Tag Archives: Red-breasted Flycatcher

Late Oct 2019 – Scilly Season

Not a tour, but a family holiday – and Scilly is conveniently a great place for birding in October! The Isles of Scilly are perhaps best know in birding terms for the number of American landbirds they have historically attracted in Autumn. We stayed on the island of Tresco, but we made several trips over to St Mary’s too.

Late October is not the best time, and sure enough all the ‘Yanks’ which had previously appeared cleared out a few days before we arrived. Still, there were more good birds to find, and one rarity at least had the decency to linger long enough for us to catch up with it.

The day we arrived, our first stop was to see the Blue Rock Thrush which had been hanging out on the rocks around the Garrison and Peninnis on St Mary’s. It was very mobile and could disappear for long periods but conveniently, it was located just before our plane took off and we were able to catch up with it after only an hour or so of casing up and down the clifftop path (it had taken others several days to see it!).

Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush – not especially blue, but on a rock!

The Blue Rock Thrush was not especially blue – it was a young bird, a 1st winter. But it was flying around and feeding on the rocks, which is what a proper wild Blue Rock Thrush should be doing.

After that, we still had a bit of time before our boat over to Tresco, so we walked down to Lower Moors. The Spotted Crake helpfully appeared just as we arrived, in the ditch beside the path. This bird had been very obliging on previous days and it didn’t disappoint today. We watched it down to just a couple of feet, and at one point it passed right beneath the wooden footbridge on which we were standing. Amazing views of what can be a very secretive species, possibly my best ever.

Spotted Crake

Spotted Crake – absurdly close views at Lower Moors

The following day we found ourselves heading back to St Mary’s, when a report emerged of a Chestnut-eared Bunting on Peninnis first thing in the morning. It had flown off but we went over anyway just in case it was refound – it wasn’t! We did find a rare bunting ourselves, also on Peninnis, but unfortunately it was just a Yellowhammer. Rare on the Isles of Scilly perhaps, but not quite so unusual back in Norfolk!

Monday was spent on Tresco. A Citrine Wagtail appeared on St Mary’s and a few bits and pieces on St Agnes, but we didn’t manage to find anything unusual. The Red-breasted Flycatcher which had been at Borough Farm for a week or more was still present, and it was good to catch up with that. It could be surprisingly elusive, but it remained in the same group of trees for much of our stay.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Red-breasted Flycatcher – was present on Tresco for most of our stay

There are almost always good numbers of Yellow-browed Warblers at this time of year, and a quiet day on Tresco gave us the chance to catch up with a few of those too.

Yellow-browed Warbler 1

Yellow-browed Warbler – there are generally a few on Tresco at this time of year

Things hotted up on Tresco on Tuesday. After a quiet start to the morning, one of the few other hardy Tresco regulars, Steve Broyd, called to say he had found an Isabelline Wheatear up on Castle Down. We raced up to help him pin it down, as it was very mobile initially but eventually settled down around a favoured area of rocks. It would remain here for several days and we got fantastic views of it over subsequent days. It has been a good autumn for this very rare south-eastern European species this year.

Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear – it has been a good year for this species in UK

Birders from St Mary’s coming back from seeing the Isabelline Wheatear later that day found a Waxwing on the wires at New Grimsby. It was a lovely sunny day and it was flycatching from the telephone wires. When it flew off, it couldn’t be refound until it was found feeding in an apple tree in one of the nearby gardens the following day.

Waxwing

Waxwing – flycatching from the wires behind the quay in New Grimsby

It was back to St Mary’s the next day. The Citrine Wagtail seen a couple of days previously had settled down at Salakee Farm and had been showing down to a few metres yesterday. When we arrived in the morning, it was a bit more distant and and we were looking into the light. After spending some time exploring St Mary’s, which also gave us the chance to catch up with the Dartford Warbler on Peninnis (a ‘Scilly tick’ for us), we returned in the afternoon and were treated to views of the Citrine Wagtail down to a few metres as it fed in the long grass in the corner of the field.

Citrine Wagtail

Citrine Wagtail – showing down to a few metres as it fed in the long grass

The following day, it was back to scouring Tresco for something new. Those efforts were rewarding with the finding of a 1st winter drake Ring-necked Duck on Abbey Pool. It was present all day, although it spent some time tucked in the edge of the vegetation asleep, but could not be found subsequently, although the weather was not particularly conducive to finding it again!

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck – this 1st winter drake spent the day on Abbey Pool

It was a lovely sunny day and the Yellow-browed Warblers were particularly active and vocal. There were three regularly around the Rowesfield area and it was interesting to watch one today behaving very territorially, chasing the others off from its favoured sallows.

Yellow-browed Warbler 2

Yellow-browed Warbler – this one was chasing the others from its favoured sallows

The next two days were very windy and wet at times, so if there were any new arrivals they would be very hard to locate. Things improved dramatically on 27th, which was largely clear and sunny at times, with much lighter winds. Starting off on the regular circuit of the island, the first thing that became apparent was that there had been a big arrival of Siberian Chiffchaffs. After one up at Borough Farm, there were three together in the sallows at Rowesfield crossroads. There were plenty of Common Chiffchaffs in too, great to compare them side by side.

Siberian Chiffchaff

Siberian Chiffchaff – one of three at Rowesfield crossroads

At least one of the Siberian Chiffchaffs at Rowesfield crossroads was rather vocal, its call a rather plaintive ‘iihp’. It was even singing on and off in the sunshine – not something you hear in the UK very often. Fantastic!

Any other day, that would have been the highlight of the morning but today there was more to come. Walking along the edge of the old heliport, a bunting flew up from the long grass beyond the fence and started to call – a distinctive ‘ticking’. Thankfully, it circled round and dropped down into the top of the brambles behind me. A Rustic Bunting!

Rustic Bunting

Rustic Bunting – a nice find on the edge of the old Heliport

Unfortunately the Rustic Bunting flew over into the sallows on the edge of Abbey Pool with a Reed Bunting and didn’t show itself for the birders who were just arriving from the boat over from St Mary’s. It was seen again, back in the original spot, together now with three Reed Buntings in the early afternoon and we found it there again at dusk.

Rustic Bunting 2

Rustic Bunting – still present the following morning

The Rustic Bunting was still present the following morning, with the Reed Buntings in the same place on the edge of the Heliport, but unfortunately it was now time for us to leave. We caught the boat back over to St Mary’s that afternoon and bid our farewells to the Isles of Scilly.

There was a sad side to what was a wonderful week. I have been visiting Tresco regularly for 24 years now and over that time I have seen some great birds up at Borough Farm. The farm had been leased out and worked traditionally for bulbs, flowers and vegetables, but a couple of years ago the Tresco Estate took it back under its own management. The estate has long eschewed traditional mixed farming in favour of focusing on intensive beef cattle, meaning the other fields around the island have already been turned over to improved grassland.

It was sad to see this year that Borough Farm seems to be heading the same way – the once weedy fields are now mostly covered with grass, the hedges have been cut right back and then browsed heavily by cattle. Apart from the one corner where the Red-breasted Flycatcher was, which still has some taller sycamores, there were very few birds there this year. It seems surprising to see ongoing ‘dewilding’, intensification of loss-making modern agricultural practices, particularly in this part of the world, at a time when many other estates are looking to ‘rewilding’ as a better way forward.

Borough Farm

Borough Farm – sad to see it in the process of being ‘dewilded’

I am not sure how any more years I will continue to go back to Tresco. It is still a beautiful island, but not as beautiful for wildlife as it used to be. The only good news is that there are plenty of other islands in the Scillies to explore which have not been so extensively ‘tidied up’, where there are still weedy fields and overgrown hedges. Is it time to join the growing exodus of birders who have moved on from Tresco to explore other islands?

Sunset

Tresco – sunset, looking over the channel towards Bryher

 

26th Sept-4th Oct 2019 – Shetland

Not a tour, but I spent a few days up on Shetland enjoying the delights of Autumn migration there. Here are a few highlights:

Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike – found at Levenwick on 28th Sept

An Isabelline Shrike was found at Levenwick on 28th September. An interesting bird, it was identified initially as probably a Turkestan Shrike, but lacked the strongly defined pale supercilium of that (sub)species. However, it was not a particularly good fit for Daurian Shrike either, being rather too pale below and especially on the throat, with too much contrast between the upperparts and underparts.

A pellet was collected, which hopefully will yield some DNA and might shed some light on this bird’s identity, but even the genetics of this complex group is not simple. Both Turkestan and Daurian Shrike are thought to interbreed with Red-backed Shrike, and possibly with each other, which further complicates the situation.

Eastern Stonechat

Eastern Stonechat – probably a Siberian Stonechat, maurus

An Eastern Stonechat was found the same day at Brake. The Stonechats are similarly complex, now most frequently treated as two species – Siberian and Stejneger’s Stonechats. This one looked a good fit for Siberian Stonechat, but again DNA may be required to confirm its identity (apparently someone did manage to acquire a sample).

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper – on the beach at Grutness

It was a busy day on 28th, with a Semipalmated Sandpiper found on the beach at Grutness. Coming from the opposite direction to the shrike and stonechat, it had perhaps come over from North America previously and just relocated to the beach. It remained for several days, commuting between Grutness and Pool of Virkie.

Little Bunting

Little Bunting – Sumburgh Head, also on 28th

There were several Little Buntings around throughout my visit, and I managed to catch up with a couple of them. One around the lighthouse buildings at Sumburgh Head also on 28th was very confiding.

Olive-backed Pipit

Olive-backed Pipit – found at Cunningsburgh later on 28th

Likewise, there were several Olive-backed Pipits found during my stay on the islands, but the only one I managed to catch up with rounded off my day on 28th, when we watched it creeping through the grass between the irises at Cunningsburgh.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Red-breasted Flycatcher – this one at Quendale on 27th

Similarly, there were several Red-breasted Flycatchers found throughout my stay and I managed to run into several of them.

 

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike – a juvenile on 2nd Oct

A juvenile Red-backed Shrike on 2nd October was a lot less controversial than the Isabelline Shrike. One of two which turned up later on in the week, this one near Gott.

Barred Warbler

Barred Warbler – in the middle of Lerwick

Several Barred Warblers turned up later in the week too. I stopped off to see one in the middle of Lerwick on a shopping trip on the afternoon of 3rd, where it was gleaning insects from the tops of some sycamores around the bowling green / tennis courts.

Greenish Warbler

Greenish Warbler – minus its tail

A Greenish Warbler at Levenwick on 27th was one of two during the week, a distinctive bird lacking a tail.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – everywhere at the start of the week

There were Yellow-browed Warblers everywhere at the start of the week – on 27th there seemed to be at least one in just about every bush. However, after a clear night, numbers thinned out considerably after 28th, but they were still seen almost daily. The commonest warbler.

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat – presumably of the race blythi

Several Lesser Whitethroats seen all appeared to be birds of one of the eastern races, most likely blythi. It was a nice opportunity to get a better look at several of these interesting birds.

Bee-eater

Bee-eater – a long way north

 

A Bee-eater at Ollaberry was a nice distraction late on 29th.

Orcas

Orcas – a pod of Killer Whales in Clift Sound off Wester Quarff

But the highlight of my trip was not a bird. A pod of Orcas (Killer Whales) was sighted off St Ninian’s Isle and then Maywick heading north on the morning of 2nd. There was nowhere to look for them until Wester Quarff, much further north, so I positioned myself there, not knowing if they would come all the way up Clift Sound. It was a long wait, but eventually they appeared in the distance.

This was the so-called 027 pod of Orcas, eight in total. They took their time to get to us – by now, quite a crowd had gathered – seemingly stopping having made a kill successfully a number of times. Eventually they passed only 150-200m offshore. Amazing!

 

1st-8th June 2019 – Romania

A week-long International Tour to Romania, organised together with our friends from Oriole Birding. The Danube Delta is one of the ‘must-see’ wildlife destinations and we spent four days exploring it, sleeping each night on our floating hotel in a different location, right out in the midst of it. We also spent a couple of days exploring the Dobrogea region, down to the Black Sea coast, which is host to some species right at the western edge of their range. A fantastic experience!

