven lifers. Hooded Crow, Black Guillemot, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Crested Tit, Golden eagle and White-tailed eagle. There are also eleven year ticks with Eider, Twite, Whinchat,and Spotted Flycatcher added to the seven lifers.
Add to this list the Red & Roe Deer, Common & Grey Seals plus my first ever sightings of Red Squirrel, Basking Shark and Otter and it's been a fantastic trip.Of the species on the wish list Capercaille and Scottish crossbill were missed, although we may well have been hearing the Crossbills. It's not certain so it doesn't make any of the lists. We didn't try for Ptarmigan or Dotterel so these are not counted as missed. Dotterel we were told later had not arrived on the high tops at that time anyway. Capercaille is the one bird we missed that we all wanted to see, and we came  so close to bagging it. But it's been a fantastic trip. With so many great memories.

I hope it's not long before I am returning to the Highlands of Scotland.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Speyside and beyond

Today Loch Garten is the destination. On the way we stop off at Laggan Dam and after a few minutes we hear and then see the target species. It a Twite and there are a pair flitting around the small bushes on the opposite side of the road.
Forty miles and the best part of an hour, we reach Loch Garten and after parking the car and paying the £1 entrance fee we are heading up the path towards the observation hide. We meet a few birders along the path and they tell us that the Caper has been showing well, but that it has just flown and has now disappeared from view. It's not the news we wanted to hear, but we carry on to the hide and speak with the warden. He tells us that the caper has been sitting in a tree right in front of the hide for around thirty minutes prior to our arrival. It's the first piece of bad luck of the trip, But that's birding for you! 
Loch Mallachie
We scan the area in front of us without any luck until it reaches 8.30am and the warden closes the hide and asks us to make our way to the car park. Walking back with the warden we ask about Crested Tit sightings, He tells us that they are not seen as much at this time of year as they will be egg laying and rearing young, and that in the winter months they are everywhere and practically feeding out of your hand.
It doesn't sound promising, But we drive down to the first car park and take the nearest path. Chaffinches are everywhere and there's plenty of Willow warblers calling. There's also Crossbills calling high up in the treetops, But I'm not certain of which species of Crossbill so they go down with a question mark against them and don't make the year or life lists.
Abernethy Forest
Further along the path we pick out what sounds like the call of Crested Tit. A small bird flits across the path into the trees on the opposite side of the path. Brian gets his bins on it and calls "CRESTED TIT". I'm now worried that I may have missed my one chance of Crested tit as well as Capercallie. It's a few minutes before another bird comes into view, this time I'm ready and my bins get straight onto it. It's my first Crested Tit and I stay on it long enough for some fantastic views.
With Crested Tit in the bag, Dipping the Caper is lessened slightly, Although it's still painful knowing that it was sitting in a tree some five minutes before we arrived.
A quick scan of the loch provides good views of three Red-throated Divers as they fly across the loch calling and then land on the water. There's also a pair of Common Sandpipers feeding along the edge of the loch.
The hide is now open again, So we make our way back up the path and into the hide. Through the slots of the hide I can see the osprey nest and through the scope I can just make out the head of the female. There's a small bank of t.v monitors in the hide trained on the ospreys and we can see the male bird perched in a tree. Suddenly it takes to the air and then lands on the bare tree that holds the camera overlooking the nest. We get some great views through the scope.
Red Squirrel
On the feeders in front of the hide there are plenty of Chaffinches and Siskins. Then we spot another target species, This time it's not a bird, But a Red Squirrel. I've wanted to see one for many years and now there is was sitting on a feeder right in front of me. I walk outside to try to get a better view and get lucky when it comes down and sits on a log quite close. I grab a couple of shots and hope I have them in focus. (auto focus on my old lens doesn't work with my new digital camera body) so it's manual focus and hope.
We admit defeat on the caper front and make our way back to the car. No Capercallie, But Crested Tit and Red Squirrel bagged. I'm happy with that.
We hear of a White billed Diver that has been around Burghead for a while and decide to try for it. Directions are vague to say the least but we find the road and scan the sea for any sign. It's not surprising that we don't find it but it was worth a try. We do add Merlin to the trip list which is very welcome.
On to Findhorn Valley, Where we are hoping to add Golden Eagle to the life list. We keep driving until we can't go any further and park the car in the car park at the bottom of the valley. There's already a couple of birders present and they have had a few glimpses of eagles. It's around ten minutes after arriving that I get my first ever view of a wild Golden Eagle. It's disappears from view all too soon and I'm left hoping it's not the only sighting I'm going to get. While scanning for any more signs of eagles we spot another raptor over the ridge, This is smaller, but still quite powerful looking with Pointed wings, It's a Peregrine and it lands on the eastern mountain slope and gives us decent scope views.
The weather which was cold but dry when we arrived turns to rain and then hail, Luckily it doesn't last long and with the weather now bright and dry it's not long before we spot two large raptors drifting high up over the mountain ridge. I get the scope onto them and they are unmistakably Golden eagles. Huge flat plank-like wings stretching out, They stay in the air for a good five-ten minutes then disappear below the ridge and out of sight. 
On the return journey we make a quick stop at Insh Marshes. There's an impressive viewing platform not far from the car park and underneath this is an even more impressive hide. With large full windows to view the marshes below. It's only a brief visit so we scan the area immediately in front of the hide. There's a few species present with Goldeneye, Curlew, Lapwing and Siskin all seen. There's also a large herd of Red Deer feeding on the marshes.
Red Grouse
Heading back down the road towards our accommodation, Brian spots a bird flying away from us and calls it as Red grouse. He's the only one who has seen it before it flies around the back of the car and vanishes. We stop the car and scan the area, It's not long before I spot another Red Grouse among the heather with just it's head and neck visible. Three birds are found before we move on happy with the views we've had and another lifer added to the list.
The day started with the disappointment of dipping Capercallie but with Crested Tit, Red Grouse, Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Osprey, Red-throated Diver, Merlin and Red Squirrel plus Red and Roe Deer seen it's another fantastic day.
Back at the cabin it's time to get everything packed up and ready to check out early in the morning.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Ardnamurchan Tour

