29 May 2007

Trip Report (Part 3): RSPB Bempton

Peregrine's Birding Facts: Gannets will travel upto 60 miles from nesting site to find food and will dive from heights of 130 feet entering the water at 60 miles per hour!!

After my day on the Farne Islands I spent the night in nearby Bamburgh at a Bed and Breakfast called "Broome" recommended in the Alastair Sawday's Special Places to Stay. A far cry from my previous night. In the morning I set off for Norfolk with a few stops in between.

My first stop was at Hauxley Nature Reserve about half an hours drive away. The reserve is part of the former Radcliffe open cast coal working, which was landscaped to produce a lake with islands. It was bought by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust (NWT) in 1983 to be developed as a reserve. Tree and shrub planting has been carried out around the reserve boundary and near the hides. The body of water, islands, reedbeds and trees attract large numbers of birds, including waders and many migrants. I saw some late staying Barnacle and Pink Footed Geese and there were some breeding Lapwing. I bumped into a gentleman that I had briefly spoken to on the Farnes who was also photographing birds he was Peter Beesley who also has a Bird Blog HERE. He comes from Peterborough and knew the person I was staying that night in Norfolk.

My next stop was East Chevington another NWT Reserve. The site contains two large lakes with fringing reedbeds, grassland and newly planted woodland. The Trust also owns farmland to the west of the ponds but this is only accessible along marked routes. The site is already seen as one of the best birdwatching sites in the area with large numbers of water birds using the ponds and their margins including greylag and pink-footed geese. Skylark, stonechat and grasshopper warbler breed on the site and can often be seen around the grassland areas. Reed bunting and reed warbler use the developing reedbed areas. I drove to a small parking area near the beach and the moment I got out of the car I heard the very distinctive sound of the Grasshopper Warbler right next to the car. It took me a long time to locate it and with the briefest of glimpses it flew off. This was a lifer for me and certainly made my morning. You can listen to it HERE.There was also Sedge and Reed Warbler in the bushes and reedbeds.

I then headed south past Newcastle and the " Angel of the North" Anthony Gormley's masterpiece and probably best known and loved public art. I had never seen it in the flesh as it were and I thought it was great.

Two hours later I get to RSPB Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve which is home to England's Largest Seabird Colony, with over 200,000 nesting seabirds. It has the largest mainland Gannet colony in Britain.It is situated between Scarborough and Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire.
I was under pressure to get to Norfolk and allowed myself an hour to view the birds from the cliffs. Yet again not long enough. There was a strong onshore wind which meant the birds were floating on the updrafts.

It was definately a place that needed more time as I could have watched the Fulmars for hours gliding around the cliffs. I am not sure when the best time to go is as there was quite a few school parties there in the afternoon and I was getting quite alot of "Thats a big lens Mr" giggle, giggle.

Anyway onwards to Norfolk which took me nearly four hours from Bempton. Before my trip I posted a message on Birdforum that I wanted a guide for a day and Gordon Hamlett very kindly emailed me to say that he would be willing to show me round and that I could stay the night with him and his wife Chris. So I made my way to his house and my experience of North Norfolk will be in Trip Report part 4!!

23 May 2007

Trip Report (part2): The Farne Islands Northumberland

Peregrine's Birding Facts In 2006 there were 28,652 Breeding Pairs of Puffin on the Farne Islands.

I arrived in the evening at Seahouses the coastal village from where you take the ferry to the Farne Islands. The Farne Islands lie two to three miles off the Northumberland coast midway between the fishing village of Seahouses and the magnificent Castle of Bamburgh. It is one of the most famous Sea Bird Sanctuary in the British Isles. I didnt have a Bed and Breakfast booked for the first night so I walked around the village looking for one. Nearly everyone was full but eventually I found one which was highly over priced yet the owner assured me it was worth it. It was out of the seventies! mock wood floor made from linoleum and had a completely sterile atmosphere. It pained me to pay the bill in the morning. I wish I had gone to Bamburgh.

I went for a walk down to the harbour and heard a few Eider calling. What a nice sound.

I then heard this consternation of sound and looked over to see this woman feeding about thirty eider which were racing to the slipway to be fed, the pitter patter of their feet as they raced up the slipway was very amusing. The light wasnt good for photography so I headed to about the only decent place to eat which I had been recommended "The Olde Ship Inn". It sits just above the harbour and as you can imagine is nautically themed!! Food was ok and much to my surprise the vegetables were under cooked not a complaint one normally has when eating out if anything it is generally the opposite.

In the morning I went back down to the harbour and I found the booths which offered tours to the islands. I had been told to use Billy Shiels MBE as his family had been doing the trips for 60 years. It costs £25 to get out to the islands and a fee of £7.50 payable to the National Trust on landing on Staple Island. The ferry was the MV Glad Tidings one of seven that ply the route. While I waited until 10.00am for the ferry to leave I was watching this eider diving to the bottom of the harbour and coming back upto the surface.

