Saturday, 7 March 2020

Costa Rica. 7th July - 4th August 2018

The other day, I finally sat down and went through all my notes and photographs from our trip to Costa Rica back in 2018, and it brought back some happy memories so I thought I'd relive them by kick-starting the old blog back into life, most probably before forgetting about it for another year.

We wanted to go away for a decent holiday in 2018, pre-requisites being that it is somewhere hot, some beaches to enjoy and plenty of birds, and for quite some time we had Sri Lanka down as where we would go. Then suddenly Costa Rica became a contender, and I'm not sure why we specifically decided upon that particular country, but it became set in stone and we booked it and I was soon delving into lonely planet books and bird guides.

In short, it is an incredibly beautiful country, with seemingly endless tracts of rainforest, amazing beaches and wildlife literally everywhere. Quite a change from Vietnam, which whilst i'm sure is still brimming with goodies, was somewhere where you had to really work for your birds. In Costa Rica it wasn't exactly easy, but there was always something exciting round the next corner.
Travel-wise it differed from other places we had been in that it was more expensive than we had imagined, which on our usual travellers budget, forced us to live a lot more frugally than we usually would - often subsisting on a diet of rice and vegetables, cooked up in various hostel kitchens. Otherwise however, we found it to be a wonderful place to travel with the vast majority of people being exceptionally welcoming and friendly, going out of their way to help, even strangers on public transport! We found it relatively easy to travel the country by bus, which although it involved long journeys, was always reasonably comfortable and reliable. I should also note that we went during the 'rainy season' which I think just lasts most of the year. Rain it did - we were treated to frequent extreme downpours every single day - some days it just rained and rained, especially up in the higher elevations. Still, I guess there wouldn't be all the rainforests without all the rain!

And onto the birding. Having read reports prior to going where people were seeing 250-300 species in a single trip, I was looking forward to getting to grips with some Neotropical species. Obviously, without a guide and by relying on public transport, it always restrictive as to what you are able to see (lacking access to certain areas, or lacking identification know-how), but I do find it much more rewarding going out and working stuff out for myself. In the end I identified 114 species, which was less than I'd hoped for, but with 14 endemics and some 109 of them being completely new to me, it wasn't too bad really...

San Jose

We flew into San Jose and as we tend to do booked our first couple of nights at our destination to find our feet and acclimatise to the country. It also provides an opportunity to do a bit of light local birding as in introduction to a whole new suite of species. On this occasion, we wished we hadn't bothered, as it wasn't a particularly nice place to be, certainly lacking much to entertain your typical traveller. It was bustling, a bit run down and there didn't seem to be many places even to sit down and have a drink or something to eat. A walk to a park on the outskirts of the city centre produced Green Heron and some Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on a lake, as well as a couple of guys getting busted by the local cops (nice!). We also got to grips with species that would soon become familiar during the whole trip such as Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird and Great-tailed Grackle.
Great Kiskadee


A Costa Rican Uber whisked us to the local bus station at dawn, to take a bus up the mountains to Monterverde, to experience some of the jungle and cloudforest that the country is so famed for. We stayed at some brilliant self-catering accommodation on hills to the north of the town (a fairly long trek up and down each time we wanted to go anywhere!). This would be home for the next few days and a little wander round the local area produced a few Blue-crowned Motmot, Boat-billed Flycatchers (seemingly replacing Kiskadees at this elevation) and plenty of Black Vultures overhead. Around our grounds were lots of noisy Brown Jay, and in the garden were House wrens, Rufous-collared Sparrows and White-eared ground sparrows.
Blue-crowned Motmot

