Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Blown off Course(r)

Cream-coloured Courser, Bradnor Hill, Kington, Herefordshire - 21st May 2012

I had a wonderful, long weekend of birding last week, culminating in the best twitch I’ve ever been to – the Cream-coloured Courser in Herefordshire.

The trip around Scotland had been long-planned. Led by Lee Evans, with friends from my January trip: Chris Morgan, Chris Baines, and Mike Warner (thanks for all the driving, Mike!), plus some new acquaintances: John Foster, Mike Robinson, and Paul Steventon.

I travelled up to Stirling by train on Thursday 17th May, and was met by Mike W and Paul to head straight for the Blue-winged Teal at Bridgend Farm Pool, Clyde, on a cold and cloudy evening.

Blue-winged Teal, Clyde, Scotland - 17th May 2012

The next morning we were out early getting great views of Black and Red Grouse, a beautiful male Ring Ouzel, Osprey, Dotterel, Red Kite, Short-eared Owl, while making our way to Braemar to see Ptarmigan.

Dotterel, Kirriemuir, Angus, Scotland - 18th May 2012

We continued northeast as the sun came out, seeing another new duck for me, the King Eider at Ythan Estuary, and then Greater Yellowlegs at the RSPB’s great Loch of Strathbeg reserve. I really didn't expect to Greaterlegs on my year list in consecutive years! Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any White-billed Diver along the cost, so we headed to Grantown-on-Spey for the night.

King Eider, Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire, Scotland - 18th May 2012

Displaying King Eider, Ythan Estuary, Aberdeenshire, Scotland - 18th May 2012

On Saturday we wandered the forests in early morning, finding Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill, Common Redstart, Osprey, and all-too-brief views of Capercaillie. These old forests are such atmospheric places, and occasionally you get a glimpse of the snow-capped peaks that tower over the glens. As we were heading back we found a pair of Parrot Crossbill. The large male, with his low forehead and massive bill, was the brightest metallic orange I’d ever seen.

We stayed around the area for the rest of the morning, watching more Osprey and breeding Slavonian Grebe.

Slavonian Grebe, Highland, Scotland - 19th May 2012

Then we then on our way to the Isle of Skye. We checked into a hotel in Portree, and then went out looking for Corncrake further north. After a few misfires, we found a very showy Corncrake in Uig. You really need to hear their song to appreciate how strong and loud it is.

On Sunday we were out for three hours before breakfast watching a White-tailed Sea Eagle pair, before seeing a Golden Eagle perched high on a crag (my pictures don’t do justice to any of these birds).

Golden Eagle, Isle of Skye, Highland, Scotland - 20th May 2012

After some seawatching (all the common auks plus Manx Shearwater and Common Scoter were seen, but no skuas on this trip), we watched a brilliant Mealy Redpoll flock. The Snowy Owl wasn’t showing on North Uist so we headed south.

The weather had warmed considerably by now, and after some northeasterlies, we decided that the northeast coast of England was the best place to spend the next day. We travelled via Killiecrankie (great views of Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler), and Aberlady on the south side of the Firth of Forth. We looked (unsuccessfully) for Surf Scoter off Aberlady, but were rewarded with the most amazing close-up views of a pair of Grasshopper Warbler displaying to one another, down to a metre – the birds moving close to us, not the other way round!

Before we moved on to out hotel in Berwick-upon-Twee, we stopped off at a chippy. It was hear my phone alerted me to the Cream-coloured Courser in Kington, Herefordshire. Whoa!, there was some heated debate about where to go next. We decided on Holy Island and Coquet Island in the morning, seeing White-rumped Sandpiper and Little Stint at the former, and Common, Artic, Sandwich, and Roseate Tern at the latter.

Then the twitch was on. Straight to Herefordshire, straight to Kington Golf course, and straight into a car jam on the approach road! It was getting late (19:30ish), so after some “negotiating” with drivers coming the other way, we were through the traffic and running up that hill.

I arrived on the plateau in gorgeous low sunshine, to see this fantastic bird perform on what felt like a stage, surround by birders and photographs, all stood well back in silence. A very dramatic setting, and well worth the effort. I could go on about the bird, but I’ll let my video and images (poor as they are) do the talking.

After a few beers in the pub to celebrate, we were off to spend the night in Beaconsfield, near London. It was near here on Monday morning I saw my first ever Red-footed Falcon – at Jubilee River Nature Reserve. A fantastic first-summer male (the brown in the wings gives this away), sat preening in a large oak tree.

1st-summer male Red-footed Falcon, Jubilee River NR, Buckinghamshire - 22nd May 2012

Nightingale and Hobby were quickly added to the year list, as were the amazing Firecrests which breed at a site nearby. Another quick look around the nearby reserve at Amwell gave us good views of Cetti’s Warbler, before we were off to Thamesmead, southeast London, for my sixth and final tick of the trip: Bonaparte’s Gull. A distant but distinctive first-summer bird.

The travelled back up north by train, as the others continued on for another five days of birding around Britain. What a great few days: so many great birds, great sights, jokes and japes (though there's always plenty of unnecessary tension on LGRE’s trips), and good friends. Here’s to next year's trip and whatever it may bring!

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