SATURDAY 1ST JUNE

Our 10.35 flight from Luton Airport to Bucharest arrived on time. After realising we had come out in a different arrivals hall, we quickly found our local guide, Florin, who took us outside to where our minibus and driver were waiting. There were a few House Sparrows, House Martins and Jackdaws around the terminal building, before we set off on the long drive to Tulcea.

Out in the suburbs, we saw mostly Collared Doves and Feral Pigeons but as we got out into the countryside beyond, we could see Rooks, Hooded Crows and one or two Pheasants in the fields. More exciting, a Long-legged Buzzard circled over the road ahead of us. We broke the journey with a stop at a service station for coffee and/or ice cream, where several Greenfinches were singing outside.

Afterwards, as we continued the journey, we started to see a greater variety of birds. It had clearly rained a lot in recent weeks, given the amount of water on the fields, and some of the wetter areas held a selection of herons – a Great White Egret, a few Little Egrets, two Squacco Herons, three Black-crowned Night Herons, and a couple of the group spotted a Glossy Ibis lurking in a ditch. As we approached the Danube crossing, there were more White Storks, including several nests with chicks on the telegraph posts in some of the villages.

The wires beside the road started to get some more interesting birds too. In one area, we spotted five Rollers in quick succession. There were Bee-eaters too, particularly as we approached a steep section of road which winds down through a small grove of acacia trees. There were plenty of Rooks in the trees, but no sign of any Red-footed Falcons, which also nest here. However, just beyond the trees we spotted a smart male Red-footed Falcon hovering over the grass beside the road.

Further into the Dobrugea region, and we started to see more Red-backed Shrikes and one or two Corn Buntings on the wires. It was starting to get dark now and a Little Owl was perched on the chimney of a house in one of the villages we passed. We finally made it into Tulcea at about 9pm, and we headed straight to the port where the floating hotel, which would be our home for the next five nights, was waiting. After a delicious dinner on board, we retired to our cabins.

SUNDAY 2ND JUNE

There were a few gulls around the harbour in Tulcea when we woke up this morning. As well as plenty of Black-headed Gulls, a couple of Caspian Gulls came close enough to get a good look at. After breakfast on board – cereals with local yoghurt, bread and honey, eggs, and a selection of ham and cheese – we boarded the smaller boat which would take us around the Delta (the floating hotel would be towed out to meet us later). The main Tulcea branch of the Danube is big and open and was fairly birdless at first, apart from a few more Caspian Gulls. After a quick stop to retrieve someone’s cap, which had blown off into the river, we headed over towards the junction with the smaller Mila 36 channel. A Grey-headed Woodpecker flew in and landed in the top of some tall poplars on the bank and our first White Pelicans, a group of fourteen, circled overhead.

White Pelicans 1

White Pelicans – our first of the trip, circled overhead

Having turned off the main channel onto Mila 36, we started to come across a lot more birds. There were Kingfishers calling all around here, zooming back and forth across the water and in and out of the trees. We could hear a variety of different birds in the trees, but they were hard to see in all the leaves and undergrowth. An Icterine Warbler and several Eastern Olivaceous Warblers were singing, as well as both Common and one or two Thrush Nightingales, the more grating and clicking phrases of the latter giving them away. Three calling Collared Flycatchers gave only glimpses but a couple of Spotted Flycatchers sallied out of the trees. There were more woodpeckers too, several Great Spotted, another Grey-headed, and we heard out first Middle Spotted Woodpecker.

The Delta is all about its waterbirds, and is packed full of herons of various sizes. There were plenty of Grey Herons and Little Egrets at first and then, as we got further in, we found lots of Squacco Herons which flushed from the banks as we passed, changing instantly from buff-brown to white. Several Black-crowned Night Herons and a smaller number of Glossy Ibis flew over.

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron – a very common heron in the Delta

We encountered our first Pygmy Cormorants too, but they are very skittish and typically flew off ahead of us. More pelicans circled overhead, mostly flocks of White Pelicans, but we also saw our first Dalmatian Pelican, typically a lone bird which flew over.

Pygmy Cormorant 1

Pygmy Cormorant – mostly very skittish and flew off before we got too close

A male Little Bittern flew across the channel ahead of us and landed in the base of the reeds, disappearing in before we could get a good look at it. When we stopped to scan, a Penduline Tit started calling over on the other side, and we saw it perched briefly in the top of the reeds. One of the group, scanning for the tit, found a female Little Bittern instead, up on top of the reeds further back. We had already heard several Great Reed Warblers singing in the reeds as we passed, and now one perched up nicely on a dead reed stem. A little further on, and a pair of Hobbys were zooming around through the tops of the trees beside the channel, before landing up in a poplar.

We stopped for coffee at the entrance to Lake Nebunu. As we motored up, a Raccoon Dog was on the bank nearby, but quickly scuttled into the vegetation. There were lots of Mute Swans and Great Crested Grebes out on the lake. A pair of Common Terns and about 15 Whiskered Terns were flying round and dip feeding over the vegetation across the entrance. We could see lots of cormorants and herons coming and going from their nesting colony in the tall trees at the back. Two White-tailed Eagles appeared over the trees, and one was mobbed by a Hooded Crow, which was just a tiny speck by comparison at that range. A Pallas’s Gull flew over the back of the lake too, like an oversized Black-headed Gull, but it was rather distant and disappeared from view behind the trees.

After coffee, we carried on along the channel and hadn’t gone much further when we came across our first Red-necked Grebes. The first one dived ahead of the boat and disappeared into the reeds, but then we found four more together, and had a great view of them, resplendent in breeding plumage with bright rusty-red necks.

Red-necked Grebe 1

Red-necked Grebe – in smart breeding plumage

Next stop was by a White-tailed Eagle nest, which was high in the trees beside the channel. One of the two juveniles was still on the nest, but the other was hiding higher up in the branches above. They were almost fully grown, not long to fledging now. There was no sign of either of the adults at first, until two White-tailed Eagles appeared through the treetops. One of the adults was chasing off an immature, which had presumably flown too close to the nest. Once the intruder had fled, the adult flew back round and landed in a tree not far away.

We cut back across Lake Furtuna, a large open lake surrounded by reeds. Several White Pelicans and a single Dalmatian Pelican were swimming out on the water. There was more floating vegetation over the far side, where we found lots of Whiskered Terns, four Garganey and a pair of Gadwall. It was full of grebes too, nesting Great Crested Grebes, several pairs of Black-necked Grebes and four Red-necked Grebes too. Our first Purple Heron flew over.

Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian Pelican – we saw small numbers daily in the Delta

On the smaller channels especially, there were Cuckoos and Rollers everywhere. A brief Golden Oriole flew over, but was not seen by most of the group and would remain a target for a good view for many for a while yet. There were lots of dragonflies – mainly Emperor, Lesser Emperor and Scarlet Darter, and plenty of Banded Demoiselles beside the channels. As we got out into a more agricultural area, several Western Yellow Wagtails flew up from the feet of a herd cows, though it was hard to see for sure whether these ones were pure Black-headed Wagtails or one of the array of hybrids.

We met the floating hotel for lunch at Maliuc, and while we were settled on board enjoying our three course feast we were towed slowly along to the next location. After lunch, we had a couple of hours to relax over the heat of the day, take a siesta or watch the world go by from the boat. The banks were more open here and in the wetter spots there were lots of Great White Egrets and Glossy Ibis. Three Hoopoes flew alongside as we passed and there seemed to be Rollers on just about every bush.

Hoopoe

Hoopoe – several were seen on the river bank today

With the floating hotel moored again, we set off about 5pm in the smaller boat to explore the area. A Penduline Tit was calling from the trees on the opposite bank and a Garden Warbler was singing from the trees on our side. It was still hot, and quiet to start as we checked out a couple of smaller lakes.

The first was overgrown with Water Soldier and not surprisingly there were several Norfolk Hawkers patrolling along the edge of the reeds. Marsh Frogs were everywhere on the lily pads, until a Dice Snake swam across, causing them to disappear into the water. Lots of herons were flying around again, and we saw many more Purple Herons out here. A Savi’s Warbler was reeling from the reeds, the first of many we heard this afternoon.

Purple Heron

Purple Heron – more common in the reedier parts of the Delta

The second lake was full of Whiskered Terns, looking to nest on the floating vegetation. When a Hooded Crow flew across, they all came up en masse to mob it, and we realised just how many had been hiding there. A pair of Greylag Geese lurking in the edge of the reeds at the back had distinctive pink bills, birds of the eastern race rubirostris. We could hear a Bittern booming too.

Back along the more open Crisan channel, an obliging Black-crowned Night Heron was standing on the floating vegetation below one of the trees on the bank. We saw several more Ferruginous Ducks, mostly typically flighty, but we had a nice view of a male down on the water’s edge which lingered longer than most. On an area of open sandy shore, an adult Little Ringed Plover was keeping an eye on its already well-grown juvenile. A White-tailed Eagle flew in over the back and appeared to be coming our way before it suddenly dropped down onto the ground. We could see it was feeding on something, and was quickly surrounded by 10 Hooded Crows.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron – another very common species in the Delta

We continued on back past the floating hotel, and turned in down the small channel leading to Lake Iacob. There were more pelicans on the lake – with two White and two Dalmatian Pelicans on a log, giving us a nice comparison. A Garden Warbler was singing nearby and we could hear more Penduline Tits calling. As we motored back slowly along the wooded channel, a Grey-headed Woodpecker perched nicely in the tree above us. Another Pallas’s Gull flew over, much closer this time but we would still hold out for better views.

Grey-headed Woodpecker

Grey-headed Woodpecker – perched nicely in a tree above the boat

Back at the floating hotel, we sat out on the deck to compile the list for the day. We could still hear the Grey-headed Woodpecker calling away in the trees. Eastern Olivaceous and Great Reed Warblers were singing and the Savi’s Warbler was still reeling. A Bittern was booming off in the distance and a Golden Oriole was taunting us, hidden deep in the bushes. What an amazing place to be! After a delicious three course dinner of salad followed by local zander, it was time to turn in, to the sound of Fire-bellied Toads calling.

MONDAY 3RD JUNE

Before breakfast, the earlier risers gathered out on the deck. A Little Crake was calling, but hidden deep in the reeds beyond the trees on the bank. A pair of Eastern Olivaceous Warblers appeared briefly low in the branches, before making their way through to the sunny side of the trees as the early mist burned off. The Bittern was still booming and the Savi’s Warbler still reeling off in the distance. Three Pallas’s Gulls flew high over, one at a time, and the first White Pelicans flapped lazily up along the channel. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker flew past through trees opposite and while we ate breakfast, a pair of Garganey circled round over the water outside.

As we got ready to set off on the smaller boat again, we picked up a distant male Red-footed Falcon on some wires, and through the scope we could just about see its red feet and legs in the morning sunshine. As we motored slowly up the channel, there were the usual herons and egrets everywhere. A Great Bittern flew across and up the edge of the channel ahead of us, a difficult bird to see here.

When we heard Bearded Tits calling we looked over to see a family party right up in the top of the willows on the bank. Another bigger group of Bearded Tits were in the reeds on the junction of the Caraorman channel, lots of juveniles. As we stopped to look at them, one of the group noticed a male Penduline Tit feeding in the sedges right down at the front – nice to get our first good views of this species. We could hear a Reed Bunting singing, and then a pair appeared in one of the willows. The birds here are a different race to back home, tshusii, being noticeably heavier-billed.

Penduline Tit

Penduline Tit – feeding in the sedges

Continuing on to Caraorman village, a pair of Caspian Gulls were loafing on the bank and a Hoopoe was wrestling with a mole cricket as we made our way down to the small harbour. The vista here was dominated by the ruins of the old communist-era industrial sand mining site, long since abandoned. As we got out at the harbour, a juvenile Northern Wheatear was feeding in between the boats pulled up nearby. Walking down the track towards the village, we were surrounded by Bee-eaters calling and perching on the wires, nesting in the low sandy banks.