The next day dawned and it was absolutely chucking it down. We spent quite some time stuck indoors thinking we may as well have gone to the Lake District - the weather would probably have been better! We had a wet walk through some forest at the back of the grounds that had been designed as a little reserve called Ecopaz with several footpaths running through it. More of the same was mostly seen birdwise, though I did add Tropical Mockingbird and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher to the list. In the afternoon it cleared up a bit so we took a longer-than-expected walk up to Baja del Tigres, a 'shadow-rainforest' reserve, drier than the nearby cloud-forest, with a different range of species. The reserve was great with lots of well marked paths and some incredible viewpoints, but my main target here was the bizarre 3-Wattled Bellbird. It took a while but eventually we started hearing some of the bonkers bell-like vocalisations that give this species its name. We got some restricted views of a pair up in the canopy, but I was pleased that we even managed to find it at all. Other birds noted were the only Resplendent Quetzal of the whole trip, a frustratingly brief flight view, as well as Golden-olive Woodpecker, Crested Guan, Blue-grey Tanager and Swallow-tailed Kite. We also saw the first of many Agoutis in the forest, a chunky rodent about the size of a Hare, common throughout the whole trip. Other birds noted along the way included Plain Wren, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Red-billed Pigeon and Orange-fronted Parakeet. Handily we also got a lift back to town on the back of a Golf buggy with a near-deaf American ex-pat who had lived in the town for decades, saving a long walk back.
3-wattled bellbird

Waking up to better weather the next morning, we made our way to town to hop on a bus up to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This was the main reason we had come up here and we were not disappointed, we ended up taking on most of the tourist trails, which resulted in a good few hours of walking and birding. The atmosphere in the forest is hard to describe, but it had an eerie silence, enhanced by the high humidity and unending gloom that came from an extremely thick and lush understory. Lonely bird-calls echoed from tree to tree and an occasional glimpse of something in the vegetation was almost all you could see of any birdlife. Luckily we occasionally chanced upon little flocks of feeding birds, commonly made up of Three-striped Warblers, Common Chlorospingus, Sooty-faced finch, Banaquit and Grey-breasted Woodwren. The haunting calls of Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush will stay with me forever, not dissimilar to those of the Black-faced Solitaire, both of which were seen a few times. A number of very cute Collared Redstart were seen in a clearing, a local endemic, and at the highest point of the park we noted a Black-thighed Grosbeak flitting from the treetops. We encountered our first Coatis of the trip too, we felt incredibly priveliged to see a family party wandering across the path (it was pretty awesome!), however the magic was later shattered when we realised they were everywhere, especially at the café where they were trying to steal peoples coffee and cakes! Other mammals included or first Monkeys (White-faced Capuchins), and more Agoutis.

Slaty-backed Nightinghale-thrush

Sooty-faced Finch 

The café at the entrance to the Cloudforest was a particular highlight, not just for the excellent fare, but also because of the busy Hummingird feeders, which were attracting dozens of hummers. I, amongst many other tourists, was rattling off hundreds of photos, and I managed to get a couple of decent ones, but it was mostly useful so that I could later pore over them to identify the species. Most common were Green-crowned Brilliant, Green Violetear, Violet Sabrewing, as well as smaller numbers of Purple-throated Mountian-gem, Talamanca (Magnificent), Stripe-tailed and Coppery-headed Hummingbird, along with plenty of Bananaquits.


Coppery-headed Emerald

Green-crowned Brilliant (Female)

Green-crowned Brilliant Juv

Purple-throated Mountain-gem Juv

Violet Sabrewing

Coati - Just before trying to nick our coffee and cake


After the temperate climate of the uplands, it was quite a pleasant change to a hot and humid climate when we reached the pacific lowlands, which was to be our main focus for the rest of the trip. We were on our way to Jaco which would serve as our base for the next few days before we made a decision on which way to go next. A lengthy stopover at Puntarenas meant a bit of beach time with all our luggage, but allowed for our first views of the Pacific, complete with passing flocks of Brown Pelican, White Ibis, and overhead a large gathering of Turkey Vulture and Magnificent Frigatebird. The occasional Royal Tern also flew by and I managed some photographs of a lone Willet that was working up and down the shoreline.


