Thursday, 28 April 2011

Ridlington - Dumbarton - Dervaig

Thursday April 28
Left home at 6.15 a.m. and had a leisurely, trouble-free journey under a cloudless blue sky, to Dumbarton TraveLodge. We followed a different route through Glasgow (AA, keeping on the bypass motorway until Junction 30 which took us off in Dumbarton, missing all of Glasgow’s streets and fast food joints (I usually read out all the names to Pam - she was relieved).
The Lodge is not one of the newer ones but clean and well kept. Our room was upstairs at the back, looking out over a field and trees to the river Clyde beyond. In between was the railway line ! With the windows shut, the noise was minimal. We slept well.
Friday April 29
For the first time ever , I’d ordered a breakfast when I booked, not exactly Slimming World food. We decided to lump it, eating the cornflakes, croissant, muffin and orange juice looking over Loch Lomond. Beautiful, as was the pair of Red-breasted Mergansers fishing for breakfast.
Another lovely morning to enjoy the loch side road to Crianlarich and then through the moors, enveloping mountains, stony streams and scrub down to the more wooded areas approaching Oban. We always stop at Strone parking spot, the usual Willow Warblers and Siskins to-day, we once saw a Tree Pipit here. 
The previous walkers’ parking area produced a Golden Eagle for us. It appeared over the mountain top, gliding down to perch on a rocky outcrop.
Another usual stop is at a pull off near the Loch Awe dam wall, occupied by a salmon fisherman packing up after a catching a 14 pound salmon. He always puts them back.....This one was newly returned from the sea, either last night or this morning, still covered in sea lice which are killed off by freshwater. Amazing what you learn from random strangers. He showed us a photo on his camera.
We lunched at our favourite bay, taking the sea-side road north of Oban. Much building has gone on since last year, very tasteful apartments and houses looking out over the bay.
After shopping in Tesco, we took the 20 minutes late CalMac ferry to Craignure. Flat calm sea, warm enough on the top deck for bare arms, very few birds.

En route
A few of the expected and delightful Tysties outside Oban.
Enough time to make a 12 mile round trip to Grass Point before taking the Tobermory road to Dervaig, turning off at Aros Bridge.

Grass Point Highlands
Dervaig is further from Tobermory than I’d expected, ten miles across moorland, coniferous forest, much of the latter had been logged, and sheep pasture to a small village. A few houses, a shop, a pub and a church with a hideous tall and column like white cement steeple.

Our B and B
Tigh na Mara, our B and B, is delightful. A very substantial building on a hill overlooking the river and loch, lovely views from the well kept grounds. Catherine was ironing when we arrived, showing us to our well appointed and very attractive double room. 
We ate our evening meal at a picnic table outside looking over the water, seeing our first House Martin of the year. We’ve also added Hooded Crow, Shag, Common Sandpiper and Cuckoo.
We then caught up with the Royal Wedding, watching on the big TV in the lounge/breakfast room. Sara phoned when we were parked this morning to ask if we’d seen VB’s hat. she was watching in Australia.
The biggest disppointment to-day was the whale trip company phoning to say they’d cancelled to-morrow’s trip as there were not enough people. News that they’d only seen one whale so far was comforting. We’re going on a two hour late afternoon trip instead.
Saturday April 30
Woke to another beautiful morning, unfortunately the wind becaming increasingly stronger and very blustery.
After a leisurely and very good breakfast and a chat with Catherine - she too goes to Slimming World - we drove to Treloisk and on to Calgary. Pausing for a scan down the loch from a layby, adding a Whimbrel, we continued on the single track road with parking places through wild moorland down to the sea - where the track is even narrower with fewer passing places, on the way to Calgary. Calgary is a stunning white shell-sand bay, the sea patches of indigo, Caribbean blue with paler blue streaks. Photos not possible and couldn’t possibly do it justice. The sand marred by only three humans strolling along. The only area of machair on Mull backs the campsite here and is not protected at all.
 A visit to the Old Byre Heritage Centre outside Dervaig to buy some postcards and a pair of earrings (!) before taking the road toTobermory . There we found a full car park, what looked like a motorhome rally, and a large crowd drinking outside the pub. Owing to the gale force wind, Pam cancelled our planned boat trip and claimed my money back.
We then left the holiday mob behind and drove to the Glengorm Castle Estate. At the top of the hill north of Tobermory, we came upon an appalling stench - and a field containing at least 15 Ravens amongst the gulls. A nearby sewage farm gave the clue to the source of the smell, a farmer had sprayed the field with noxious fluid earlier. As soon as we stopped, all the Ravens flew off so no photo opportunity.
Glengorm was a dead end away from the sea, the road private from the gateway onwards. Returning to a gateway with a view,we had a cup of coffee and enjoyed the scenery. Here we were approached by an American woman asking for a lift to Tobermory. Pam said we weren’t going there - true - we were turning off to Dervaig earlier. I felt sorry for her.....Ten minutes later we picked her up en route. She’s from Houston Texas via Tennessee and rather deaf which didn’t stop her talking non stop. She’d walked miles and hadn’t been able to get  a taxi to drive back to her B and B., all too busy. 
After dropping a grateful oldie with bad feet, we drove back to the layby at Dervaig to eat our supper. The tide was now in, the loch and river gleaming gold and silver in the dropping sun. Lovely. Common Sandpiper, the ubiquitous highland wader, and a Greenshank and Redshank to add to the list.
Catherine had offered to get the papers for us, she’s a sweetie, they were waiting in the bedroom.
We again retired to the lounge to check our end of the month lists and Scotland list in comfort. Another fine day forecast for our day out with Arthur Brown to-morrow.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Dots and Turtles