A nice early start sees us leaving the cabin at 6am, We head for our starting point which is Corran ferry. the weather hasn't improved from yesterday and it's raining down. We catch the first ferry at 7am and cross Loch Linnhe. Reaching Sallachan Point we scan the loch for anything that may be present. On the western side there's a nice summer plumaged Great Northern diver. It's really nice to be able to see these birds in full breeding plumage, Instead of the normal winter plumaged birds normally seen down south.
On the nearest island I add Eider to my year list, with a couple of males and a female present. Along the shoreline there's a smart Rock pipit.
Stopping at Ariundle , there are plenty of Swallows flying around the car park as we cups of tea. Buzzards can be heard mewing overhead. The staff are friendly and give us some advice as to where to look for Golden eagles.
Next stop is Ardery, We are heading for Garbh Eilean bird hide. As we start the half mile walk towards the hide the heavens open and the rain hoods quickly go on. The hide is an open boardwalk with a roof over the main viewing area, with open slots at varying levels to cater for all ages. There's a pair of binoculars attached to a wire on the viewing screen wall for anybody to use. Looking out across Loch Sunart there's a pair of Red-breasted merganser slowly moving across the loch. Grey Herons are numerous and seen regularly flying back and forth across the area. There are a few seals present and one seems keen to show off in front of us as it plays with seaweed along the shoreline, it then swims from one island the another at great speed, Leaping in and out of the water as it goes.
We reach the spot that we were told might be good for Golden Eagles. Parking in the car park I start scanning, But have no luck in locating any eagles. After giving it an hour and keen to see as many sights as possible we leave the car park. We have only reached the second bend in the road and I spot a large raptor over the top of Ben Hiant. Brian quickly stops the car and we get out to find it in the bins. It turns and heads straight towards us, as it turns it's unmistakably a White-tailed Eagle. It flies directly over our heads and gives fantastic views, so close in fact that we can see it looking around searching for prey. They say the yellow bill is surprisingly easy to pick out in the field, and at this range it's very easy. As it drifts out of view and behind the mountain ridge we drag ourselves away and head for Ardnamurchan.
This is the most Westerly point of the British mainland. On the drive down to the Lighthouse we scan the fields either side of the road and add Whinchat to the year list. By the time we reach the car park we have seen three male Whinchats.
At the lighthouse it's very windy and it turns from dry to rain to hail and back again. Scanning the water in front of us we see hundreds of Manx Shearwaters flying through, This is an added bonus for dad as he still needs this for his year list.