When we eventually reached our accommodation in Jaco (complete with a nice garden to chill out in), we just got a feel of the local area. Great Kiskadee and Tropical Kingbird were seemingly the most common species here (and the rest of the lowlands it emerged), along with a number of Clay-coloured Thrush in the garden, and Ruddy-ground Doves, a Streak-headed Woodcreeper and a Rufous-naped Wren (a massive wren!) also putting in appearances. A morning walk along the beachfront and surrounding area also added the first of many Spotted Sandpipers and some Inca Dove.
Tropical Kingbird

Spotted sandpiper

We later got a bus to Carara National Park, where we'd hoped to get dropped off at the main entrance. Our limited Spanish however got us dropped of a mile or two up the road, at the famous Cocodrilo Bridge over the Rio Tarcoles, which was actually pretty cool (lots of crocs!), if a little hair-raising (Lorries passing by at high speed at close quarters!). Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron and Ringed Kingfisher were also noted from here, before we backtracked along the roadside to the main park entrance. Our aim here was Scarlet Macaw, but unfortunately we only heard them here (but ended up seeing them regularly in the following week), but there was plenty of stuff to keep us interested in this pleasant reserve. We followed the trails through the jungle, picking off various small species feeding in the understorey, including Orange-billed Sparrow, Red-capped Manakin, Black-hooded Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antbird and Buff-rumped Warbler. Higher up in the canopy, new birds include Gray-headed Tanager, Streaked Flycatcher, and Wedge-billed Woodcreeper. We saw our second Monkey species of the trip too, with several distant parties of Spider Monkeys crashing through the canopy.

Streaked Flycatcher

Back in Jaco, we finally saw Scarlet Macaws, with birds seemingly travelling in and out to roost in the evening and again in the morning. A Yellow-headed Caracara was rifling through some bins in town in the evening and I also added Bare-throated Tiger Heron and Red-crowned Woodpecker to the list before we departed for our next stop-off.


We were unsure where to go next, and ended up in Uvita as it was famed for an excellent beach and potential whale sightings too (we were a bit too early). However a mix of poor accommodation and not much to do, meant we didn't stay here very long. The beach was indeed very beautiful and of course there were birds to see too, though it felt like opportunities for exploring were a bit limited, so I only managed whatever was in the surrounding land around the town. That said, some new species were seen, such as Gray-necked Woodrail, Purple-crowned Fairy, Variable seedeater, Blue-black Grassquit, Bronzed Cowbird and Plumbeous Kite. Palm and Cherrie's Tanagers were very common, along with the usual Kiskadees and Kingbirds, whilst it was quite entertaining having Black Vultures picking through the rubbish out the back of the accommodation. Overhead were Scarlet Macaws and Caracaras, and at night hundreds of Parrots (that sounded much like Pink-footed geese!) flew over to roost, but I never knew what species they were.

Tropical Kingbird, with lunch

Grey-necked Woodrail

Black Vulture with fruit salad

Drake Bay

The Osa peninsular was to be our home for the next 5 days, we wanted to just stay put for a while instead of travelling around too much so chose Drake Bay as our base as it felt quite remote and had plenty of scope for wildlife. The only way here in the wet season is a boat from Sierpe, and I've never felt quite so unsettled as I did as we were bobbing about on that little boat at the mouth of the river, entering the sea with massive waves coming from several directions, but luckily the crew of the boat traversed these dangerous waters several times a day and skilfully picked their way out of the estuary and onto the open water. Before boarding, we had more great views of Scarlet Macaws, and added Mangrove Swallow and Grey-breasted Martin to the list.