Bee-eater

Bee-eater – around the abandoned factory at Caraorman

A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in a grassy pool out where the cows were grazing. Three Red-footed Falcons were perched on the wires further down, two of the males chasing each other a little closer before landing again. It was already starting to get hot. Lots of Marsh Frogs were basking around the edge of a small pool in the sand, before hopping in as we passed, and the head of a Dice Snake appeared out of the water.

Several White Storks were on nests in the village, and one stood bill clapping and throwing its head back as two others circled over. It was eerie walking round past the huge abandoned accommodation blocks, long-since stripped of windows, doors and any other removable fittings, their roofs falling in but providing nest sites for the local Kestrels.

We continued on down the track out into the old sand pits. On the larger shallow pools here we found several Avocets and Black-winged Stilts along with more Black-tailed Godwits and a few Shelduck too. A Hobby flew over hunting dragonflies. Up on the bank of the next basin, there was pleasant breeze to stop us overheating. A single Caspian Tern was out in the middle, dwarfing the Common Terns and Whiskered Terns it was with. Through the scope, we could see its huge black-tipped red bill. A few Black-winged Stilts and Common Terns were nesting on the sandy islands.

Continuing round to the far corner, we could see a group of larger gulls loafing on the edge of the another pool. A single adult Pallas’s Gull was in with the Caspian Gulls – with its black hood, it really stood out. There were more Bee-eaters in the bushes and a male Red-backed Shrike appeared with them briefly. Then it was time to get out of the sun, so we took a short cut back to the boat. A male Northern Wheatear was singing around the abandoned factory buildings.

Wheatear

Northern Wheatear – singing around the abandoned factory

After a break for water and/or coffee back at the boat, we motored round to a former fish farm nearby. There were lots of Whiskered Terns flying round over the pools, but a group of people had set up for a picnic at the viewing platform, so we carried on down the channel. We went looking for a Penduline Tit nest. The reeds were too tall at the first site we tried, but we did see the pair of adult Penduline Tits in the trees calling. Further on, we found another nest hanging in the lowest branches of a willow, just above the reeds, an amazing construction. The remains of last year’s nest was still hanging in the branches further in. It was all quiet here though, so perhaps the female was incubating.

Continuing on, we stopped to look at a pair of Red-backed Shrikes in the bushes on the bank. An Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was singing here too, and perched up in the top of a bush for ages, being unusually obliging. Back round to Caraorman channel, a Common Cuckoo perched on the wires.

Common Cuckoo

Common Cuckoo – abundant in the Delta

As we headed back towards the floating hotel, we heard another Savi’s Warbler reeling. This one seemed to be closer, and a careful scan revealed it perched up in the reeds in full view. We stopped the boat and had a good look at this typically very elusive species. We certainly would not go hungry this week – lunch was another three courses of soup with meatballs, followed by stuffed vine leaves and a delicious traditional pudding.

Savi's Warbler

Savi’s Warbler – we had a good view of this typically elusive species

After lunch, the floating hotel was towed slowly back up to the main channel at Crisan before turning onto the course of the old Danube. Here we got back onto the smaller boat again, to head out for the afternoon. As we motored slowly along a side channel, we could hear several Golden Orioles fluting from some very tall poplars. We saw a couple flying in and out through the treetops, but you had to be quick to get on them. Both Grey-headed Woodpecker and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker were calling here too, but there was no sign of any Black Woodpeckers today.

The usual selection of herons flew out of the trees beside the channel as we passed, and a Little Bittern flew out of the reeds and alongside the boat, before crashing back in. We were still waiting for a really good view of one perched in the reeds. Turning on to Bogdaproste channel, Common Cuckoos were everywhere again. Several Hobbys zoomed in and out of the trees on the banks, and one perched up nicely.

Hobby

Hobby – perched up nicely in the trees by the boat

There were lots of Rollers here too – one pair was coming in and out of a nest hole in a tree, and another male was bringing food for the female. An Otter was floating in the channel ahead of the boat, crunching on something it had just caught. As we cut the engine, it saw us and dived.

Roller 1

Roller – we saw several pairs in the trees along the channels

The water opened out into Lake Bogdaproste, where we found a scattering of White Pelicans and Pygmy Cormorants, plus rafts of Common Pochard and Eurasian Coot. Two Black Terns flew over calling behind the boat, but disappeared away from us before we could get a good view. We could see several distant Pallas’s Gulls circling and as we motored across the lake we noticed one on the water, so we diverted over for a closer look. We got much closer before it took off – a very smart gull with its black hood and black-and-white wing tips, and multi-coloured yellow bill.

Through the channel on the far side, we found ourselves coming out into another large lake. As we were crossing, we could see some very distant Whiskered Terns hovering over an island of vegetation on the far side, and we picked up a White-winged Black Tern in with them, so we headed over for closer look. As we got nearer, we could see there were actually two White-winged Black Terns and lots of Black Terns too, at least a dozen, loafing on the floating vegetation. We had great views of one of the White-winged Black Terns dip feeding beside the boat – a real bonus, as they are not common here, with just a few pairs breeding in inaccessible areas. All the terns then took off, and flew round over the boat.

Black Tern 1

Black Tern – breeds fairly commonly in the Delta

White-winged Black Tern

White-winged Black Tern – the rarest of the three ‘marsh terns’ in the Delta

Continuing on to the next lake, a pair of rubirostris Greylag Geese swam across in front of the boat with four goslings. An amazing number of Whiskered Terns, probably at least 150 pairs, were starting to nest on carpet of floating vegetation here. We sailed along a channel through the middle, and had amazing views of them flying all round the boat, calling noisily. What an experience! A Hooded Crow flew over, and was immediately chased by a horde of Whiskered Terns. It made repeated visits, looking for eggs. Two Black-necked Grebes swam along the channel ahead of us.

Whiskered Tern 2

Whiskered Tern – nest-building on the floating vegetation on the lakes

Whiskered Tern 1

Whiskered Tern – amazing close views as we sailed across the lake

As we sailed back through the lakes, there were lots of Great Cormorants nesting in the surrounding trees. One tree on the edge of the reeds was full of cormorants of two species, Great and Pygmy Cormorants side by side, so we could really appreciate the size difference. Another Pallas’s Gull was swimming ahead of us on the water, and allowed us to approach closer still before it finally took off and flew round past us. Then we headed back to meet the floating hotel which was moored on a different channel nearby.

Pallas's Gull

Pallas’s Gull – we came across several adults out on the larger lakes

After a break to freshen up, we met up on deck to do the day’s list. A group of eight White Pelicans was loafing and preening on a log by the boat, Whiskered Terns and Marsh Harriers were flying round, another Savi’s Warbler was reeling in the distance, and several Great Reed Warblers were singing in the reeds nearby. After dinner of salad, breaded chicken and local cake, we retired to a deafening chorus of Marsh Frogs outside. Another amazing location and a privilege to be able to spend the night out here again.

TUESDAY 4TH JUNE

Up on the deck before breakfast, we spotted a White-tailed Eagle which had obviously roosted in a tree a short way back along the channel. Three Black Terns patrolled up and down the channel past us and we could hear Bearded Tits and Penduline Tit calling from the reeds, and the Savi’s Warbler was still reeling.

After breakfast, on the smaller boat we headed down to look at the White-tailed Eagle. It eventually took off, and flew back upstream, where it caught a fish and landed on the floating vegetation nearby to eat it. We turned round and motored back and had a great view of it feeding, before it eventually flew again.

White-tailed Eagle

White-tailed Eagle – caught a fish just after breakfast

Continuing on along the channel, we saw the usual selection of herons, cormorants, Red-necked Grebes and Ferruginous Ducks – amazing that these species had become so commonplace after just a couple of days here!

Ferruginous Duck

Ferruginous Duck – a common sight out in the Delta

On the next channel, there were more trees either side, with several Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps singing. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker called and a Grey-headed Woodpecker flew across and perched in a dead willow, the first of several we would see today. Once again, there were plenty of Cuckoos, Rollers and Kingfishers, with one of the latter perching up nicely as we passed.

We came out into a more open agricultural area. Several Western Yellow Wagtails flew up calling and one perched on the top of a dead stem. With its dark grey head and white supercilium it was a ‘dombrowskii’, a hybrid form of Black-headed and Blue-headed Wagtails, a speciality of Romania. A little further on, a Cattle Egret was standing on the grassy bank, the first we had got a good look at – they are not very common here.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret – uncommon in the Delta

A female Red-footed Falcon was perched in a willow right above the channel, so we stopped the boat for a look. It was perched just above our heads, staring down at us, and then a male came up off a nest in the tree nearby. The male flew round calling, so we backed off, and watched as the female returned to the nest. We saw several more Red-footed Falcons as we motored along this stretch of channel.

Red-footed Falcon 1

Red-footed Falcon – the female perched in the trees above us

Red-footed Falcon 2

Red-footed Falcon – the male came up off the nest and flew round

Everyone also finally got a look at a Golden Oriole, albeit just in flight, as one came out of the trees and headed away down the channel. Further on, a shrike in the willows was hidden from view at first, but when it finally flew up into the top, we could see it was a Lesser Grey Shrike, its black mask extending over the top of its bill and with a pink flush to the breast. It flew round the back of the trees and we noticed there were now two perched up together in a bush, a pair. Several Grass Snakes and Dice Snakes swam across the channel as we motored on.

There was a large area of reeds on the right of the channel and lots of Glossy Ibises and Purple Herons were flying round as we passed. When we came to a more open area of short wet grass, we counted at least 80 Great White Egrets in one big group, feeding. There were lots of White Storks here too, plus the usual Grey Herons and Little Egrets. We turned onto another channel at the far side of this field and headed out across the meadows where lots of horses and cattle were grazing. A pair of Hoopoes on the bank, flew off ahead of us. A pair of European Stonechat perched on some wires. A couple more Western Yellow Wagtails flew up, one another ‘dombrowskii’ and one a normal Black-headed Wagtail.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – another common heron in the Delta

The channel disappeared into some dense trees. Another Grey-headed Woodpecker flew across and perched up nicely, but a couple of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were typically more elusive, just heard calling. Blackcaps and Garden Warblers were singing. A succession of Black-crowned Night Herons and Grey Herons flew out of the bushes ahead of us.

We had our coffee break as we sailed down here before, at the end, we came out into a huge open lake. We were closer to the main White Pelican breeding site here, a restricted area, but we could see several hundred circling in the distance. There were just a few on the lake here though, along with two Dalmatian Pelicans. Apart from that, all we could find here were a rather distant Pallas’s Gull, a distant White-tailed Eagle, and a distant Little Bittern which flew across. The next lake had a similar variety of birds.

Taking the sinuous Eracle channel back, one of the group spotted a Black Stork circling high over the reeds to one side, a new bird for the trip. As if that wasn’t good enough, we had just started moving again when someone else spotted an owl in the trees. We turned back and found a Long-eared Owl staring back out at us – a very good spot as we motored past! As we pulled up towards the bank, a second Long-eared Owl flew out of the trees.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl – well spotted by a member of the group in the trees

As we continued on along the channel, it clouded over, and we could hear a thunderstorm away to our left. We turned into a small lake, covered in lily pads, where at least twelve Black Terns were dipping down to the vegetation with all the Whiskered Terns. There were several Black-necked Grebes here too. It started spitting with rain now, and continued on and off as we made our way back to the floating hotel for lunch. It felt much cooler too. At least the local weather forecast promised us that the rain would end in precisely 23 minutes!

After lunch and a short break, it had indeed stopped raining as forecast, so we headed out again on the small boat, through various small channels. A smart male Marsh Harrier circled low over. A Purple Heron flew across with a Grass Snake in its bill. A Savi’s Warbler was reeling and when we got out of the small channel we were in and it opened out, we found it perched high on a dead reed stem. Along the next channel, with lots of trees either side, a Thrush Nightingale was singing from deep in cover.

