3rd to 17th September 2016 - Florida

We took another trip to Florida in September, not a birding holiday (gasp!) but with a couple of birding days allocated.  I’d done a small bit of research about what might be around but the first bird was a complete surprise and took some extra research to decide what it was – Common Nighthawk!  Very cool.

Tricoloured Heron

The first of the two allocated days of birding was at Merritt Island and the first stop on our driving tour was actually for a mammal – manatees!  We went to the recommended location, expecting to see possibly a fin in the distance or something if we were lucky, but were surprised by what must have been about 20 manatees, coming as close as they could – I must have been less than a foot away from one at one point.  We also nearly fell off the pier when one surfaced next to us with a teeny tiny baby manatee swimming beside it.  Squee!  When I was finally dragged away, we then started to do some birding, seeing a flock of Osceola Wild Turkey, a few Red-shouldered Hawk and two new ones for the list – Red-tailed Hawk and Belted Kingfisher.  The next lifer was one we were aiming for and Tristan found it almost immediately after we set off on the walk – Florida Scrub-jay!  That walk then turned into one of the worst experiences I have had with biting insects, they were continuously very painfully nipping at me and drew blood!  Grr.  It was a good location for Gopher Tortoise however. 

Sandhill Crane
Baby Manatee!
Back in the car and we saw plenty of species from the heron and ibis families.  Another unexpected addition to the life list was Mottled Duck and a Clapper Rail who kindly flew across the road before landing right beside it.      

Gopher Tortoise
Florida Scrub-jay
I’d like to thank the lovely gentleman at the visitor centre for the really useful information and locations to visit, I wish we’d had at least double the time to explore.

Green Heron (?)


It was off to the Disney Wilderness Preserve for the second day of birding.  Whilst in the car going up the driveway we stopped to look at a lovely (loud!) bird that had flown up to a perch beside the road and identified it as an Eastern Meadowlark, a lifer for all of us.  Another lifer kindly flew into view as we left the car, a massive Pileated Woodpecker.  What an amazing bird.  A loud bird stumped us somewhat, but later Oliver Simms kindly helped out with the ID and confirmed our suspicion that it was a Carolina Wren, another lifer.   The rest of the walk around the Preserve was very quiet, with 3 unidentified birds, a very hot sun and some wading through flooded paths.

Eastern Meadowlark
Carolina Wren (Thanks Ollie!)

I wanted to carry on birding so on the way home we stopped off at Kissimmee Lakefront Park for a quick look, which became a lot longer look as it’s a great location!  Almost immediately we had Limpkin, which wasn’t particularly phased as we walked past and there were plenty of both types of Grackle and both types of Vulture around too.  We excitedly watched a group of 4 Sandhill Crane fly towards us and were amazed when they landed just feet away and happily went about pecking in the grass.  They appeared to be a family group with two juveniles.

The Park was good for warblers, with a couple we couldn’t ID as well as good views of Yellow Warbler and Yellow-throated Warbler.   This is meant to be an excellent location for Snail Kite and whilst we saw a number of very large empty snail shells, the kite was nowhere to be seen.  Something I was amazed at here and indeed over on Merritt Island, was the sheer number of Osprey.  They were seemingly on every post and we had some brilliant views of them catching and carrying fish.

Young Sandhill Crane

Yellow Warbler?
That was the end of the official birding but we of course kept our eyes open when out and about, spotting a few Bald Eagle, Mockingbird and other lovely birds.

Lady Red-winged Blackbird (thank you for the ID Ollie) 


Summer 2016

As is usual for me, birding was on the quiet front between June and September, with just a couple of trips.  A brief weekend away with family in Wales produced a Grasshopper Warbler right next to the house – only the second I’ve ever seen! A last minute (flight booked 5 hours before departure) trip to Aberdeen was very productive, with 7 species added to the year list, 2 of these being life listers – White-winged Scoter and King Eider.




 A slightly more local twitch was for the lovely little Common Rosefinch in the Lee Valley, followed by a celebratory pint.  The last trip of summer was a walk around Minsmere in hope of the Purple Swamphen.  We missed out on that, but added 5 others to the year list (including that damned elusive Reed Warbler).

Baby Wheatear

5th June 2016 - Caddington and Paxton Pits

The 5th June heralded a trip to Cambridgeshire via Bedfordshire, to try and see two birds that had been hanging about that week.  The first was a Rose-coloured Starling, in Caddington.  It had been spending time in the back garden of a residential area, so we parked up and wandered up and down the road for a bit, hoping to catch sight of the bird without looking *too* suspicious.  We were kindly invited into one of the back gardens, the one next to where it had been seen earlier that day and we spent some time there, hoping it would return.  After half an hour or so, we went for another wander and then admitted defeat.  As we were returning to the car, we happened to glance down the side of another house and Stuart spotted it perched nicely at the top of a tree!