Scarlet Macaw

Over the next couple of days we just relaxed and took in the local area, with several walks up and down the coastal path, between rain showers. Cherrie's Tanagers and Bananaquits were ever present in the garden of the hostel and one afternoon a Black-mandibled Toucan visited the garden, attempting to rob a tanager nest. Around town, I noted Green kingfisher, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Panama Flycatcher and White-tipped doves, and at night hundreds of Red-lored Parrots flew overhead to roost, and amazing experience. Over the next few days, the walk south from the town along a forested path, dotted with little beaches produced plenty, including Mangrove Hummingbird (another endemic), Golden-naped Woodpecker, Great Black Hawk, Golden-hooded Tanager, Thick-billed seedfinch and Riverside Wren. A family of Capuchins also provided some entertainment.
Cherrie's Tanager

Little Blue Heron
Black-mandibled Toucan

We had a couple of guided trips, one to Cano Island to do some snorkelling, which was brilliant, with several turtles coming to see what we were up to, Reef Sharks swimming below and numerous brightly coloured fish. Also a brief sighting of a Humpback whale on the way out was quite a sight. The other was a guided trip to Corcovado National Park, one of the most Biodiverse parks in the world, which can now only be visited with a guide, and only a tiny fraction of which is open for tourism to protect the ecosystem and the rare animals that reside there. The tour was quite generalist, so opportunities for birding were limited, but we got some nice scope views of Black-throated and Slaty-tailed Trogon, and other new species were Great Currasow, Pale-vented Pigeon, Agami heron, Snowy egret, Stripe-throated Hermit and Double-toothed kite. We also passed a colony of Brown Booby from the boat on the way back. The stars of the show were the mammals however, and we got point-blank views of a resting Baird's Tapir, a huge family party of Coati, and all four species of Monkey to be found in Costa Rica, including excellent views of Squirrel Monkeys - very cute.
Yellow-headed Caracara
Great Currasow
Squirrel Monkey

Baird's Tapir

Manuel Antonio

For our last couple of days we were unsure where to go, and although we'd heard it was a bit touristy, we settled on Manuel Antonio to see out the trip. Our accommodation was at the top end of town, a ten minute bus journey to the National Park, and in the grounds we had the company of some noisy Howler Monkeys, as well as Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, more Black-mandibled Toucans, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Groove-billed Ani and White-crowned Parrot.


The park itself was very pleasant, with excellent trails through more lush forest, though it was busy with lots of family groups and other visitors, some of which were not exactly quiet, but we did kind of expect this from Costa Ricas most popular national park. Birds were thin on the ground, obviously keeping away from the tourist trails, though we did add Fiery-billed Aracari and Wedge-billed and Cocoa Woodcreepers to the list, along with more Orange-billed Sparrow, Black-hooded Antshrike and another Mangrove Hummingbird, among other commoner species. Mammal interest was high again, and it was particularly entertaining watching brazen Capuchins and Raccoons rifling through peoples bags and trying to snaffle their lunch on one of the beaches, and we also got our first glimpse of a 2-toed Sloth chilling in a palm tree.


We started the journey back to the airport the next day, but before leaving I had a wander down to town through a forest-lined neighbourhood, hoping for some last-minute additions, and managed 2 new species, Masked Tityra and White-collared Swift, along with some more Golden-naped Woodpeckers and Groove-billed Anis, and I also had excellent views of a Howler Monkey and another Sloth, before walking back up the beach to get the bus back up to the apartment.
Howler Balls
Howler Monkey

And that was it - the journey back was uneventful and we stayed in a windowless room in Alajuela (much nicer than San Jose!) before flying back the next day. As previously stated, a list of 114 was good, though I would have liked more (who wouldn't?), with 14 endemics (or near-endemics), and 14 species of mammal. It was a great taste of birding the Americas, and only left me wanting to come to this continent again to experience more of what's on offer.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Lincs coast - 30th September

Ooooh - first blog post of the year and its not even October yet...

I've been thinking about getting over to Lincs again recently, having been excitedly reading rare bird reports and thinking about migration, so got in contact with a few birding pals and tried to get something organised. Unfortunately due to various reasons, today was the first day that I could manage.

I picked up Pete from Bingham at 6am and we headed east, knowing that the coast had been particularly quiet again after another autumn of westerly winds and unfavourable conditions. However we were of the opinion that if we didn't try then we wouldn't see anything at all. A decent outlook, at least then we couldn't be too disappointed.