We came out on the Stipoc channel, by an old fish farm which has now been converted into agricultural land (but would make a fantastic nature reserve!). A couple of Stock Doves were on the wires by the farm buildings and a liberal scattering of Rollers were then on the wires all the way down. Several Red-footed Falcons hovered out over the open grassland. A Corn Bunting sang from the top of a bush on the bank on one side and a Sedge Warbler sand from the reeds on the other. We stopped to look at a European Pond Terrapin which was basking on a log in an area of pondweed and realised there were several more lurking in the weed nearby.

European Pond Terrapin

European Pond Terrapin – several were in a weedy along the channel

There was an area of open water and wet grass on the other side of the channel. A couple of small flocks of White Pelicans were swimming in the water and lots of Great White Egrets, Little Egrets, Glossy Ibises and a single Cattle Egret were feeding in the wet grass. Two Green Sandpipers flew round calling, and landed in the vegetation. Four Black-tailed Godwits were feeding here too.

Two Western Yellow Wagtails flew up from the grass, one an obvious ‘dombrowskii’, but the other looked like it might be a Black-headed Wagtail until we got better look. Then we could see it had some grey on the nape, and a small amount of white in the supercilium. The Western Yellow Wagtails here are a real minefield of different hybrid forms!

Lesser Grey Shrike

Lesser Grey Shrike – perched in the willows above the channel

Further on, another Lesser Grey Shrike was perched up in the top of a willow overhanging the channel. Two Golden Orioles flew across over the reeds, across the channel ahead of us and up into the trees the other side. A Musk Rat swam across in front of us, but dived and must have resurfaced in the reeds. Two Hobbys and another female Red-footed Falcon were perched in the trees as we made our way over to Lake Furtuna.

As we came out into the huge open lake, a White-tailed Eagle was down in the reeds on the edge of the water on one side. We started to head over towards it, but it was chased off by a Hooded Crow before we got there. We could see lots of White Pelicans gathered over the far side so we decided to head over that way instead. They were loafing on islands of reed and logs, several immatures, but including several breeding adults with orange facial skin and bump on the forehead.

White Pelicans 2

White Pelicans – there were lots loafing around on Lake Furtuna this evening

There were several Black-necked Grebes with the Great Crested Grebes over by the reeds and Pygmy Cormorants flying back and forth. The channel the other side was absolutely covered with Mayflies low over the water, but others were also flying round, providing food for the Black-headed Gulls and Whiskered Terns which were hawking up and catching them.

Pygmy Cormorant 2

Pygmy Cormorant – with a distinctive flight silhouette

The floating hotel was moored over the other side of the lake and when we got back there we could hear a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling in the trees nearby and a Little Bittern was hiding in the reeds. We watched the sun set with White Pelicans swimming past outside over dinner.

WEDNESDAY 5TH JUNE

Up on the deck before breakfast this morning, it was a stunning view with the early light out on the lake. Several White Pelicans swam past and Pygmy Cormorants and Caspian Gulls were flying around.

White Pelican

White Pelican – swimming past the floating hotel early morning

After breakfast, we could see a feeding frenzy out on the other side of the lake, so we motored over on the small boat for a closer look. There were at least 2,500 Great Cormorants and 175-200 White Pelicans. They were obviously chasing a shoal of fish across the lake, and the stragglers at the back of the flock kept flying up in smaller groups, leapfrogging the massed horde and landing again at the front. Amazing to watch!

By the time we got over, they had chased the shoal of fish across the lake and into the reeds over the far side. Some of the White Pelicans were swimming in and out of the reeds trying to find them again. About a dozen Little Egrets were waiting on the floating vegetation beside the reeds to see what might be pushed their way. Then the shoal of fish reappeared out in the middle, and everything raced back over and started feeding again, the White Pelicans in groups upending in unison.

Feeding frenzy

Feeding Frenzy – thousands of Great Cormorants and hundreds of White Pelicans

We headed back out of the lake along the channel next to where we had moored for the night. As we were motoring slowly along, we noticed a Little Bittern climb up into the top of the reeds on one side. It was promptly chased off by a second Little Bittern and we watched the two of them fly round after each other. One landed again in the top of the reeds right on the edge of the channel, where we had a great look at it, a smart male with a bright red bill, indicating it was in breeding condition. The two of them then chased round over the reeds again and disappeared back.

We were on a wide channel now, with very big mature trees on the bank on one side. We were hoping to find a Black Woodpecker along here, but the best we could manage was a Black Woodpecker nest hole in a dead tree beside the channel. The hole looked reasonably fresh, so we waited for a minute and listened, but there was no sign of any woodpeckers. Two Common Starlings were in the tree but we didn’t see them using the hole.

Further on, a family of Great Crested Grebes were in the weeds beside the channel, and we watched as the three juveniles climbed onto the back of one of the adults as we passed. Just beyond, we could see a Red-necked Grebe and a Ferruginous Duck. Two White-tailed Eagles were perched in the trees above.

Little Bittern 1

Little Bittern – with some bright red on the bill base

Another male Little Bittern flew across the channel ahead of us, and once again perched up nicely in the reeds on the far side, allowing us to get quite close. We had a good view before it flew back across the tops of the reeds, its bill bright but not quite as red as the one earlier. It already seemed like this might be the day of the Little Bittern!

There was lots of lush vegetation along the bank here and as we carried on we heard two Thrush Nightingales singing deep in cover. We stopped and listened for Black Woodpecker, but once again there was no sign. However, we did find a female Golden Oriole mobbing a Hooded Crow in a willow bush right on the edge of the water. It possibly had a nest nearby, as the male was flying in and out of the trees behind too. We drifted over and had a good view of it, finally a perched Golden Oriole!

Golden Oriole

Golden Oriole – we finally got good views of one perched

We tried another channel for woodpeckers. A Grey-headed flew over, and we heard both Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted calling, but once again there was no sign of any Black. We joined the main channel for a bit at Mila 23 before we turned onto another side channel. A Red-backed Shrike flew up into a willow on the bank, but landed out of view.

Yet another Little Bittern flew across. Out into a lake, a single Red-necked Grebe was outnumbered by all the Great Crested Grebes. An adult Black-crowned Night Heron was feeding on the lilypads on one edge, chasing frogs, but kept sinking into the vegetation when it landed. A White-tailed Eagle was perched in the distance, in the top of a dead tree beyond the lake. As we sailed through a narrow channel and out into the next lake beyond, two more Little Bitterns chased round through the tops of the reeds.

Little Bittern 2

Little Bittern – it was definitely the best morning for them today!

The next channel had more lily pads and floating vegetation either side. We had just remarked how the Squacco Herons has been outnumbered by Little Bitterns this morning, when normal service was  resumed and five Squacco Herons flew out! There were several Red-necked Grebes in the lilypads too – the first pair had the juveniles on the back of one of the adults, but swam into the reeds as we approached. The second pair were much more obliging, and stayed lurking in amongst the lilypads as we passed.

Red-necked Grebe 2

Red-necked Grebe – in the lilypads as we sailed past

A smart male Red-footed Falcon was perched in a tree in some dead branches just above the channel, and stared down as we passed right underneath. We had a great view, slaty grey with red ‘trousers’, bright red legs and feet and red cere and eye ring. Stunning! As we made our way back round to the floating hotel, a female Red-footed Falcon was perched in another tree, rather pale buff below and with brown wings, presumably a young bird in its 2nd calendar year.

Red-footed Falcon 3

Red-footed Falcon – perched in a dead tree above the channel

Back at the floating hotel, our stay in the Delta was unfortunately coming to an end. Up on deck before we set off on the journey back, two more Little Bitterns chased each other round an island of reeds in the middle of the junction between two channels. It really had been a day for them! As we set off on board the hotel, past the reeds where they had landed, one flew out and across the channel on the other side. We scanned the reeds for the other one but all we could find was a Great Reed Warbler feeding down at the base of the reeds.

As we motored back, we would be passing the White-tailed Eagle nest we had visited on Sunday. We were just coming up towards the eerie when suddenly one of the adults flew out of the trees right beside the boat, before circling round over the trees where the nest was. We slowed down to have a look at the nest, but the two youngsters had climbed up into the tree above and were half hidden in the leaves.

We didn’t have a chance to look at them though because, just at that moment, a Black Woodpecker called in the trees right by the nest. We glimpsed it dropping down through the branches, but we were going away all the time and not everyone got onto it. Then it flew out, right past us up on the top deck, and landed in the top of a dead tree just ahead. We had a good view of it now, its red crown catching the light as it turned, before it flew on. A great way to finish our visit to the Delta!

Black Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker – just as we were sailing back out of the Delta

We retired inside for lunch – soup with meatballs, vegetable stew, followed by apple strudel. It was a slow journey back on the floating hotel, so we relaxed on deck listening to all the birds singing in the lush trees along Mila 36 –  a Thrush Nightingale and lots of Common Nightingales, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Common Redstarts, a couple of Collared Flycatchers. Several Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen, but Middle Spotted and more Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were only heard. Kingfishers zipped back and forth calling.

Back out onto the main Tulcea branch of the Danube, there were more Caspian Gulls. Several Western Yellow Wagtails on the grassy bank as we approached Tulcea looked like ‘dombrowskii’ again. We spent our last night on the boat in the harbour, with a delicious dinner of the local speciality, tochitura.

THURSDAY 6TH JUNE

We were up early, and after breakfast said our goodbyes to the floating hotel. As we drove west out of Tulcea, a Glossy Ibis was feeding in the plastic rubbish along the shore of a lake. In the villages, we saw White Storks on their nests as we passed. Out into more open country, there were Bee-eaters flying around the old terraces in the grassy fields. Our first stop was near Somova.

As we got out of the bus, a male Red-backed Shrike was perched in the top of an oak tree. A large flock of Common Swifts circled high overhead, a few Sand Martins with them. We started to walk up along the track towards the trees but hadn’t got very far when a male Levant Sparrowhawk flew over. We watched as it circled up high with the Swifts.

Levant Sparrowhawk 1

Levant Sparrowhawk – this male flew over first thing this morning

In the open woodland, a Hoopoe was calling and several Golden Orioles were fluting. We had brief views of both as they flew round. A woodpecker called, and flew across, landed on the trunk of an oak tree. We walked over to try to get a look at it and confirmed it was a Syrian Woodpecker. We watched it repeatedly dropping down to the ground, then flying back up to the trunk.

A little further on, another Levant Sparrowhawk, this time a female, flew up from the ground and landed in another tree. We had a great view of it in the scope – we could see its gular stripe and more heavily barred underparts than the male.

Levant Sparrowhawk 2

Levant Sparrowhawk – this female flew up into the trees

It was getting hot now, a good time for raptors. First, three Common Buzzards circled up over a distant ridge, and were joined by a Marsh Harrier. Then a Booted Eagle came up, followed by couple of Honey Buzzards. All were rather distant, but thankfully shortly afterwards, a Booted Eagle and a Honey Buzzard appeared much closer, over the trees, along with a Hobby.

Several Sousliks (aka European Ground Squirrels) appeared in the short grass before disappearing down into their burrows. Lots of grasshoppers and moths came up from the vegetation as we walked through, along with Silver-studded Blues and a couple of Lesser Spotted Fritillaries. A small group of Hawfinches flew over calling. We met the bus again down by the road further on, and stopped for a cold drink. A flock of White Pelicans were circling up in the distance beyond the ridge. Another male Levant Sparrowhawk flew over with a lizard in its talons.

Souslik

Souslik – there were several in the short grass

Our next stop was at the monastery at Celtic Dere. A couple of male Red-backed Shrikes were around the gardens and farmyard by the parking area. We took the track up to the old orchard, where a Turtle Dove was purring and an Icterine Warbler was singing in the trees.

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike – a male, one of several at Celic Dere

Several Golden Orioles flew back and forth over the opening clearing, including a stunning golden male. Lots of Hawfinches zipped over in ones and twos, calling. On the edge of the wood over on the far side, a Black Redstart and a Spotted Flycatcher were feeding, dropping down from the trees to the grass below.

A Steppe Buzzard flew over – different to the Common Buzzards we had seen earlier, with a rather pale rufous tail, dark rusty body and underwing coverts, prominent clean white bases to the flight feathers with a well-marked black trailing edge.

Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard – different to the Common Buzzards we saw

Walking through the trees on one side, we came out into another clearing by the stream, where a Nuthatch was calling. We followed the track here up and into the wood. A striking longhorn beetle was in the middle of the track and when we stopped to look at it, we could hear a Red-breasted Flycatcher singing a little further on. It was very active, constantly changing perch, and hard to follow at times in all the trees. Eventually it came out closer to the track, and everyone got a better look at it. There were lots of Icterine Warblers calling and singing in the trees too, but they were very hard to see high in the branches.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Red-breasted Flycatcher – this male was singing in the trees

As we walked back down the track, we finally got good views of a pair in the trees over the path. A Hawfinch flew in and perched briefly on a branch and a Wood Warbler was singing deep in the wood. A family of Marsh Tits worked their way through the trees beside the path. We made our way back out of the trees. A Wryneck had been seen earlier by another group up along the edge of the stream so we walked up to look for it. There was no sign of it, but we decided to stop here for lunch and the minibus drove over to join us.

Just as lunch was set out, a Middle Spotted Woodpecker called in the tree right over the picnic table. We had to take a few steps back to see it, feeding high on the trunk. While we were watching the woodpecker, the Wryneck called once from the same tree. We didn’t see it fly out, but despite looking from all round the tree there was no further sign of it.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Middle Spotted Woodpecker – feeding in the tree above us while we were having lunch

Over lunch, there were Greenfinches and Goldfinches coming down to drink in the streak. Another flock of White Pelicans and another Booted Eagle, this time a pale phase, circled up over the ridge beyond. A young Long-legged Buzzard was chased by two Steppe Buzzards over the clearing.

After lunch, we had a longer drive over to the Macin Mountains. There were lots of White Stork nests in the villages on the way, and several Rollers and Bee-eaters on the wires by the road. We eventually turned off the road and up along a rough track. There were a few Corn Buntings on the wires but pride of place went to a smart male Black-headed Bunting here too. They are scarce here, so always a good bird to catch up with, and this one posed nicely as we pulled up in the minibus alongside it.

Black-headed Bunting

Black-headed Bunting – this smart male was on the wires by the track

There were a few Rollers in the trees and on the wires too, and a Short-toed Lark flew up from a field of sunflowers as we passed.

Roller 2

Roller – there were one or two on the wires too

We parked opposite a quarry. As we got out of the bus, a pair of Crested Larks flew in and one of them perched up nicely nearby. We walked over through the grass towards the quarry, flushing lots of grasshoppers, moths and butterflies as we walked. A female Pied Wheatear appeared on the rocks in the grass and stayed just long enough for us to get a quick look at it, before it flew back up into the quarry. Scanning the rock faces, we found several smart black and white male Pied Wheatears and we had a look at them in the scope. An Ortolan Bunting was singing, and we picked up a couple of males distantly on the rocks. A Northern Wheatear flew in too.

We could hear a Common Rock Thrush singing, but couldn’t see it at first. As we scanned the rock faces looking for it, we did find a Long-legged Buzzard on a nest. Then the Rock Thrush flew in over the top of the quarry and landed on the rocks on the top ridge. It flew up singing a few times, gliding round with its wings and rusty tail fanned. It was very active, constantly flying around the quarry, the white patch on its back really standing out when it turned and caught the sun.

It was a hot afternoon, so we walked back to the minibus for a drink of cold water and then stopped in the next village for an ice cream. Afterwards, we headed out onto an area of steppe. It didn’t take long to find an Isabelline Wheatear perched on bush. We stopped and got out, and realised there were several more here too. We got one in the scope, perched on the top of a ridge. Others were feeding in the short grass or occasionally hovering up singing.

Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear – common out in the steppe grassland

We had a brief glimpse of a Tawny Pipit, but couldn’t refind it, despite walking round through grass where it had been. A Short-toed Lark fluttered singing high in the sky, and one or two Turtle Doves flew over. A Spur-thighed Tortoise appeared on top of the bank where the Isabelline Wheatear had been earlier, but disappeared surprisingly quickly into a hole. Finally the Tawny Pipits showed themselves. Two chased each other round just behind us, and one landed on the same grassy bank, where we got it in the scope. Another two then appeared on the other side of the track and then, as we got back into the bus, one was quite close by in the grass.

We had heard a thunderstorm building away in the distance, and could see the rain now lashing down over the hills. It was a long drive back to Tulcea, and we caught the edge of the rain on our way. But it was dry back in Tulcea as we checked into our guesthouse for the night.

FRIDAY 7TH JUNE

It was another early start, to try to beat the heat of the day, but it was already getting quite warm as we arrived on the edge of Babadag Forest. The minibus dropped us off and we walked down a track through the scrubby woodland.

There were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine – Cardinal and Silver-washed Fritillaries, Ilex Hairstreak, Silver-studded and Green-underside Blues – and loads of dragonflies – mostly Lesser Emperor and Norfolk Hawker.

Ilex Hairstreak

Ilex Hairstreak – one of several butterflies seen this morning

We found several Spur-thighed Tortoises in the grass, and lizards including Snake-eyed (European Copper) Skink and Balkan Wall Lizard.

Spur-thighed Tortoise

Spur-thighed Tortoise – a young one, in the Babadag Forest

There were not many birds active now – a Chiffchaff, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Blackcap and one or two Common Nightingales singing, and a few commoner tits. We had really come to try to see Sombre Tit and we thought our luck was in when we heard one call close by. We stood and listened but it didn’t call again and disappeared deeper into the scrub. Despite looking, we couldn’t find it again. We carried on along the track, where several Turtle Doves were purring and Golden Orioles were fluting, with one or two of each seen flying back and forth.

The raptors were starting to circle up now that it was getting hot, Booted Eagles and a Common Buzzard. As we got out of the trees and into a more open area, we heard a Levant Sparrowhawk call and looked back to see two displaying over the trees. We met the minibus here, down by the road. As we stopped for a drink of water, we spotted a couple of Isabelline Wheatears perched up on small dead stems sticking up out of the short grass. We could hear Tawny Pipit and Ortolan Bunting singing too. There were more butterflies out here too, in particular several striking black and white Great Banded Grayling.

Great Banded Grayling

Great Banded Grayling – common in the open grass on the edge of the forest

Back in the minibus, we drove over to a track across a rough area of open ground, where we found three more Turtle Doves, plus several more Isabelline and Northern Wheatears. We stopped to look at a Corn Bunting in the top of a bush and it was joined by a male Spanish Sparrow. The track continued over to the edge of some open woodland, where we stopped and got out for a walk.

A Red-backed Shrike was in the bushes right next to where we parked, and there were several Ortolan Buntings singing as we walked up the hill. A Woodlark flew over singing, and several more came up out of the short grass, but there was no sign of any Sombre Tits here.

Ortolan Bunting

Ortolan Bunting – this one perched in the top of an oak tree singing

We walked back to the minibus, stopping on the way to look at an Ortolan Bunting which perched in the top of an oak tree. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker was calling in the trees too. We were back at the minibus and jst about to get back on when we heard a Sombre Tit calling from somewhere in the trees nearby. We walked into through trees, and played cat and mouse for several minutes, before we eventually tracked them down. A pair of Sombre Tits, feeding quietly in the trees, right within sight of the bus!

There had been thunderstorms audible off in the distance for a while, but now unfortunately it started to rain here, so we dashed back and into the minibus. It was a long drive south to Vadu, and it was raining on and off for much of the journey – not what we had been forecast. When we arrived in the village, we decided to stop for lunch first and it was a good call as it stopped raining and started to brighten up.

After lunch, it was hot and sunny again as we headed back to an area of pools we had passed on the edge of the village. As we got out of the bus again, there were  several Bee-eaters on the wires. We could hear Red-footed Falcons calling in the trees across the road, and we could just see a nest up in one of the trees.

Turning our attention to the pools, we scanned round the edge where there were lots of Little Gulls. We counted 44, mostly young, 1st summer birds. A pair of Pied Avocets, several Green Sandpipers and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers were on the shore too, along with a single smart summer plumage Little Stint. There were Shelducks on the brackish pool at the front, and several Great Crested Grebes and Ferruginous Ducks on the larger fishing pond behind.

Little Gull

Little Gulls – we counted 44 around the first pool we looked at

A Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds on one edge and, as we walked down the hill and round the pools, three Red-footed Falcons and a Hobby flew overhead. At the back of the pools, we found two different waders in the far corner, two Marsh Sandpipers in breeding plumage, late migrants through here. We had a good view of them through the scope.

Marsh Sandpiper

Marsh Sandpiper – one of two still at Vadu

We cut back round to the road on the far side of the village, where we met the minibus again. After a quick drink, we continued on along the road past the old abandoned communist-era factory buildings. We found several pairs of Northern Wheatears in the sandy grassland, with at least two feeding streaky juveniles. Then once we got to the damper areas with reeds, there were lots of Western Yellow Wagtails in a bewildering array of different forms, a couple that looked good for pure Black-headed Wagtail, but mainly ‘dombrowskii’ types of varying hues, and even one ‘xanthophrys’ with a black head and yellow supercilium.

Two Collared Pratincoles appeared, hawking high over the reeds, with one at one point coming quite close overhead, rather like a cross between a tern and a swallow. A little further on, three were loafing down on the short grass where the cattle were grazing. Several Spoonbills and pelicans circled over too.

Collared Pratincole

Collared Pratincole – hawking for insects above the reeds

Our main target here was Paddyfield Warbler, but we weren’t sure how easy it would be to find one in the heat of the afternoon. At first, we found nothing but Eurasian Reed Warblers, singing or collecting food. There were Great Reed Warblers singing too, with one or two seen flying across over the tops of the reeds. We heard Bearded Tits pinging and saw several zooming back and forth. And there were Reed Buntings here as well.

Then, as we walked slowly along the road, we heard a Paddyfield Warbler singing further up. We hurried along, and found it perched briefly on a stem in the top of the reeds. For those who were there quickly, it was a good view, but all too quickly it disappeared down into the reeds. Several of the group had gone back in the bus to use the facilities in the village, so had missed it. It was still singing but with a bit of a breeze, it was keeping well down in the reeds most of the time. We stuck at it though, and eventually it made another appearance for those who didn’t see it first time. The Black Sea coast of Romania is the westernmost point of the breeding range of Paddyfield Warbler, so you need to see it here, unless you want to go further east!

Paddyfield Warbler

Paddyfield Warbler – we found one singing in the reeds

There were some large sandy banks surrounding some wet basins a little further on, so we walked up for a look. On the first, hundreds of pairs of Common Terns were nesting. Two Little Gulls were in with them, along with several Common Redshanks round the edge of the islands. The basin on the other side of the road was deeper and less productive. Four Spoonbills and a Grey Heron flushed from the brackish marsh on the edge of the reeds on the way, and a Purple Heron flew over.

It is a long drive own to the coast even from here, and we had one more area we wanted to visit this afternoon, so we decided to head back, with a quick stop on the way for ice cream. We made our way over to an agricultural area, passing through another band of rain on the way, and turned onto a newly tarmacked road through the fields. A Calandra Lark circled over a rough field of grass and oats, just the bird we had come to see, but dropped down out of view.

We continued on slowly up the road and stopped by a track. Several Western Yellow Wagtails were bathing down in a puddle and two Black-headed Buntings perched in the tops of some young sunflowers in the edge of a field singing. A Red Fox walked down the track towards us.

We could see another Calandra Lark standing in the middle of the road further up. It seemed to like the new tarmac, as a couple of times it flew round but came back to the road. We drove slowly up towards it, but we were looking through the windscreen and into the sun so it was not going to be the best of views. The Calandra Lark eventually flew up, but circled round and landed again on the road behind. Now we got out and had a look at it through the scope. There was a lot of heat haze from the tarmac, but it helpfully decided to fly up and land much closer to us, where we could see its big bill and black neck patches.

Calandra Lark

Calandra Lark – kept coming back to the new tarmac

Eventually it flew again, right past us, flashing the broad white trailing edge to its wings and black underwings, before dropping down in the middle of a field of wheat. There were several other Calandra Larks flying round over the fields and several Skylarks here too.