Bonnie Prince Charlie
 Brian heads off around towards the lighthouse and as we approach him, He shouts "shark", Not quite hearing him clearly through the wind and then thinking I'm in a jaws movie we rush round and find him looking at a basking shark. At first it's hard to pick it out in the rough waters, But once we know the general location it's not long before we get good views. It's my first sight of a Basking Shark and it's fantastic to see it's nose come up out of the water when it opens it's mouth to feed. Then I get views of the dorsal and tail fins.
There's a Great Northern diver in the bay not far from the shark and Gannets are numerous flying across in front of us.
Instead of taking the ferry back across Loch linnhe we drive on past and reach Loch Shiel. the timing is perfect as an Osprey appears over the loch and dives into the loch after a fish, it comes up without a meal but gives superb views before it's lost from sight.
Next stop is Glenfinnan, Where dad gets his history fix when we stop at the site of the monument of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Although it's not actually the Bonnie Prince himself standing on top of the monument. It is in fact just a kilted highlander.
It's been an amazing day, the highlight is undoubtedly the White-tailed Eagle directly over our heads, But the Basking Sharks comes a pretty good second.

A short trip to Bonnie Scotland

Robin's Nest
We land at Glasgow airport a little ahead of schedule, and after a slight problem at the car hire terminal, Where we think at one point we are not going to get a car, We end up with an upgrade to a bigger car which for me is very nice as I will be spending all my travelling time in the back seat.
Only the two and a half hour drive to reach our base at Fort William now ahead of us. The directions are punched into the sat-nav and it's a smooth drive northwards. The rain is lashing down and I'm hoping it's not a sign of things to come. The scenery on the way up is stunning, even through the rain you can still see how beautiful the landscape is.
A quick stop at the local shop in Roy Bridge for directions to our base and it's only a few minutes before we are opening the door to Robin's Nest at Kinchellie Croft. Mountains on one side and green fields on the other, It's a great location.
Hooded Crow
Before we do any un-packing, Brian has already found the first lifer of the trip. A Hooded Crow, It's in the field behind the cabin. It's another ten minutes however before I see it and add it to my life list.
After un-packing, We decide to take a drive around to get our bearings, We end up sitting down for a meal at The Stronlossit Inn. 
An hour and a half later we are heading back up the road when we spot a sign for the "Parallel Roads" of Glen Roy, So we turn left and head along the road. The rain is now intermitent with some brief dry spells and heavy rain at others. On the drive to the view point there seems to be Wheatears everywhere. The "Parallel Roads" are lines left on the shoreline through wave action of a huge loch some 10,000 years ago, and these lines were left after the water levels dropped. 
We retrace our route and head back to the A82 at Lochaber, As we approach a bend in the road Brian spots a Black Grouse flying over the top of the roadside trees. we get lucky as there's a spot we can safely park the car and walk back to where we think it's gone down. At first there's no sign, but after another five minutes of scanning we pick out four birds on the grass ridge. All four are males and we get great views before they disappear from sight.
It's shortly after 9.30pm and the light is fading, So we call it a day and head back to the cabin.
The first day draws to a close, I've got  two birds newly added to my life list, Happy and slightly tired, I head for my bed. I'm already looking forward to the morning and it won't be a long sleep.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Bank holiday on the patch

After the three days in Wales and with legs and back suffering a little, It's 6.15am before I arrive at Fisher's Green . The barriers are still locked and surprisingly so to is the electronic gate at the farm. So it's back down the road and I pull into Fisher's Green lane and park in the small car park just outside the main car park at Hooks Marsh, which is also still locked.
Leaving the car I walk alongside Hooks Marsh Lake. There's plenty of birds singing and I soon locate my first patch tick of the day when a Garden Warbler pops up at the top of a nearby bush.It's one of several seen on the walk to Hall Marsh scrape.With so much rain in the last month water levels are to high to attract waders, with just a single Little Ringed Plover all that is present. Heading off towards Bowyers Water in the hope of finding the Grasshopper Warbler that had been reported while I was in Wales, I can hear plenty of Sedge Warblers and at least two Cetti's Warblers. There's also a Cuckoo calling in the distance, I try to spot it but have no luck, and there's no sight or sound of the Grasshopper Warbler.
I move on to Turnershall Marsh and take a look at the wooden statues that have recently been craved and positioned in the area. There are some impressive pieces among them, The frog is probably my favourite.
The walk back to the car is pretty un-eventful, and so it's back to Fisher's Green car park and a walk around to Seventy Acres lake. The lake holds plenty of birds with resident species mixed in with some summer visitors.Common Terns are noisily flying over the lake, and there's another patch tick when several Swifts are spotted high up in the sky.
There's one bird that I am particularly after and scanning the trees along the far edge of the lake I spot the bird I'm after. A single Hobby perched high up in one of the bare trees.
On the walk around to the Goose Fields I can hear Nightingales singing with at least five birds noted. With not much of interest on the Goose Fields and the farmer letting off a rocket to scare the Canada and Greylag geese away form the newly sown crops I move on to Langridge Scrape, again the water levels are much to high and there is hardly any exposed mud for any waders. Only four Lapwings are present. There is a final patch tick of the day however when five House Martins appear over the scrape. Not a bad morning, with four patch ticks and one year tick added. 
Legs aching and work tomorrow it's time to head home. 