Monday April 25
An early start to avoid the crowds......we arrived at THE field between Docking and Chosely soon after 8 a.m. The beet field opening was conveniently opposite a concrete beet pad, plenty of room for parking. Not so good for bird views though. The birds were far across the field, the other side of a ridge and dip, viewable only as moving blobs in the heat haze.
Spotting a gateway in the far corner of the field and, what looked like a lane leading to it, we set off, finding the lane was metalled and easy access. About a dozen people had beaten us to it, room for my scope though and excellent views of sixteen Dotterel, feeding and making short- step sorties - as they do. After 20 minutes, we vacated our viewpoint to let others in, breakfasting at Thornham.
We set off for Friary Hills Blakeney, soon after leaving Thornham village, a pager alert told us of Wood Sandpipers and a Ring Ouzel at Holme, so we turned round.
Unsure of the location, we walked to Gore Point in a cold north wind and lovely sunshine. Nothing....
Why? The birds were on Redwell! Parking at the hide entrance gate, a passing woman told us they were only viewable from the path leading to Holme village along the back of the marsh. Another reversal and parking near the entry kiosk.
As we walked the path, a Nightingale sang from the same patch in the Paddocks and.......all the birds took off, the waders amongst the gulls and Lapwings. I met Sue Bryan who had just photographed the Wood Sands !
The morning didn't improve. We couldn't find Ring Ouzel at Friary Hills either - no-one else was successful which helped a very little bit.

Tuesday April 29
On the way home from an early hairdresser appointment, a Turtle Dove was seen perched on the wires and then flying off in the 'usual' area near the Seal Sanctuary. Good to see one back.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Yellow Beauty

Sunday April 24
The North Norfolk Coast is normally a no- go area on Bank Holiday weekends. News of a spring male Citrine Wagtail at East Runton changed our minds.
The bird was in a pasture beside the A149, shortly after driving past Cromer cliffs parking site. It couldn't have been more convenient and was our first UK almost adult plumaged, spring Citrine Wagtail.  The previous birds have all been autumn juveniles. It had a few brown feathers showing at the top of its head but, the rest of him was pristine.
We watched it for about 20 minutes in a swirling sea mist, dashing about the field, feeding actively and avidly. It was joined by four Yellow Wagtails and a male Wheatear. As we left to get warm in the lovely sunshine at home, it flew into the next field.

Chasing Insects

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Expensive Year Tick!

Thursday April 21
Still no IPads delivered to the Norwich Apple Store this morning. Lucky I phoned first. Very disappointing. (Latest news: Friday April 22, success at last).
At a loose end because of the aborted trip, I printed and sorted our Scotland trip list, made the short dentist visit (they phoned yesterday and asked me to call), and we drove to Cley.
The pager - announced  two Whimbrel were in their favourite short grass field viewable from the Iron Road car park albeit 50 yards away.

Geordie David saved us a walk, no sign of any Whinchats, always an iffy spring migrant, they tend to fly through. He also said, more disapointingly, that there was no sign of the Wood Sandpiper on Pat's Pool.
A lot of petrol for one bird but we do love them. Many more on Mull in ten days time I suspect.
28 best black bib and tucker Golden Plovers on the Eye Field.
We drove past the icecream van !!