Two Long-legged Buzzards circled over while we were standing here. Then we looked up across the fields to see a Montagu’s Harrier quartering along a ridge. It had been sunny, but now it started to spit with rain again. We had been very lucky dodging the showers this afternoon – we hadn’t been caught by the rain at all while we were out – and it was time to head back anyway now, with a long drive to Tulcea ahead.

Long-legged Buzzard

Long-legged Buzzard – one of two which circled over

Back at the guesthouse, after a break to freshen up and start packing, we gathered for our final dinner, which was finished off with a celebratory cake prepared by the guesthouse to mark the end of our visit.

SATURDAY 8TH JUNE

After a more leisurely breakfast, we checked out of the guesthouse and set off on the long drive back to Bucharest. We had a quick stop on the way at an area of marshes for Ruddy Shelduck.

As soon as got out of minibus, we saw one flying across over the water down below the hillside. There was a big colony of Sand Martins by the road, and several Bee-eaters with them. Two Rollers flew past and a Cuckoo came over calling. It was great we had seen so many Common Cuckoos on this trip – mostly in the Delta, but we had seen at least one every day so it was good to keep up the record. Further down the grassy hillside, a Hoopoe was feeding out on the grass with a single Isabelline Wheatear nearby.

We walked down the path to where we could get a better view out over the marshes and found at least 9 adult Ruddy Shelducks here, including a pair with several shelducklings. There were a few waders out on the marshes too. Several Black-winged Stilts and Lapwings were out in the middle, and two Green Sandpipers were down on a muddy patch on the near edge. Four Collared Pratincoles flew high overhead calling. In the distance, we could see lots of White Storks circling over the hillside beyond, and a Spoonbill flew in.

All too quickly it was sadly time to move on again. We had another break for an early lunch at the filling station back in Slobozia, where a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes beyond the back fence today.

Then it was on to Bucharest. We got to the airport in good time, only to find our flight was delayed by 20 minutes, but we were soon on our way back to Luton. We sailed through passport control, but then had to wait almost an hour for bags. Welcome back to the UK! Then we bid our farewells and headed off home.

It had been an unforgettable experience – with lots of good birds, good food and good company. If you would be interested in joining us on our next visit to Romania, please get in touch.

Sept/Oct 2017 – A Week in Shetland

Not a tour, but a week spent up in the Shetland Isles between 27th September and 4th October. The weather was not great – gale force winds on several days, and lots of rain – but it was still possible to get out birding most of the time. It was an opportunity to go and check out some new sites, as well as catch up with some of the more unusual birds which were around while I was there. Here is a selection of photos from the week.

Breeding as close as Scandinavia but wintering in SE Asia, Rustic Bunting is a very rare visitor to Norfolk. They are much more regular in the Northern Isles, but even so there was a bit of a deluge over the last week. I managed to catch up with two. The first Rustic Bunting on the Mainland was found up at Melby, Sandness. I saw it on several occasions but it was always quite flighty, when I was there.

Rustic Bunting 1Rustic Bunting – seen around the wet fields at Melby, Sandness

The second Rustic Bunting I saw was at Lower Voe, which I stopped off to see on my way back from Esha Ness on my last morning. It was initially rather elusive, moving round between gardens and the beach, but eventually settled down to feed along the side of the road where it showed very well.

Rustic Bunting 2Rustic Bunting – my second of the week, at Lower Voe

The other rarity highlight was the arrival of several Parrot Crossbills towards the end of the week. This is an irruptive species, moving out of Northern Europe in search of pine cones. We were fortunate to have a very obliging group in North Norfolk not so long ago, over the winter of 2013/14. But it was still nice to catch up with some more Parrot Crossbills this time – I saw at least 6, in the spruce plantations at Sand, making very light work of any spruce cones they could find.

Parrot Crossbill 1

Parrot Crossbill 2Parrot Crossbills – there were at least 6 in the spruce plantations at Sand

Esha Ness is a stunning location and well worth the visit anyway, but I did eventually manage to locate the juvenile American Golden Plover which was hanging out with the flock of Eurasian Golden Plovers. It was generally rather distant though, hunkered down at first against the gale-force winds, before flying off into one of the fields to feed.

American Golden PloverAmerican Golden Plover – hunkered down in the wind

The juvenile Little Stint was much more obliging, landing in the road right in front of the car, before running over to feed around the shallow pools in the grass nearby. A Curlew Sandpiper feeding in the grassy fields with the Golden Plovers looked rather out of place.

Little StintLittle Stint – feeding around the shallow pools with a Rock Pipit for company

There were lots of scarcities too – a good arrival of Little Buntings, seen at several sites….

Little BuntingLittle Bunting – this one in one of the quarries at Sumburgh Head

…and numerous Red-breasted Flycatchers too.

Red-breasted FlycatcherRed-breasted Flycatcher – one of many, this one also in a quarry at Sumburgh

Yellow-browed Warblers, perhaps not surprisingly these days, were numerous.

Yellow-browed WarblerYellow-browed Warbler – several were seen most days, this one at Quendale

There was only one Red-backed Shrike around during the week, a juvenile for a couple of days at Fladdabister. It was often to be found hunting in a couple of small gardens, right outside the front windows of the houses!

Red-backed ShrikeRed-backed Shrike – this juvenile was at Fladdabister

I also saw two Great Grey Shrikes during the week, one by the beach at Grutness and the other at Dale of Walls.

Great Grey ShrikeGreat Grey Shrike – this one at Dale of Walls in the rain

There were good numbers of commoner migrants passing through, especially earlier in the week. Redstarts were regularly seen, sometimes in slightly incongruous places.

Common RedstartRedstart – this one on the pavement by the road in a housing estate

There were several Spotted Flycatchers around too, but I only saw one Pied Flycatcher during the week, in one of the plantations at Kergord. It can’t have been easy for them to find food, in the wind and the rain.

Spotted FlycatcherSpotted Flycatcher – trying to find a sheltered spot to feed

Bramblings and thrushes, particularly Song Thrush and Redwing, were arriving too. I was slightly disappointed to only see a handful of Mealy Redpoll, as I left too early for the arrival of the Arctic Redpolls just after I departed.

BramblingBrambling – birds were arriving during the week

It was also nice to catch up with some of the commoner birds. The Wrens on Shetland are a separate subspecies, zetlandicus, darker with longer bill and legs compared to the ones at home.

Shetland WrenShetland Wren – a distinct subspecies

Rock Doves are common around the crofts and fields. It many parts of the UK, they have interbred with Feral Pigeons, but the ones here still look pretty pure.

Rock DoveRock Dove – seen around the crofts and fields

Twite are also still fairly common here, with small groups encountered on most days.

TwiteTwite – small groups were seen on most days

Most of the seabirds which breed here over the summer months have now departed, but there were still plenty of Black Guillemots around the coast. This one was particularly obliging, catching crabs just off the beach at Melby.

Black GuillemotBlack Guillemot – several were seen around the coast

It was a very enjoyable week up in Shetland and I will definitely be going back again next year!

6th May 2017 – Three Spring Days, Part 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Spring Tours today. It was forecast to be cloudy, and it was thick enough for some intermittent light drizzle early morning which thankfully cleared up after an hour or two. It was still windy, with a fresh ENE. We might have walked out to the dunes from Burnham Overy today, but given the wind and early drizzle we decided to make our way in that direction from Holkham, where we could get a bit of shelter in the lee of the pines or in the hides if need be.

Having parked at Lady Anne’s Drive, we walked up towards the pines. A Sedge Warbler had found a sheltered spot in the brambles to sing from, and we were able to get a great look at it through the scope.

6O0A9748Sedge Warbler – singing from the shelter of the brambles

As we walked west along the path, in the lee of the pines, we could hear lots of warblers singing in the trees. As well as more Sedge Warblers, there were several Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats and a distant Willow Warbler. One of the Chiffchaffs perched up nicely where we could get it in the scope. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from deep in the bushes, as usual.

A Cuckoo was singing in the trees but we couldn’t see it on our way out. We stopped at Salts Hole to scan the grazing marshes beyond and about thirty Swallows were feeding around the trees in the reeds and low over the grass nearby, presumably trying to find food in this more sheltered spot.

One of the group had seen a Bullfinch fly over the path on our way there, but it had disappeared. When we got to Washington Hide,it flew in and landed in one of the bushes in the reeds and even stayed long enough for us to get it in the scope, a smart pink male. An occasional Spoonbill flew past, heading out to feed or back into the colony.

A female Marsh Harrier perched up on the top of a bush and a little while later a male flew in carrying some prey and landed down in the reeds. We had hoped we might see a food pass, but presumably it had decided to eat whatever it had caught itself. The Swallows were now hawking for insects out over the grazing marshes and as we looked out towards them we could see there were lots of Swifts zooming back and forth now too.

Continuing our way west, a Jay flew across the path and landed in an oak tree briefly. We could hear a Goldcrest singing and a pair of them appeared in a low hawthorn before working their way through the trees and past us. A Treecreeper was singing in the pines, but was too deep in to see. A couple of Coal Tits were feeding in the emerging leaves of an oak tree.

We were told there had been a Peregrine out on the beach on a kill so when we got to the crosstracks, we made our way out to the dunes for a quick look. It wasn’t there any more and it was cold and windy here, so we beat a hasty retreat and headed back to Joe Jordan hide.

There were a couple of people in the hide already when we walked up the steps. As we went in, they kindly told us that a Bittern had just flown in to a clump of rushes not far from the hide. We quickly got seated and after just a couple of minutes it walked out in full view. It stood there for several seconds before walking back across the short grass and flying off again. What perfect timing!

6O0A9761Bittern – walked out of the rushes shortly after we arrived in Joe Jordan Hide

As well as the Bittern, there were lots of other things to see here too. More Spoonbills were coming and going, flying in and out of the trees. Most landed out of view, but two or three flew down to the pool in front to collect nest material, giving us a better look at them. A Great White Egret spent most of its time hiding in a reedy ditch, walking out onto the bank briefly where we could see it, before flying off behind the trees. A single Pink-footed Goose was asleep in the grass, most likely one which has been shot and injured and cannot make the journey back to Iceland to breed.

The weather had improved considerably now, so we decided to make our way along to the west end of the pines and up into the dunes. As we got to the gate at the end of the track, we stopped to look out over the grazing marshes as a male Marsh Harrier flew past. Several thrushes flew out of the bushes and landed in the short grass and you can imagine our surprise when we found they were two Mistle Thrushes, a Ring Ouzel and a Fieldfare!

IMG_3930Fieldfare – a late straggler, which should be on its way to Scandinavia

Fieldfare is a winter visitor here and most have long since departed back to Scandinavia. We had a great view of both it and the Mistle Thrushes from the gate, but the Ring Ouzel quickly disappeared into a dip in the ground. So we walked round and up into the edge of the dunes where we could look down on it – a smart male Ring Ouzel with a bright, clean white gorget.

IMG_3940Ring Ouzel – a smart male with a white gorget

We made our way further up into the dunes and stopped for a while to admire the view. The bushes just beyond the fence here can be good for migrants, but they were quiet today in the wind. Scanning out across the grazing marshes a Great White Egret flew across and landed distantly out of view in some reeds and a second Great White Egret was visible about a mile away in the grass.

One of the group particularly wanted to get a better look at a Wheatear, so we walked a little further into the dunes to an area which they favour. We flushed two or three more Ring Ouzels from the dunes as we went. They were typically very flighty, and as soon as we appeared over a rise they were off.

When we got to the right spot, we quickly found a male Wheatear, hopping about on the short grass. Then a male Stonechat appeared on the fence a short distance ahead of us and when we looked, a second bird also on the fence a little further along turned out to be a stunning male Redstart. What a bonus! Everyone had a look at it through the scope before it dropped back behind the dune beyond.

6O0A9794Stonechat – we saw a couple of males in the dunes today

As we walked back through the dunes, we flushed another Wheatear which flew off ahead of us flashing its white rear, and another male Stonechat. It was nice to get back into the lee of the pines and out of the wind. We were almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive when we heard the Cuckoo singing again from the trees. It sounded quite close, but was in the back of a poplar behind a pine tree. Still, we managed to find an angle from which we could see it and get it in the scope so everyone could get a look at it.