We decided on giving Rimac another bash and walked from the carpark up to Paradise Pool and back. Migrants were particularly thin on the ground - we only saw a couple of Chiffchaff and one or two Goldcrests. Overhead there was a single Swallow, a few Siskin and a small trickle of Meadow Pipits. The bushes were particularly quiet, so we didnt waste too much time on trying to make something out of nothing. A couple of Marsh Harrier out on the saltmarsh brightened things up a bit though as well as up to 6 Stonechat and a few flocks of Pinkfeet. High tide at Paradise pool was quiet too with just 26 Redshank and a couple of Black-wits among a scattering of gulls.


We decided not to do much of the south of the reserve as it seemed horribly quiet on a quick walk-round, so we relocated to some of the dunes south of Mablethorpe. We settled on Marsh Yard and had a short but productive sea watch whilst eating lunch. Red-throated Divers were settled on the sea with 6 or more seen in various states of moult, but mostly still in summer plumage which was nice to see. An exceptionally close-in Manx Shearwater gave good views too, as did a juvenile Arctic Skua, but otherwise movement was limited to mainly a few Gannets. 

Afterwards we gave the landward side of the dunes a go, but aside from a Short-eared Owl flying over our heads and heading inland, there was little to write home about. The site seemed pretty good though and there was a nice little woodland tucked behind the dunes at one end that looked good for migrants given the right conditions. Today was not one of those days though, all we saw was 2 Muntjac and very few birds, but certainly a site to go back to.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The obligatory 2017 roundup

I'll try to keep this brief, its just quite good to have a look back through the year and see how it's been. Its not been the most amazing of years locally, but I have managed quite a few nice birds throughout the year, some things have gone my way, others not so much.

I'll break this down into 3 sections.

Holme Pierrepont

Things started out well on patch with several sightings of a Great White Egret early on, and some good additions to the patch list in February and March. Spring was OK, but being busy at work and other things meant I couldn't get down to the patch as much as I would have liked, leading to some birds being missed. The Autumn was a bit rubbish, very poor for migrant waders and with that my enthusiasm started to fizzle out, as often happens, and I began to look further afield. Buying a house certainly reduced birding time too!

All that aside, there have been some highlights, including 5 patch ticks - Wood Warbler, Red-rumped Swallow, Pintail and Cattle and Great white egrets. Several Black-necked Grebe sightings added to the interest, as well as Black Terns in spring and Autumn. Other goodies included a Turnstone, Knot and several Whimbrel, as well as a few Garganey, and a Sibe Chiff. Narrow misses were Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Wood Sandpiper, whilst 'easy' birds such as Green Sand, Greenshank and Ruff were all notable by their absence (on my list!)

I ended on 124 species - 130 was my unofficial target - and as far as i know there were roughly 160 species seen on site throughout the whole year, so many missed birds... must try harder!

Notts Birds

Its been a reasonable year for scarcer birds in the county, and I managed 150 species without trying too hard really. Obvious highlights were the Bee-eaters at East Leake, Great Grey Shrike at Owthorpe and only my 2nd county Black-throated diver at Hoveringham. Several Glaucs and Casps at the Hov gull roost and Cotham tip were nice, though I failed to see any Med Gulls in the county this year! Several Scaup (Kilvington, Holme Pierrepont and Stoke Bardolph) were nice. I finally added Ring Ouzel to my notts list, after failing so many times in the past, and Gannet and Bean goose were also accounted for!

Further Afield

I attempted to see 200 species in Britain this year and fell short at 187 species. I thought a bit of autumn birding could have helped things along a bit, but several trips to the coast were pretty poor in terms of migrants, not helped by slow birding back home. However, my attempts resulted in some nice birds seen, including 14 UK ticks. A Long-tailed duck over the border in Derbys was nice, a Long-billed Dowitcher in Lincs and Pec and Curlew sandpipers at Spurn added to the wader total, and a range of breeding seabirds seen on a trip to scotland, along with crested tit (but no eagles or capers!). A late Snow Bunting in mablethorpe was the last of the year.