A Wonderful morning at Dinas RSPB

It's the third and final day in Wales, and it's a much more leisurely start. Although we are still up, Packed and on the road by 7am, and heading for one of my favourite places not only in wales but the whole of the U.K.
We are only twenty minutes down the road when the phone rings, It's Brian, he's in Wales for the week and wasn't planning on making the trip to Dinas today. He couldn't resist and is not far behind us. After giving him some brief directions we carry on and follow the sat-nav until we turn off the main roads onto much smaller windier roads, there's a stream running alongside us and we pull over by a bridge to check for Dippers. It's not long before I spot one a little further upstream, there's also a Grey wagtail feeding along the waters edge a short distance from the Dipper.
Having stopped it's not long before Brian catches up with us, he doesn't hang around and is keen to continue on to Dinas.
Pied Flycatcher
Shortly after arriving we are heading along the boardwalk. This is a fantastic place and it's not long before we are watching Pied Flycatchers, firstly the male and then male and female. they are checking nest-boxes and as usual they give super views. On the opposite side of the boardwalk in a small stream we find a pair of Common Sandpipers, they are searching for food among the rocks.
Next bird spotted is a Treecreeper, it's searching the nearby tree trunks and it's tsee-tsee call is heard often while it flits from one trunk to the next.
While I'm watching the Treecreeper with Rob, I get a call from dad who is a little further along the path. Brian has spotted a Tree Pipit singing at the top of a nearby tree.This would be a life tick for me, So I hurry along the boardwalk to where they are, I can hear it singing before I reach them. I join them just in time as it takes to the air and goes into it's flight display. One lifer and two year ticks and I am still only half way along the boardwalk at the start of the trail.
Just around the corner from here is normally a good spot for Dipper, and it doesn't disappoint, with a bird seen flying down stream almost immediately. It is not long before it's found sitting on a rock in the middle of the stream. Rob sets up his camera underneath a tree and waits for it to hopefully come closer.
Further along the trail I can hear Wood Warblers singing, they prove more difficult to locate among the trees, but with some patience I eventually manage some good views.
A Red Kite drifts over the mountain side and then two Ravens head our way. Nothing subtle about these birds as they noisily circle overhead. Scanning the hillside trees a pair of Redstarts are spotted. Dad has walked on ahead and so has missed them.
In the tree by the car park there are a pair of Garden Warblers, and dad gets a view of one as it lands in a small bush right in front of us. He still needs Redstart, but it's not long before he can add it to his year list when a superb male comes into view, firstly sitting in a tree and then on a nearby fence post.
Brian spots a small bird in a willow tree, we are hoping it's Willow Tit, But it turns out to be a Marsh Tit. Sadly no addition to my life list then. It's still a nice find and a welcome addition to the trip total.

Llyn Brianne

We leave Dinas and travel a little further North to take a look at Llyn Brianne. It's a reservoir which is  almost 300m above sea level, holding over 64million cubic metres of water, all contained by a 91metre high stone dam. It's the largest of it's kind in Europe. Just in case you are wondering, No I didn't know that, I had to look it up on Google.
A great three day trip, that started with Red Kites on the Friday, Skomer and Marloes Mere on Saturday and ended with Dinas on Sunday.With fantastic scenery and some stunning birds, I'm already looking forward to next year's return trip.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Skomer Island