It was lunchtime by the time we got back to the car, so we made use of the picnic tables at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, which were reasonably sheltered from the wind by the pines. We had just sat down to eat when we noticed another Ring Ouzel along the edge of the field next to us, over by the hedge. It spent all the time we were eating feeding in the grass nearby.

IMG_3982Ring Ouzel – feeding in the field next to where we were having lunch

Yesterday, we had struggled to get good views of the Red-breasted Flycatcher at Holme, but we found out it was still there this morning and “showing well on and off”, or so we were told. We decided to head back there for another go. When we pulled into the car park, we could see a small crowd gathered in the corner. We got out and walked over and this time there was no need to wait – the Red-breasted Flycatcher was immediately on show!

6O0A9893-001Red-breasted Flycatcher – feeding in the trees on the edge of the car park

The Red-breasted Flycatcher was feeding in a sycamore right in the corner of the car park. It was very active, flying up after insects before landing back down on a branch, and very mobile, flitting between different parts of the tree. It was hard to see until it moved, but by spotting the movement and following it when it flew it was possible to see where it landed. Regularly it would perch where we could see it and quickly we all got great views of it. We even managed to get it in the scope on occasion.

It was a cracking male, with an orange (not really red!) throat and upper breast. When it flew and spread its tail, we could see the white outer edges to the base of the black tail. It called a couple of times, a dry rattle. Red-breasted Flycatchers breed in eastern Europe up through the Baltics into southern Scandinavia, so this one had been blown off course on its way north from its wintering grounds in western Asia. An exciting bird to see and well worth coming back again to see properly.

6O0A9875-001Red-breasted Flycatcher – blown off course on its way north

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and we walked back along the access road towards the horse paddocks. At first all we could see were Wheatears, but there were several of them here, males of different shades and a couple of females. We got some great looks at them through the scope.

IMG_3995Wheatear – there were several in the horse paddocks at Holme

There was meant to be Redstart and Whinchat here too, but we couldn’t find them at first. After a short while, the Whinchat appeared on the fence at the back. It was a female, not as boldly marked as the males we had seen yesterday. It kept disappearing, at times feeding down on the ground, before reappearing back on one of the fences.

Then the Redstart finally showed itself as well, another male, our second of the day. It was very mobile too, not staying still for long. dropping down to the ground before flying back up to the fence or the brambles. We kept getting it in the scope and eventually everyone got to see its black face and contrasting silvery white forehead which caught the light face on. When it flew back up to the fence, sometimes it spread its tail which flashed orange red.

IMG_4029Redstart – our second male of the day, at Holme

The temperature had dropped noticeably now and it had turned slightly misty. It seemed a shame to leave the paddocks, with all these migrants here, but we made our way back to the car. We finished the day with a drive round the fields inland. We had hoped we might chance upon a Dotterel in one of the traditional fields they visit when on their way north, but we couldn’t find any today. We did surprise a Song Thrush which was bashing a snail on the tarmac on the edge of a minor road. A lone adult Mediterranean Gull walking around in a stoney field looked rather out of place and there were several Wheatears up here too.

6O0A9910Mediterranean Gull – this adult was walking around in a field all on its own

Then it was time to head for home, after a very exciting migrant-filled day.

5th May 2017 – Three Spring Days, Part 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Spring Tours today. It was a lovely sunny day, but still with a nagging, chilly and rather blustery NE wind. We met in Wells and headed over to NW Norfolk for the day.

We took a short detour round via Choseley on our way west along the coast road. There were lots of Brown Hares in the fields, and we watched two chasing each other round for some time. After a while a third joined in. It looked like they might start boxing, but they thought better of it at the last minute. One was left to practice on its own, shadowboxing, standing up on its hind legs and throwing some punches in the air.

6O0A9667Brown Hare – there were lots in the fields at Choseley

The concrete pad at the barns was quiet when we arrived. A lone Pied Wagtail dropped in. A couple of Swallows and a Sand Martin, the latter presumably on its way somewhere, were hawking for insects around the buildings. We walked onto the start of the footpath and looked out into the field, at which point two smart Yellowhammers flew in and landed on the bare ground just in front of us, which was very helpful of them!

6O0A9672Yellowhammer – two dropped down onto the field in front of us

There were a couple of Common Whitethroats singing from the hedges but not much else today. It was rather windy up on the ridge. We drove back round via Chalkpit Lane, stopping to look at a Grey Partridge feeding in the entrance to a field. The resident extremely pale Common Buzzard was perched high on a dead branch at the top of a tree.

As we got back down to the main road, we could see a falcon ahead of us, over the church the other side. Through the windscreen, we could see it was a Hobby. It started to drift towards us, and then a second Hobby appeared in the sky with it. First one, then the other, turned and started to power straight towards us, flying at high speed. One passed on either side of the car and they disappeared up the hill behind us.

Our first main destination for the day was Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked along the path through the bushes, we could hear lots of warblers singing on all sides. A Chiffchaff sang from the wires and a Willow Warbler perched in a hawthorn. A Blackcap was singing deep in the bushes. Sedge Warblers and Common Whitethroats were song flighting, but neither was perching up quite so obligingly as it might do normally, given the wind. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the undergrowth as we passed and a Reed Warbler sang from deep in the reeds. A Song Thrush added to the chorus.

A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling over towards the inner seawall, so we made our way over to try to see it. We managed to find it, clambering around in a thicket of briars and bare branches, but it was not easy to get onto. It was keeping very low today in the wind. Then it flew across into the hawthorns back along the path. We started to walk back, but some dog walkers were coming the other way and it went quiet.

As we climbed up onto the inner seawall, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. It did one close fly past, looking like a cross between a falcon and a hawk, before disappearing into the bushes further south, where we could still hear it. As we made our way further along, it flew past again, further over, up the middle of the park.

Looking back towards the road, we could see a dove on the wires. It was rather distant and looking into the sun, but through the scope we could see it was a Turtle Dove. Then it flew up in a flurry of wingbeats and circled slowly round and down into the trees – its display flight. A little later it flew up along the edge of the beach, landing in some sallows where we could hear it purring from where we were on the inner seawall.

Common Swifts have been in short supply so far this spring, so it was nice to see three over the park today. They seemed to be enjoying the wind, and zoomed back and forth, coming low over our heads a couple of times.

6O0A9682Common Swift – three were enjoying the wind over the park today

As we got past the bushes and looked out over Ken Hill Marshes, we could see a flock of about twenty geese flying round. They were Pink-footed Geese. When they landed we got them in the scope and could see their dark heads and small dark pink-banded bills, very different from the orange carrot-like bills of the larger Greylags nearby. There were also a few Egyptian Geese out on the marshes and a Marsh Harrier was quartering over the grass.

When the Pink-footed Geese landed, they disturbed a large white bird which landed again nearby. Through the scope we could see it was a Spoonbill. It then promptly tucked its head in and went to sleep, which is, after all, what Spoonbills seem to like doing best! Periodically, when it woke briefly, we could see its distinctive spoon-shaped bill.

As we walked north along the inner seawall, the bushes were alive with Sedge Warblers and several more Reed Warblers sang from the reeds on the edge of the marshes. There were quite a few Reed Buntings too – though the song of the male Reed Bunting is nothing to write home about. We could also hear a couple of Lesser Whitethroats, further over in the bushes.

We cut across to the outer seawall and climbed up to have a look over the Wash. The tide was starting to come in again, but there was still a lot of exposed mud. Along the edge of the water we could see several large flocks of waders, which would whirl round periodically. Through the scope we could see a mix of Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Knot, several of which are now coming into summer plumage. The Grey Plovers were looking particularly smart, with their black faces and bellies. There were also a few Dunlin and a lone Turnstone with them.

A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling, heading south, but we couldn’t pick it up looking into the sun. As we started to make our way back, we heard a Tree Pipit call and looked up to see it flying the other way over the seawall. It landed briefly on a briar stem, but took off again before everyone could get a look at it through the scope. A male Stonechat perched more obligingly on the brambles – presumably the female is still on a nest nearby.

6O0A9684Stonechat – presumably the female is on a nest nearby

We could still hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing, closer to us from this side. We made our way through the bushes and saw it zip across into some brambles in front of us. Eventually it appeared on the top briefly.

When we got back to where the Grasshopper Warbler had been reeling earlier, it was still going strong. It was actually back in the same tangle of branches it had been in before. We managed to get the scope on it and everyone had a look, but it was still tucked in tight and partly obscured by branches today.

It was getting on for lunchtime by the time we got back to the car, but we thought we would head round to Titchwell for lunch. A quick stop on the way at Hunstanton produced a few Fulmars over the clifftops. They were mostly keeping down below edge today, presumably out of the wind, but periodically one would circle up in a big arc before disappearing again.

6O0A9688Fulmar – we stopped to admire them flying around the cliffs

Over lunch in the picnic area at Titchwell, a Blackcap was singing and perched up for us in a sallow by the path. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and watched as a family party of recently fledged juveniles made their way along the edge of the picnic area, begging to their parents as they went. A Goldcrest was flitting around in one of the pine trees too.

After lunch, we made our way over to the visitor centre. There were several Greenfinches on the feeders in front, which are always nice to see these days as the population has declined markedly in recent years due to disease.

6O0A9700Greenfinch – several were around the feeders

Two Whinchats had been reported today, and as we got out onto the main path we could see one of them on the fence that runs along the edge of the Thornham grazing marsh. It was rather distant at first, but we got the scope onto it. Then the second Whinchat appeared, much closer to us, and the two of them gradually worked their way closer still. When they were perched on dead stems just beyond the fence in front of us, we got some great views. They were both cracking males, with blackish cheeks and a bright white supercilium.

IMG_3910Whinchat – one of two on Thornham grazing marsh today

The Thornham grazing marsh dried up ‘pool’ was devoid of life again today. Very sad. The reserve side of the path was more interesting, with at least three Marsh Harriers over the reedbed, including a smart grey-winged male. There were a few hirundines hawking for insects including several House Martins, plus a couple more Swifts here too. A quick look at the reedbed pool added a Great Crested Grebe, right at the back, and a couple of pairs of Common Pochard.

It was chilly up on the bank in the wind, so we made for the shelter of Island Hide, from which to scan the freshmarsh. The water level is still high on here, but in spite of that there was a better selection of waders today. As well as the ubiquitous Avocets, there were quite a few Ruff, including a small female Reeve right outside the hide which was probably the bird reported at around that time as a Wood Sandpiper.

6O0A9724Avocet – there are always plenty on the freshmarsh

There were better numbers of godwits today too, mostly Black-tailed Godwits with varying amounts of summer orange. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were asleep on the edge of one of the islands. In with the godwits we found a single Whimbrel, which had obviously dropped in for a bathe and preen. Looking round the few small areas of exposed mud, we found a Common Sandpiper, a Little Ringed Plover and a couple of Turnstones.

The fenced off island intended for the Avocets has been taken over by the gulls. They are mostly Black-headed Gulls but scanning through the hordes, we could just see several Mediterranean Gulls too, deep in the throng. It was nice to see several terns on here today – mostly Common Terns, but a single Little Tern was resting on one of the islands too.

The ducks are enjoying it on here. There were still several pairs of Teal scattered around the edges, which should probably be heading off to their breeding grounds soon, plus several Shoveler and Gadwall. A flock of Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh, where they had been feeding, and landed on the water.

6O0A9715Teal – there are still quite a few on the freshmarsh

It was at this point that we received a message to say that there was a Red-breasted Flycatcher just along the coast at Holme. With Wryneck and Redstart reported there too today, we thought it was worth heading round there for the rest of the afternoon. A Grey Heron standing motionless in the reeds by the main path on the way back distracted us for a second.