I was enormously relieved that the weather was calm as I had been dreading a rough crossing as I do not fare well on the sea. The last time I went out in my fathers shared fishing boat I had to be put ashore with my youngest son Charlie, who also doesn't do rough sea conditions. The crossing is fairly quick the only annoying thing was again it was very overcast. There were Gannets, Fulmar and Guillemot on the way out and as we got closer little rafts of Puffin on the water. There were a number of bird photographers on the boat all taking shots of the birds and seals on the rocks.

We were being given a running commentary by Billy Shiels about the history of the islands and the wildlife. Then we landed on one of the islands for an hour where there were the greatest opportunities to photograph the birds. I wish I had more time and nicer weather but there will be another time.

I started by taking portrait shots of Puffin, Shag, Razorbill, Kittiwake and Black headed Gull.

and then I tried flight shots of the Puffins and Guillemots.

Then it was time to go it must have been the quickest hour I had ever experienced and before I knew it I was back in Seahouses. It was probably one of the best birding moments of my life. I just love it when you can get so close to birds that you normally dont see very often. I can't wait to go back.

If you are a birder and haven't been there before it is an absolute must and highly, highly recommended.

20 May 2007

Trip Report (part1): Birding Scotland

Peregrine's Birding Facts There are an estimated 160 pairs of Osprey breeding in the UK

I left home and made my way to the ferry in Belfast on which I thought I would keep a good eye on the sea on the way over to Scotland. Not to be it was the fast ferry the size of a football pitch.The windows at the front slope forward and there is a bar to keep you back from them plus they were covered in dirt.At the back there is a small area where you can stand but again it is covered by bars so that you dont jump!! So apart from what I saw out of the side windows I didnt see a great deal on the crossing. Next time I go on the slow ferry.

I went and stayed at my sisters house in Dalguise which she runs as a Bed and Breakfast fortunately for me nobody was staying. I would recommend it to any birdwatcher that stays in the Highlands. It is only ten minutes from Loch of the Lowes Osprey site. I arrived late in the evening. The following morning was absolutely stunning and I went into the kitchen and my sister said had I seen the Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeder. I hadn't. This is becoming a running joke with us as I never see it and she sees it all the time and generally it reappears when I have just left. She has a pair nesting in trees adjacent to her house.

I headed off to RSPB Abernethy beside Loch Garten for the second time this year in my quest to find the Crested Tit. Its about eighty miles north of my sister a very easy drive up the A9. I stopped off at the House of Bruar to fill up with food supplies for the day. I arrived at Abernethy having listened to the willow warblers the whole drive, they are absolutely everywhere.

As soon as I arrived in the car park I noticed a Chaffinch nest in a tree right beside the centre hut and it was amazingly concealed.

Loch Garten is the ancestral home of the osprey in Scotland. The Osprey Centre, set amongst the rare native caledonian pinewood of Abernethy Forest, overlooks the nest of these fish-eating birds of prey. I went to look at the Ospreys that are breeding there this year. I found it a big disapointment the tree that they nest in is tied together with metal posts and the whole scene looks totally unnatural. This year they have been having problems with the breeding and you can follow their own blog!!!! HERE

I then went in search of my bogey bird the Crested Tit. I asked in the centre where I might find them and was told an area on the far side of Loch Garten in the pines. I then grabbed camera gear and the first thing I came across was an obliging Wigeon

I made my way round to the other side of the loch and could not for the life of me find a Crested Tit and neither had other birders that I talked to. While I was looking for them I did come across this Common Sandpiper on the south shore.
and while I was photographing it I saw an Osprey coming into the water at the far side of the loch of which I got this very distant shot.

I was mainly listening to bird calls to identify the Crested Tit and was repeatedly listening to them on my ipod and then hoping to hear them. I then bumped into someone who had just seen one and I spent about an hour in the area hoping to get a glimpse when I heard a sound up in a pine which I thought was promising especially as I hadnt heard this bird call before. I searched and searched eventually this lovely male Redstart showed itself a bird I have never seen before, well I saw a female in Donegal last autumn but not the nicely coloured male.

Well at this point I was quite annoyed to come all this way to see the tit and not see it but this more than made up for it. I will just have come back another time. I then decided to try and see the King Eider that had been seen at Burghead on the Moray Firth. So I headed for another sixty miles further north following the famous salmon fishing river the Spey most of the way. The one thing that really shocked me was the amount of dead pheasants on the road sometimes as many as fifteen in a mile. Having said that they are not the brightest of birds and if I hadnt braked fairly severely I would have added to the total.