Great Day

Tuesday April 19
It's now Thursday, I've remembered that I hadn't written up a beautiful - weather and bird-wise - day out with Bridget and Aileen. These are usually notable for inclement weather.
Meeting at Holme first car park, we started by walking the Paddocks in a rather edgy north wind, luckily, not a very strong one. The Paddocks is a stretch of hawthorn scrub and bramble between the big house and the golf course, a regular drop-in for spring migrants.
Our first Common Whitethroat sang in the buckthorn/hawthorn scrub before the big house, still keeping fairly low. A big surprise was a Nightingale, singing beautifully as we entered the paddocks along the coastal boardwalk, our first ever in this area. Several Common Whitethroats, singing from hawthorn tops and, a suspected Lesser Whitethroat amongst the calling Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, taxed the hearing of those unable to isolate individual song.
Neither A nor B had seen a Wheatear yet, Wheatear Alley (what we call the open area of shorter grass before Gore Point and the 'Forest'), came up trumps holding at least three birds.
After a drink at Thornham and a fruitless search for Ring Ouzel at Choseley, we decided to give Beacon Hill a go. Couldn't find anything there either.......
News of a Black Tern at Stiffkey Fen, was irresisitible for me. We often miss the Norfolk spring fly-through when we're in Scotland. I don't enjoy the walk out there because of the difficult stiles and uneven path but, it's a lovely place.
Hearing and seeing a Lesser Whitethroat en route, we scoped from the first clear viewing area, soon picking up an elegant  Black Tern, making its dipping feeding flight against the wheaten reeds at the seaward end of the water. Delightful birds, I love them - most birders do.
Bridget was the first to spot the Green Sandpiper which re-appeared on the muddy reed bed edge, again at the back of the pool. She also found her own Little Ringed Plover on a near mud island. Next find for Pam was a juvenile and an adult Little Gull, both flying in from the marsh beyond the sea wall. Whilst Pam had  gone off to have another look at the L Whitethroat, a calling Med Gull flew over behind us.
The last addition to A and B's year list was Sandwich Terns at Coastguards, Cley. The Eye field also had several Wheatears, two perching on nearby fence posts.
A small ice-cream from the van at Salthouse duck pond to celebrate the end of a lovely and successful day.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Will it Stay All Summer?

Thursday April 14
After an enforced 'stay in' morning - waiting for the electricity meter to be changed - and taking Noo to the vet, we made a lunchtime departure for Titchwell.
The Iberian Chiffchaff could be heard singing from Fen Hide as per the pager, it was obviously much further away. The true location was the willows on the Meadow Trail. What a delightful bird. Flitting through the willows, singing away. The last Norfolk bird, in Norwich, stayed all summer.
My first view was from a mere six feet away, at just above head height, as I rounded the corner. I managed to take a few photos before it moved further away.

Iberian Chiffchaff

News of a Little Ringed Plover on the fresh marsh took us opn an unplanned walk. I returned to the car for my scope whilst Pam waited on a seat. The LRP was rather distant but i could see its eye ring. Whilst I was scanning, I heard the shutter click. Pam was taking this pair of Shoveller with my camera. She's usually very wary of using it.

Near Island Hide, the pair of Garganey were again asleep !! I was able to photograph a Spotted Redshank and a Ruff, both moulting into summer plumage.

Goony bird Ruff

Spotted Redshank

No sign of any Ring Ouzels at Friary Hills but we were footsore by then and gave up rather easily.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The End of the Warm Spell?

Monday April 11
Sue arrived dead on time at 8.30 but it took us ten minutes to leave the house. We had debated going to Weeting and the Ouse Washes but the prospect of migrants on the north coast changed our minds.
First call was Redwell, which was teeming with Black-headed Gulls, we soon escaped their cacophany.  A walk to Gore Point  was very birdless apart from our first Tree Pipit, singing and displaying.

Broadwater was equally devoid of all but the expected Gulls, Ducks and Avocets. One Curlew landed on the grazing marsh. Several Sedge Warblers and a Cetti's singing but, keeping low despite the warmth.
A quick drink and snack at Thornham before parking at Titchwell. Sue saw her first Blackcap near the car park before we walked to Parrinder Hide. The male Red-crested Pochard was showing well on the first big pool right of the path.
All the seats were occupied to-day, the place was full of snowcapped oldies with a few children to show it was holiday time. We were glad to sit in Parrinder and scan the seemingly empty mud. It wasn't long before we saw three dainty, prancing Yellow Wagtails and two White on the soil bank beyond the hide.