Other decent birds were the long-staying American Wigeon at Rutland, with other decent birds there including Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Red-breasted Merganser and a load of Great White Egrets throughout the year. The Velvet Scoter at Staunton Harold Res in Derbys did the decent thing and hung on til after new year, meaning i could get it on the 2017 list a few weeks after initially seeing it in 2016.

There are many birds that could have made up the 13 species i'd have needed to get to 200, the most sore being Bittern, Great Northern Diver and Gropper! If i had tried a little harder Slavonian Grebe would have been relatively easy (birds at hov and collingham, i think!), and the same goes for Spoonbill (didn't bother going for the Erewash bird) Ring-necked parakeet (missed em in Bridgford, couldn't be bothered with the Wollaton birds!) and a host of many others. Still, it wasn't a bad year overall and what I did see was without busting a gut too much!

Going to take it as it comes this year, will still be doing Holme Pierrepont when I can, and will try my best to keep an eye on things at Colwick Park too, seeing as its on my doorstep and underwatched (could be that its not particularly good - but surely somethings lurking there somewhere!). Other than that I'll just try and get out and see good birds, and who knows maybe find something decent along the way too? Probably not though...

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Rutland 25th Nov

I wasn't sure whether to do some local birding today, perhaps looking for some winter grebes or divers, or whether to go further afield to Rutland. In the end I opted for the latter as I'd been to Oakham earlier in the week and fancied a bit of a session round there. Also a Great Northern Diver had been knocking about all week, and the ever-elusive Red-necked Grebe which I always dip had also been regularly seen in the South Arm.

I started by walking the Dam from north to south, stopping every so often to check for the diver, but it didn't appear to be there, and I hadn't seen any recent reports of it... The 3 Red-breasted Mergansers that have been present all week were still there, so that was some recompense, and there were several Goosander about too. It was quite windy and very cold, so I didn't stick around for too long.

I then parked at Old hall and had a look for the Red-necked grebe... another dip. The light was pretty poor and so I could have missed it in the glare, but there was plenty about, including 11 Great white egrets on the south shore, and a flock of 40+ Red-crested Pochard, as well as a few Redshank. Again, it was cold and windy so that eventually forced me to retreat to check out the North Arm. There wasn't much from the small fishermans carpark just outside Hambleton, but the area by Burley Fishponds was crammed with birds, including another 3 Great Egrets. There was a flock of 40 or so Pintail and a fair few other smaller groups, always nice to see, and there was a huge raft of mixed wildfowl, mainly Tufties and Wigeon, which unfortunately didnt hold any hidden gems. I was hoping for a Slav or Black-necked grebe around here, but it wasnt to be, and after a quick check for Smew at Burley fishponds (there weren't any), I went home - a little disappointed for the lack of year-ticks, but it was good to get out nonetheless.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Last coast trip of the autumn?

At the end of October, I engineered a cunning plan to both go on a little break with Michelle and the Dog, Abbie, as well as cram in a bit more Lincs Coast birding. We were staying on the Lincolnshire riviera, in a chalet in Mablethorpe, a short walk from some dunes and the beach, and only a quick drive to some other birding spots.

We arrived on the thuerday and had a quick wander down the beach, picking up a few Sanderlings but little else (still a well overdue year-tick). Much more interesting however was a bird hopping about just in front of the dunes. Without my bins i was a bit unsure, but it allowed close approach and turned out to be a Snow Bunting, a first for me, so not a bad start.

The next day I drove up to Theddlethorpe mid-morning and had a wander round the dunes at crook bank for a couple of hours. Although not completely dead, there was little of interest in the scrub, just lots of Goldcrest and a few tit flocks. An unfamiliar call sparked my interest and I staked out an area for some time, but it came to nothing, I still have no idea what it could have been. However, intermittent Pink-footed goose flocks kept it going, with around 220 going over in small skeins and a group of 100 or so feeding in a rape field.