I then saw what at first was a bird in distress across a field all I could see from the road was a fence and the wings flapping away as though trapped so I pulled over and got my binoculars out for a closer look. It was a curlew and infact there were two curlew and they definately werent trapped!!!!

I was enjoying my trip so far as I had never driven in this area before so it was all new to me. Burghead is a little harbour on the Moray Firth. I spent an hour looking and saw quite alot of eider but no King Eider :-(

I then headed back to my sisters for dinner.

She told me about a Black grouse lek site not far from the House of Bruar and Loch Tummel so the following morning I headed up there on an even better day than the previous the weather was just superb warm, clear blue skies and little or no wind. No sign of the Black Grouse though. So I headed back to Tyrella for a mid morning coffee where I packed to continue my trip down to the Farne Islands off Northumberland. On the way I stopped at the Loch of Lowes Visitor Centre and Wildlife Reserve. Loch of the Lowes covers about 200 acres and from early April to late August the star attraction is a pair of breeding ospreys. Their nest is situated within 150 metres of the observation hide.

This site in my mind is vastly better than RSPB Abernethy you have far better and uninterrupted views of the birds. They also have a selection of feeders outside the centre which attract Red Squirrels, Siskin, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Coal,Great and Blue Tit, Gt Spotted Woodpecker and fortunately for me a Yellowhammer which was nice to see at close quarters

I then headed south and stopped off at RSPB Vane Farm it is set in the Kinross countryside, only 30 minutes north of Edinburgh. There is a trail from the visitor centre via a stepped underpass leads to three viewing hides overlooking the wetlands and loch and offers close up access to the wildlife. There is also a longer, steeper trail that leads through birch woodland to the summit of Vane Hill which has spectacular views.You can see willow warblers, tree pipits and great spotted woodpeckers. The reserve is part of the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve and it is to the Loch and surrounding wet grassland that pink-footed and greylag geese, whooper swans and thousands of dabbling ducks are attracted each winter.I had heard there was a Lesser Scaup there so I thought I would see if I could get better views than the one near to me at home. Not to be, my fourth dip of the trip so far.

So I headed south to Seahouses in Northumberland.

15 May 2007

WOW! Just finished a Journey of 2105 miles around Britain 133 Species of Birds and 13 Lifers

132. Osprey
133. Redstart (Lough Garten, Scotland)
134. Puffin
135. Sedge Warbler
136. Grasshopper Warbler
137. Stock Dove
138. Rock Dove
139. Egyptian Goose
140. Corn Bunting
141. Marsh Harrier
142. Dark Bellied Brent Goose
143. Spotted Redshank
144. Common Scoter
145. Whitethroat
146. Avocet
147. Montagues Harrier (4 in the air at once)
149. Stone Curlew
150. Wood Lark
151. Green Woodpecker
152. Cuckoo
153. Reed Warbler
154. Hobby
155. Little Tern
156. Cettis Warbler
157. Lesser Whitethroat
158. Common Tern
159. Turtle Dove
160. Little Owl
161. Mediterranean Gull
162. Jack Snipe
163. Bittern (Heard)
164. Garden Warbler
165. Bearded Tit (Heard)
166. Little Ringed Plover
167. Nightjar
168. Tree Pipit
169. Dartford Warbler
170. Nightingale
171. Kite
172. Ringed Neck Parakeet
173. Pomarine Skua

Peregrine's Birding Facts There are around 3400 breeding pairs of Nightjars in the UK. (And I have seen one of them!!)

Well I have just returned from a trip around Britain. I started in Scotland looking for the Crested Tit again at RSPB Abernethy and finished on the South Coast of England at Portland Bill where I saw my first Pomarine Skua. On the way I travelled via Northumberland where I visited the Farne Islands. Onto Norfolk via RSPB Bempton Cliffs. In Norfolk I stayed with Gordon Hamlett the author of "Best Birdwatching Sites: Scottish Highlands" who very kindly put me up and gave me a tour of the North Norfolk Coast. I then travelled to stay with my uncle who lives ten minutes drive from RSPB Minsmere (Very convenient) Then onto London and the Barnes Wildlife and Wetlands Trust site. Then to Berkshire where I was put up by Patrick Crowley of the Berkshire and Wokingham RSPB group, whom I had showed round Northern Ireland earlier in the year. It was here that I was shown around the Berkshire Heathland and saw my first Dartford Warbler. Then it was onto stay with my in-laws in North Dorset and visit the Portland Bird Observatory. At this stage the plan had been to go onto WWT Slimbridge and then the Kites at Gigrin Farm in Wales but the weather closed in and photography wasnt going to be possible. So I headed home.

On the way I took loads and loads of photos of which the cutest was at Lake Radipole in Weymouth, Dorset

and another of my favourites was of the Puffins on the Farne Islands.

Over the next week or so I will write about the trip in more detail.