 No hirundine for Sue....but, two Wheatears on the grazing marsh and another from Parrinder.
Brancaster for lunch, Holkham for coffee, then a straight drive to caostguards at Cley.
As we turned into Beach Road, I told Sue we were going out to see Terns, she'd been on about them all day as she loves them. Pam was sceptical (I was too really). A few minutes after arrival, three Sandwich Terns flew along the Eye Field in front of us, followed by several more calling out to sea behind us.
Last hirundine hope, Gunton, which came up trumps. A small flock of Sand Martins hawking over the lake. Another short-sleeves day but cloudy with some rain to-night.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Not a Birding Day - But it Was

Saturday April 9
We were invited to lunch with friends at their Dunwich caravan, which has great views over the sea to Southwold on the left, Minsmere on the right and probably Holland straight ahead !
Whilst chatting, I saw a female Wheatear come in off the sea and land on the cliff edge thirty yards in front of the window. There it sat until it gradually recovered, took a few hops, found some insects and flew off again.
Jen had heard a Nightingale on the way back from the shops. Before lunch, we drove to the spot and only had to wait a few minutes before it's liquid, bubbling, fluty notes enhanced the day. Even better, we actually SAW it as it flew further into the willows, rusty red tail obvious in flight.
Dunwich Heath gave us views of three Dartford Warblers and two Stonechats, a very short way down the Coastguards' Cottages' path. Both these species suffered in the second very cold winter.
After lunch, whilst I was constantly scanning for passing Terns, a single adult Gannet flew south. Thinking that Sizewell might have a few terns - Jen and Marj were keen to see one - we drove to the car park to search the offshore constructions. No terns, but at least a hundred delightful, dove-grey  Kittiwakes, huddled on the ledges.
Not a birding day as such, yet, a very productive one, our earliest Nightingale by far.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Walking about in Short Sleeves

Friday April 8
At last I can access my Blog. It wouldn't load at all last night and I've had to switch to Chrome to-night. (April 9)
Via a Rough legged Buzzard spiralling into the sun at Horsey, we meandered to Buckenham Marshes on a superb spring day. Cloudless and warm despite the NW wind.
The flock of feral Barnacles, including the strange hybrid white-headed one, grazed on the left of the path, little else to see on the way in. 

The big pool viewable from the Fisherman's car park had the expected ducks plus a handsome Ruddy Shelduck which has apparently been around for a while. Shame it's not really countable......

Too distant for a sharp enlargement
Despite meticulous scanning of the countless birds on the wet fields towards the Mill, there was nothing of note - that's what the RSPB man said too. We stopped to compare notes with him, the only other birder in view at the time. Hearing four Sedge Warblers en route, only one showing, we parked at the Mill to scan the pools viewable there. A couple of Avocet, even more Redshanks, a single Ruff and nineteen glorious brick-red Black-tailed Godwit. 
Whilst eating our lunch, the RSPB man joined us, squatting on the bank whilst we talked Eagles, Mull, Scotland, Minke Whales and the effects of the cold winter on the birds . Pam heard a Snipe drumming shortly before we left. That went down in his notebook as there have  been very few sightings here. Despite the lack of Wagtails etc.  it was a thoroughly enjoyable hour or two, we both love the marshes.
Slowing down before the level crossing, first a Blackcap and then our first Garden Warbler of the year sang to us. A handy comparison. Our garden Blackcap and Chiffchaff have been singing for a week or more.
Strumpshaw Centre Hide had us counting Gulls whilst we waited for a Bittern sighting. No luck to-day. Reports of a Gropper near Fen Hide sent us walking the Sandy Bank. For the first time, a Willow Warbler stopped long enough for me to attempt some photos into the light.

The Grasshopper Warbler performed loudly and nearby for us from the reed-bed opposite the entrance to Fen Hide, stopped as we walked to the hide and didn't sing again. That was Robin's experience too. He'd walked to Tower Hide and failed to see the reported Ferruginous Duck - we didn't bother, it's a long walk.
A female Marsh Harrier made lazy circles in the sky as we walked to Fen Hide where we sat for half an hour, hearing a Bearded Tit and seeing a Chinese Water Deer.

Many butterflies around to-day, mostly Brimstones, a couple of Tortoiseshell and a single very tatty Comma.
Blossom against a blue sky is irresistible....I couldn't focus on the lovely scarlet tips on the branches of an unknown conifer.


Sunday, 3 April 2011

Barton Broad

Sunday April 3
A mere 10 mile journey, we were parked at Barton Broad before 9.30 a.m. - and after sorting last night's catch of 200 moths.  As we walked the boardwalk to the viewing area, I told Pam that I'd like to see: Willow Warbler, Common Tern, Little Gull and a House Martin.
A Willow Warbler burst into song before the junction, three or four Wrens seemed to be having a sing-off (shout-off more like it). On reaching the platform, we could see at least eleven Common Terns swooping distantly over the water.