The next day I spent some time in the morning partaking in a short seawatch - an activity I'm very inexperienced in - but it was quite pleasant sat at the top of the beach and there was a bit of activity. Small flocks of Shelduck were moving North, and there was a frequent passage of Auks and Gannets. Year ticks were provided with a group of 25 Common Scoter and several Brent geese, and it was nice to see a drake Eider moving north. Only one diver was seen, but was too distant to ID.

With the wind strengthening from the northwest, I didn't hold much hope for the dunes,so spent another hour watching the sea on the Sunday before taking Abbie out again. It was a lot quieter than the day before. A lot more Auks were passing, all North, and there were more Gannets about too. Another unidentified Diver flew south and 3 Eiders were seen and that was about it.

So a quiet end to a quiet autumn, but I'm happy that I got myself familiar with some of the sites on the Lincs coast. Whether i get out there again before the end of the year, I don't know, all depends on free time!

Obligatory in situ scope shot

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Another Lincs coast Trip

Yesterday, Pete and I took another trip over to the Lincolnshire coast, leaving poor Ian behind feeling a little unwell. Continuous westerlies and a lack of reports of any significant falls of migrants made us a little concerned that it may be a little quiet, but we remained optimistic of at least finding one or two birds of interest.

We had decided that it would be worth scouring the dunes and scrub of the Rimac reserve south of Saltfleet, a place Pete had visited several times with some success. Getting out of the car to the sound of calling Chiffchaffs gave us hope and 3 in one bush was seen as a glimmer of hope. We walked the seaward side of the dunes, but the vegetation was largely quiet apart from some tit flocks with the odd Goldcrest. More encouraging was the continuous light passage of finches, buntings and Meadow Pipits. A few Siskin, Redpoll and Yellowhammer were of note. A small skein of 11 Pinkfeet also flew north.

At Sea view farm, we overlooked the scrub and managed to pick out a few bits, including a couple of Mistle Thrush, a Tree Sparrow and several Redwing, whilst 3 Snipe flew north. Walking back towards the farm, Pete thought he'd heard a Yellow-brow but we never heard it again. After that it was more of the same, the landward side of the dunes were extremely quiet, in the whole walk back to the carpark and then the further walk south of the carpark, we failed to really pick anything other than the occasional tit/crest flock. 2 Stonechat by the main gate were nice, and we got exceptional views of a very confiding Water Rail in a small reed-fringed pool, but it migrant-wise it was a bit disappointing.

Before leaving, we drove north to the 'Paradise' carpark at Saltfleet to check the pool and channel there for waders. The tide was in however, so no waders at the channel, but we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Long-billed Dowitcher that had been present for several weeks was still about, sitting with around 30 Redshank and 5 Ruff on the Pool. We hadn't expected to see the Dowitcher, as it hadn't been reported since the Monday before, so that was a bit of a result. With strengthening winds and not much faith left in the possibility of finding anything else in the dunes, we called it a day.

Paradise Pool

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Scotland - May/June 2017

I've had photos just sat on my computer doing nothing, from various holidays/trips away that I had intended to blog about. The most recent is when we went away to Scotland at the end of May this year to go and experience the Isle of May in the summer, with all its seabirds, as well as a trip to the Cairngorms to see if we could find a few Scottish specialities.

We drove up to Anstruther on the May bank holiday, and arrived there after around 7 hours of travelling (Edinburgh at rush hour is not the place to be). Michelle was unaware of where we were going so was confused as to why we were travelling for so long. She hadn't even cottoned on when we got to the Library Hostel in Anstruther, nor when I told the staff that I'd been before. I let her know that we'd be watching Puffins the next day, which resulted in much excitement.