I set the alarm for 5.15am, But we are all up well before the alarm is due to go off and ready and waiting in the car park when Brian arrives to pick us up at six. We head for Martin's Haven and with the weather conditions looking good we have high hopes that the boat will sail. We won't find out if the boat is going to make the crossing until 8.30. Last year the weather was also good but the boat didn't sail, and so we take nothing for granted.
The boat crossing normally takes about 15 minutes but the captain has to navigate the infamous white water of Jack Sound.
With fingers crossed we head off towards the Deer park. The days birding gets off with a bang as Brian spots some black shapes on the grass slopes. Red bills, red legs, we start to count them and have 18 Choughs feeding right in front of us. First year tick of the trip and we haven't even left the car park yet.
Well pleased with the start to the day we continue on through the swing gate and head towards the park. A quick scan of the field we are in reveals at least 15 Wheatear, along with Whitethroats and Linnets. Heading down the path and onto the Deer Park itself, We soon realise that there are Wheatears absolutely everywhere. There's also a family party of Stonechats with the parents busy feeding the youngsters.
Walking down towards the sea we again spot the group of Choughs in the distance. While watching them feeding we hear the "Kronk-kronk" call of a Raven overhead. It lands on the rocks at the far end and becomes even more vocal.
We reach the far end of marloes peninsula and can see Skomer Island to the West. A second year tick for me comes when three Shags are seen flying along the edge of Skomer. Even better is to come with a third year tick when we spot a single Manx Shearwater flying low and fast across the water. It's a surprise but a  welcome one.
We head back towards the booking office, and get good news that the boat is going to sail. We make our way to the boarding spot and wait for the boat to arrive. It's already made a trip across to the island with this weeks volunteers. Now it is returning with last weeks volunteers aboard, someone says that Ray Mears was among them, if he was I didn't see him.
The Dale Princess
The boat trip across to Skomer is relatively smooth as crossings go, and after listening to the wardens brief speech we head off towards the farm.On the walk we see Oystercatchers, Black-headed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed gulls along with double figures of Wheatear
The walk down from the farm doesn't produce any sightings of Short-eared Owls, But the warden did say that they were sitting on eggs and that sightings were becoming rarer at this time.
We continue on towards Garland Stone and find some Grey Seals hauled up on the rocks below, there's also a Shag preening itself on the rocks nearby.
As we continue round we get views of porpoises with three seen. We reach "The Wick" a sheer cliff face which is home to nesting Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots and Fulmars. We take advantage of the wooden bench and sit and watch as the Puffins come in off the sea and land just feet away from us before making their way to their burrows.
It's approaching the time for the boat to pick us up, so we make our way back towards the landing area. The waves look much more fierce than on the trip across, so the captain only takes forty people back on the first trip instead of the normal fifty. We are numbers forty four to forty seven in the queue, So will have to wait another thirty minutes for the boat to return. After boarding the boat we soon realise why the captain is concerned. Dad stands up to make room for more people getting on the boat,  Then finds himself on the deck of the boat. As usual he gets no sympathy from any of us and we find it even funnier when he gets trapped there by the ruck-sack on his back which is now wedged between the seats and the life raft. He sees the funny side of it himself as usual, but he has suffered cuts to both of his knees.
The crossing is eventful with the boat leaning to one side then the other before splashing down and drenching most of the people at the stern of the boat, us included.
Glad to be back on dry land and resisting the temptation to bend down and kiss the ground, We head for marloes Mere which is only a mile away. We were told that there were four Glossy Ibis present this morning. Reaching the hide dad is the first to locate a single bird in amongst the taller grass, We scan the rest of the area but can't locate any of the other three birds. The water is alive with  large numbers of Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Sand martins, (Another year tick).
We call it a day and say goodbye to Brian and wish him good luck for the rest of the week. A relatively early night in readiness for an early start to our third and final day, With a trip planned on route home.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A weekend in Cymru:

Having picked Rob up on route, We set off for Wales shortly after 9.30. With the traffic flowing nicely, We make good time. The only hold up coming when we join the queues at the Severn Bridge toll booths.
Before driving to our accommodation, We make a pre-planned detour to the Red Kite feeding station at Llanddeusant. The kites are starting to gather around the feeding area well before the scheduled 3pm feeding time, giving great aerial views even before we head through  the gate. We pay the £3 entrance fee and take our place outside the main hide ready for the action to start.
The guy starts to spread out the scraps of meat in front of the hide and everyone present waits for the kites to start to come in.
This year the guy had cut the grass and removed some of the fencing around the main feeding area, which meant we got even better views of the kites as they came in for the free meal.
Having visited this site for the last two years it amazes me how many people leave after the initial feeding has taken place. If they were to wait around for a while longer they would be treated to some fantastic views of these magnificent birds as they compete for the scraps that are left, with birds locking talons in an attempt to steal the food from the bird that plucked it from the ground. But after 15-20 minutes it's just us and one other person left to enjoy the spectacle.
We count around fifty birds in the air, which may not match the numbers seen at Gigrin farm, but it's still a fantastic show and the best £3 I will spend this year. It's just an amazing spectacle that I never tire of seeing. 
It's around 5pm when we finally drag ourselves away, and head for our three bed apartment, Which is in fact a single family room at the local Travelodge in Pembroke Docks. But it does the job and we don't intend  spending much time inside when there's so much beautiful scenery and birds to see. We are hoping the weather remains good for tomorrow as a visit to Skomer Island is planned.