Best Common Tern I could manage.
Difficult to do an accurate count as much of the broad is out of view, some were flying, others perched, with frequent change of position. Whilst admiring the terns' effortless flight, I noticed a first summer Little Gull perched on one of the many buoys.

This distant Little Gull I caught by accident - only saw it when I was editing my photos! Black underwings a giveaway.
Despite assidous scanning of  the 15 or so hirundine flying very high over the far corner, the only sure ID was Swallow and Sand Martin. Ten minutes later they were gone.
We both scanned the far treeline, seeing six raptors in the air at once, one Buzzard and one Sparrowhawk, the others were displaying Marsh Harriers. We were fortunate enough to see a talon food pass between one pair of the Harriers.
Whilst I was trying to photograph, Pam excitedly called 'Cranes'. Again, above the treeline on the far shore of the broad, below the raptors. Three to start with, which then spent the next fifteen minutes flying about, separating, coming back together and spiralling. One bird then dropped behind the trees from which they'd risen. The remaining two messed about, enjoying the morning, for another ten minutes, before being joined by two others. The four of them were still in the air when we left after an hour and a half.
A dozen resplendent Great Crested Grebes, a pair of fly-catching Reed Buntings, two Jays and incredibly loud - very close - Cetti's Warblers enhanced the morning as did the freshly emerging Willow flowers amongst the alders in the carr. One day we'll see an otter here.....

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Not a Foolish Day

Friday April 1
Still very dull and cloudy when we set off at 5.55a.m., we even had rain the other side of Holt. The wind gradually increased too.
A Buzzard called overhead as we walked to Abbey Farm Hide. It's sole occupant hadn't seen the Little Owl either - we had to wait until Felbrigg on the way home where one showed in the nesthole. However, a Kingfisher was perched on the ground, hidden by the reeds, below the nesting bank. We had to wait for a gust of wind to glimpse the blue blob. Five minutes later, the perched bird flew down the stream and away, closely followed by another. There can't be any eggs yet.
Snettisham was teeming with the expected waders, reasonably close for scope views on a falling tide. Both Golden and Grey Plovers, hordes of Bar-tailed Godwits and Curlew, the huge flocks of Knot rising like smoke from the water's edge. Lovely views with breakfast. A few Goldeneye and about 40 Avocets on the pits. No Pinkfeet but about 300 Brent rose from a distant field, settling on the mud.
A lone Scoter from the cliffs at Hunstanton, just the one Fulmar floated by. Too rough for them to bob on the sea? Or egg sitting? I wasn't getting out to hear them gargle on the nest, the wind made it cold despite the temperature reading of 12C.
Holme wasn't worth the potholed drive to-day - apart from adding our only Magpies of the day and a female Sparrowhawk spooking the 17 Avocets on the Broadwater. Everything we saw here we would see elsewhere. The wind howling down the Broadwater didn't help.
We met Geordie David and Ben outside Titchwell Centre, he was complaining about the wind strength not allowing him to walk to Thornham as usual.
Carried along by the wind gusting at our backs, we lurched to island Hide from which we could see 4 Garganey, two drakes and 2 females, asleep on the mud in a reedy bay.

At least the males' white head stripe shows...
We waited half an hour but, they only woke briefly when a Marsh Harrier floated by.  A camera holding man told me how well they'd been showing earlier, feeding in the open near the hide... Sickening.

A bright Ruff (Reeve?)
Difficult to accurately count the number of Sand Martins feeding over the pools and marsh, maybe as many as 50.
Battling back against the wind, we walked the Meadow Trail to Fen Hide, grateful for the shelter of the trees. Here, Pam caught up with the Blackcap I'd heard in the car park, thank goodness for that.
For the first time, we could use our permit to drive in to Holkham Park, only to find that the car park has been moved much further back so that the lake is out of sight. Very disappointing.

We looked at this striking tree bark instead!
We stopped on the way out, to view and photograph a herd of about 400 Fallow Deer feeding under the trees in gentle sunlight (at last).

Only one stag visible, must be very fit.....
Down the hill towards the main road, our first Swallow hawked the house roofs.
Finding the Brent flock too distant and/or obscured to scan for anomalies, we added the Little Owl at Felbrigg and three Great Crested Grebes in splendid plumage at Gunton. The biggest surprise of the day was finding a resplendent pair of Mandarin on the Saw Mill stream.
Home before 4.00 to count up.
Day's total: 93 with 4 year birds.