6O0A9734Grey Heron – hunting in the reeds by the main path

Because we were so close, we got round to Holme very quickly, but when we arrived we found that the bird had disappeared. Even worse, we found out that it had been there for several hours and they had neglected to tell anyone. Not the most helpful! We waited a while to see if the Red-breasted Flycatcher might reappear and checked out the bushes it had been seen in, but there was no sign of it. We decided to go for a walk in the dunes, even though the reserve staff at the visitor centre could not tell us where any of the other birds had been seen. It was rather windy out in the dunes and it was always going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack, with the limited time we had left.

As we walked through the dunes, we did see a Wheatear. It was a female and very flighty in the wind, constantly zooming off ahead of us, flashing its white rear. A Cuckoo was singing from the bushes further down. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat and found a couple of Blackcaps too. There were several Linnets and Meadow Pipits in the grass. But no sign of any of the other scarce migrants which had been reported earlier. Then it was time to head back to the car and start making our way home.

When we got back to the edge of the pines, we stopped to talk to one of the off-duty wardens. While we were standing there, someone called out nearby that he had found the Red-breasted Flycatcher. It was mostly deep in the pines and very hard to see, flicking across between branches and only landing briefly in view, when it was very hard to get onto. Everyone at least got a glimpse of it, but eventually we were out of time had to call it a day. With a bit of luck, we might be able to have another go tomorrow!

8th Oct 2016 – Arrivals from the East, Part 2

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. Thankfully the overnight rain cleared through just before we met up this morning. The rest of the day was mostly bright with sunny intervals, and even the couple of dark clouds which went over later in the afternoon produced no more than a couple of drops of rain. It was a lovely autumn day to be out.

Our destination for the morning was Warham Greens. We parked at the start of one of the tracks and walked along towards the coast. In the first field, they were just starting to harvest potatoes. As the tractor and trailer drove in, it flushed a large flock of Golden Plover, which flew up calling mournfully, followed by a flock of Lapwing. As the harvester started to make its way through the middle of the field, it was pursued by a noisy mob of Black-headed Gulls.

The track was lined with thick hedges which are dripping with berries at this time of year. We flushed lots of birds from the bushes as we walked along, presumably mostly migrants fresh in from the continent. There were thrushes galore – Blackbirds, Redwings and a few Song Thrushes. Several harsh scolding ‘tchack’ calls alerted us to the presence of a Ring Ouzel, but it was hiding deep in the hedge. We just got a glimpse of it before it flew out the back and across the field.

The birds were hard to see perched, because they either flew ahead of us or dived deep into the hedge. But it is quite a spectacle to see so many birds, migrants which have just arrived here. Every few metres we flushed another Robin or Blackcap. We could hear lots of Goldcrests too and see them occasionally flitting around in the bushes – amazing to think that these tiny birds had probably just flown in across the North Sea. Three Bramblings flew off ahead of us, calling. An exhausted Chaffinch was easier to see, feeding just a few metres ahead of us on the path, probably tired after a long flight.

6o0a3552Chaffinch – exhausted and feeding just ahead of us on the path

The Yellowhammers here are most likely residents and we heard a couple calling as we walked along. The rain overnight had filled up the deeper ruts and left lots of good puddles, which the birds were taking advantage of. We watched as a Yellowhammer came down to bathe in one of them.

6o0a3558Yellowhammer – having a bath in one of the puddles

As we got further down the track, a bird flicked out of the hedge ahead of us, flashing an orange-red tail as it flew along for a few metres, before diving back in. It was a Redstart. We made our way slowly down to where it had gone in, but unfortunately it had disappeared, probably out through the other side of the hedge.

Down at the end of the track, we could see a couple of small groups of Brent Geese feeding out on the saltmarsh. There were plenty of Little Egrets too – at one point we had a group of seven together, all in a line. More Golden Plover would periodically whirl round, calling, alternately flashing white and gold as they turned in the sunshine. As well as lots of Curlew out in the vegetation, a single Bar-tailed Godwit flew in and landed on one of the small pools, where we could get it in the scope. A Peregrine was very distant, circling up over the marshes towards Wells lifeboat station, and a Marsh Harrier wasn’t much closer, out over the Spartina beds towards the beach.

As we approached the pit, we could hear the ‘tchacking’ of another Ring Ouzel in the bushes. Again, it stayed deep in cover, moving ahead of us, and we couldn’t see it. The biggest surprise of the day came next. While we were standing waiting for the Ring Ouzel, we heard Bearded Tits calling and turned to see a flock of nine flying past us low over the edge of the saltmarsh. They don’t look like particularly strong fliers, but Bearded Tits do disperse over some distance and these ones were certainly in a hurry, flying off strongly east.

Continuing west, as we reached the end of Garden Drove, a friendly face beckoned us over to say that the Red-breasted Flycatcher was in the small copse there. We could hear it calling, but it was hard to see on the outside of the trees, so we made our way in to where a couple of photographers were already standing.

The Red-breasted Flycatcher seemed to be favouring a couple of sycamores and kept returning to them. It was hard to pick up when it stopped still, but by following it when it made little sorties out after insects and then looking where it had landed, it was possible to get some very good views of it at times. It was a first winter, so born earlier in the summer, and blown off course on its way from NE Europe to W Asia for the winter. They are quite rare visitors here normally, but a few have turned up along the coast in the last few days on the easterly winds – hence this was the second we had seen in two days!

6o0a3599Red-breasted Flycatcher – in the trees at the end of Garden Drove

Having all enjoyed the Red-breasted Flycatcher, we made our way on a little further west. We were walking along the coastal path but someone else was walking along the edge of the field the other side of the hedge and flushed a Redstart. Again, we just got a glimpse as it flew back along the hedge, so we made our way round so we could see the direction in which it had gone.

The Redstart had found a hawthorn out of the wind and in the sunshine and was perched out in full view, periodically dropping down to the edge of the field below after food. We could see the orange-red tail after which it is named. At one point, a Chiffchaff perched up in the tree with it.

We could head a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the trees on Garden Drove, so we made our way back and walked a short distance up the track. It was calling periodically, but it was hard to see in the tall sycamores, especially as we were looking into the sun. There were lots of Goldcrests flitting about too, which made it more complicated still to know which bird to look at. However, it was possible to see the Yellow-browed Warbler in the trees with a bit of effort.

As we made our way back east along the coastal footpath, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling. The first group were too far off, but then we heard closer calls and turned to see a skein of about two hundred flying west just over the fields. Presumably these were birds just arriving for the winter, and they seemed to be on course for the grazing marshes at Holkham. On the walk back up the middle track, there were several more people now and fewer birds, although we did find another Yellowhammer bathing in a different puddle.

A short drive east and we stopped at Morston Harbour for lunch. It was lovely sitting out in the sunshine, with more flocks of Golden Plover whirling around over the saltmarshes. Although it wasn’t as quiet as we might have hoped, with all the seal boats returning just at that moment.

The afternoon was spent at Stiffkey Fen. As we made our way along the permissive footpath by the road, a couple of Common Buzzards flew past over the field. Stopping to scan , we could see another three Common Buzzards over the woods beyond. They were obviously all taking advantage of the autumn sunshine! Down by the river and we flushed more Blackcaps from the brambles as we walked. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made its way noisily through the sallows ahead of us.

It is hard to see much of the Fen from the path, as all the vegetation has grown up so high. We could hear lots of Wigeon calling as we walked along. However, the view is much better up on the seawall. From here, we could see lots of ducks, though they are not looking their best at this time of year, with the majority of them still in dull eclipse plumage. There were certainly loads of Wigeon, plus several Pintail, a good number of Teal and a scattering of Mallard and Gadwall too.

The find of the afternoon was a Jack Snipe, which was feeding along the edge of the reeds. We just had time for everyone to look at it through the scope before it disappeared back into the reeds and we didn’t see it again. As usual, there were lots of Black-tailed Godwits here and, in amongst them, a few Ruff. We could hear Greenshank calling periodically and watched as several flew off and over the seawall out towards the harbour, but they were tucked in behind the reeds at the front. Two Common Snipe flew off calling too.

Another Peregrine, a juvenile, was a bit closer this time. It circled over the trees at the back of the Fen before flying off fast and low over the fields to the east. A male Marsh Harrier flew in over the fields just afterwards, making for the harbour.

We were just walking off in that direction ourselves, when we turned to see a Spoonbill flying in from the harbour. It flew past behind us, over the seawall and circled before dropping down onto the Fen, giving us a great view of its spoon-shaped bill as it did so. We walked back to get a better look at it, and found the Spoonbill bathing over towards the back corner. It was a juvenile, with a fleshy-coloured bill, probably raised at Holkham this summer. Just as we were watching it through the scope, it walked back behind the reeds out of view.

6o0a3605Spoonbill – flew in from the harbour & dropped down on the Fen

Turning back again along the seawall, we walked out to the edge of the harbour. A single Grey Plover was feeding on the mud by the channel, as was a Curlew. We got good views of both of them through the scope.

6o0a3621Grey Plover – on the edge of the saltmarsh channel

The male Marsh Harrier reappeared, flying along the edge of the saltmarsh. We were watching it as it suddenly dropped down and caught a Black-headed Gull. The gull must have been ill, because it put up very little resistance. The Marsh Harrer was just starting to pluck its prey, with us watching it and enjoying great views of it through the scope, when it suddenly took off and dropped the dead gull back onto the ground.

We could see three Carrion Crows harassing it, which wouldn’t have seemed the most likely reason for it to desert its prey so quickly, but then we noticed a Peregrine was with them, and making a couple of short dives down towards the harrier, presumably trying to steal its prey. The Peregrine was eventually chased off by the Crows, and the Marsh Harrier flew low along the saltmarsh and out of view. We didn’t see if it managed to retrieve its precious lunch!

Looking out over harbour, the tide was out. We could see hundreds of Oystercatchers in big groups out on the mud. In with one of the groups we could just see several Knot running around in and out of the Oystercatchers. There were also more Curlew, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits.

6o0a3616Brent Geese – flying around over the saltmarsh and harbour

Little groups of Brent Geese were flying around over the saltmarsh and we could see a whole load more out on the mud in the harbour in the distance. Numbers are increasing steadily now, but there are still a lot yet to come for the winter. A large group of Mute Swans was also swimming about in the harbour.

We spotted a Greenshank asleep in front of a rock, down in the channel in front of us. We had a look at it in the scope, and we could see it regularly opening its eye, even though it was sleeping – if you are a bird, you often do not have the luxury of going to sleep completely, particularly with hungry Peregrines and other predators about! We had almost forgotten about it and were looking at something else when one of the group noticed that it had woken up and started feeding. This was a much better view.

img_7496Greenshank – eventually woke up and started feeding

It is a lovely place to sit on a sunny afternoon, looking out across the harbour, but with time getting on we eventually had to tear ourselves away and start to walk back. Migrants were continuing to arrive even now. A large party of Redwings flew in over the harbour and circled over the fields back towards the Fen, before disappearing inland. As we got to the seawall, we could hear Bramblings calling and looked across to see a couple land in the hedge nearby. The leading members of the group just got to see them in the top of a hawthorn, but when a couple of dogwalkers came along the path the other way, they dropped down out of view, before we could get them in the scope. The next thing we knew, the Bramblings flew off calling – four of them in total.

A loud call alerted us to a Kingfisher flying along the river channel beyond which landed on the wooden sluice. Unfortunately, before we could get it in the scope, it was off again and disappeared further up along the river. Back at the Fen, there was still no sign of the Spoonbill.

As we made our way back along the footpath the other side of the road and came out of the trees, we flushed a Barn Owl from the far edge of the wood. We watched it fly away from us to the grazing meadow beyond, where it started to hunt, flying back and forth over the grass. Suddenly it dropped down to the ground and we could only just see the top of its head. It stayed on the ground for some time and when it flew up again we could see that it had caught a vole. The Barn Owl deftly transferred the vole from its bill to its talons and flew over into some trees to eat.

6o0a3622Brown Hare – a couple were in the field on the way back to the car

As we walked back to the car, we could see a couple of Brown Hares in the grassy field by the path. One of them was looking decidedly mad, leaping up and kicking its feet out – despite the fact it certainly isn’t March! Then it was time to head for home.