Puffins above the Brae

We got the boat to the Island the next morning, on a flat calm sea in beautiful sunshine. As we approached, seabirds slowly began appearing, with the odd Guillemot and Puffin creating a sense of anticipation. The boat passed before the looming West Cliffs, an unforgettable experience, with hundreds of Auks in the sea, and birds plastering the rocks above.

Puffins atop the West Cliffs
We docked at Kirkhaven and were allowed around 3 hours on the Island. It was great to return here after seeing it in such a different light last October. Whereas then it was covered in Goldcrests and Thrushes, this time they had been replaced by Terns, Rock Pipits and Auks. Arctic Terns were nesting at the south of the island, and as we walked up Fluke Street and onto Palpitation Brae, more and more Puffins were seen, ever alert to the presence of the Gulls keeping an eye on them. Eider mothers were seen either on their nests or with creches of ducklings, again striving to keep their young safe from the hungry gulls.

Eider Family, Isle of May
We sat atop the Cliffs for some time, enjoying close views of Razorbills and Kittiwakes, and with Fulmars riding the breeze above us. I retraced many of my steps that I had taken the Autumn before, endlessly pointing out features to Michelle and recalling the many migrants that I had seen. It was nice to see Low Light again as we walked to the north of the island. 

Much of the rest of the time was spent on the Eastern side of the island, where we sat and simply enjoyed the sights and sounds of scores of Puffins, and the cool breeze coming in from the North Sea. Great to be here again, and it certainly made me want to return... perhaps for another autumn spectacular! 

The East of the Island

The next 3 days were spent at Aviemore, where I had a few plans to go looking for birds, but only in between just enjoying the area (it wasn't supposed to be a birding holiday!!). I had intended to 'go high' for some montane species like Snow Bunting, Dotterel and Ptarmigan, but I never really got the chance. We opted instead to go on more low-level walks round some of the woodland and lochans around the area. These were beautiful and not without some ornithological interest. 

The first day we walked round some of the Rothiemurchus estate, where I heard the only Wood Warbler of the Trip, shortly before seeing our first of many Red Squirrels. A brief, distant raptor appeared to be a Golden Eagle but I didnt count it as the views were so terrible. We wandered through some beautiful woodland, surrounding Loch an Eilein, where I managed some reasonable views of Crested Tits, as well as a number of Redstart, Spotted Flycatchers and a Tree Pipit. It was nice to see Goldeneye on the Loch too, as I'm so used to only seeing them in the winter back home.
Red Squirrel, Glenmore

The next day we followed some directions to try and find Capercaille, near Grantown-on-Spey. We were unsuccessful, but enjoyed the silence of the ancient pine forest, and had great views of a Spotted Flycatcher, as well as a few Red-breasted Merganser and a Dipper on the river, and Curlews on the opposite bank. 
Spotted Flycatcher, Grantown on Spey
In the afternoon, we attempted to see Golden Eagles up near the Findhorn Valley. This was typified by lots of wrong turns and driving down unlikely single track roads, but I think we eventually got in around the right spot. Unfortunately we were tired and grumpy by then so we didnt stay for long, but it was a beautiful area and well worth another visit, and whilst there we did see plenty of Common Sandpipers and families of Oystercatchers.

A bit more walking the next day didn't really result in any more exciting birds, although the beer garden at the Old Bridge Inn was a good place to watch Common Sand on the river, and Spotted Flycatchers were in the trees around the picnic benches too. I tried for Slav Grebe at Loch Vaa early on the Saturday, and tried from a viewpoint about halfway up Cairngorm to see Black Grouse (both without success), and late we tried for a 'rogue-male' Caper at a site on the way back home. We staked out the area for some time, but it was clear that it wasn't about (if it was a 'rogue' then I think it would have quickly tried to see us off), but it was nice to add Cuckoo to the trip list, with many singing in the area, and a couple more Red Squirrels too.

Although I failed to see almost all my target birds in this area of the country, it was good to experience this beautiful area, and get a bit more familiar with where to go to see certain things. It's certainly my intention to return and really give it some effort to successfully find some of  these highland specials.