Banded Demoiselle
It was then on to Paxton Pits, where Stuart again proved on fine form, rocking up to the lake where the Great Reed Warbler had been reported and getting on it within approximately 10 seconds - when we spoke to the others who were there, they said they hadn't seen it in the last hour!  Jammy whatsit.  I still haven't seen a normal Reed Warbler this year...

Tern raft


25th to 30th May 2016 - Portugal

After a great weekend in Madrid for a friend's birthday, we flew to Portugal for a week away. The first couple of days were spent in Porto and Lisbon being tourists (eating lots of seafood and drinking lots of port and vinho verde). It was then time for some proper holiday activities - birding!

On the first day, we navigated Lisbon roads (eep!) to head to Paul de Barroca. It was a great first stop, with a variety of species, including Spoonbill, Purple Heron and plenty of Stonechat. After about half an hour we spotted a bright yellow bird and after further investigation discovered it was a Black-headed Weaver, our first lifer of the trip. A second soon followed as we heard and saw our first of many Zitting Cisticola of the trip. For some reason I had expected them to be larger than they are, they're very short and stubby! A great final bird for the location was a flypast Little Bittern.

Black-headed Weaver
It was then on to the Sítio das Hortas for the afternoon. There was a distinct lack of the waders we were expecting, but we had our first (again of many!) views of Azure-winged Magpie, a bird I was incredibly excited about seeing. It is such a gorgeous bird. We also had our first Hoopoe for the trip, Stuart's favourite bird.

A couple of other sites were visited in the evening, but none produced very much apart from pretentious photos for Instagram. Ha.

The next day we were going down to the Algarve and so did a bit of birding in the Parque de Arrabida before we hit the motorway. It wasn't overly productive, but after many many attempts in different countries, we eventually saw our first Blue Rock Thrush! It was quite far away, but what a gorgeous colour.

Little Bittern
We were staying close to Albufeira, which happens to be close to the amazing Lagoa dos Salgados and this is where we spent the evening. In an hour with not much moving around, we managed a list of nearly 40, which I thought was pretty decent. There were Greater Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt and the first Purple Swamphen of the trip. Bee-eater were flying around making their cute burbling noises and a lone Dunlin was hanging out with some Avocet. We weren't expecting it, but Alpine Swift were fairly numerous and three Glossy Ibis flew behind the lake.

Greater Flamingo
The next day it was time to explore more of the Algarve, mainly the Western part around Sagres. At Cabo de Sao Vicente we attempted some seawatching, but all that we could see going past were a lot of Gannet with their young. However, on the rocks was a lifer, Rock Dove. Yup, never seen one before! Elsewhere around the point were Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler and a pair of Chough. A long lunch was then taken and followed by a gentle drive around the neighbouring area. Here we had two lifers at practically the same time, Red-rumped Swallow and Pallid Swift. Having not seen either before, we had worried they would be so subtly different from the ones we're used to that it would be hard to distinguish them, but that definitely isn't the case! The rest of the evening until sunset was spent wandering around Quinta da Rocha. Here I had my first ever Woodchat Shrike (Stuart saw one in the UK a couple of years ago) and there were plenty of other species we were getting used to seeing.

Little Owl
Saturday was spent with the wonderful Rui Eufrásia, a day organised by Joao Ministro, who in turn was recommended by Georg Schreier. We spent the day in the Alentejo region, looking for a few of the specialities that we really wanted to see. The first target was Lesser Kestrel and we were not disappointed, seeing many in the Castro Verde region. A second lifer was entirely unexpected, a pair of Gull-billed Tern that flew past whilst we were sheltering from a downpour.

 Once the rain had stopped, we carried on with our day and almost straight away saw Calandra Lark, a chunky lark.  I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Quail whilst watching the larks and heard many more throughout the day!  We made a stop off to find Black-eared Wheatear and were successful nearly immediately, seeing both male and female, beautiful birds.  Whilst scanning a small pool, we had our first views of Griffon Vulture drifting over.  The next stop was at a colony of Spanish Sparrow, there were hundreds of birds there and the noise was incredible!  The next unexpected sight was a falcon coming towards us - a small amount of confusion before Rui realised it was a Red-footed Falcon!  Not that common a bird in Southern Portugal, so a great one to see.  The last two lifers before lunch were Short-toed Lark and amazing huge Black Vulture.

We had a wonderful lunch, then carried on with our birding day.  The afternoon started very well with a Short-toed Eagle lifer and carried on with the raptor lifers with Bonelli's Eagle and Spanish Imperial Eagle.  Amazing!  We were seeing lots of Black Kite over and it was interesting to see them a lot closer and for longer than any previous times.  

White Stork and baby!
Moving on, we were looking for some bustards.  We'd heard the smaller of the two making its amusing noise earlier in the day but not seen it.  It was proving quite hard to find any, possibly because of it being so windy that they were hunkering down out of sight in the long grass.  However, Rui eventually found some Great Bustard, swiftly followed by Stuart spotting a lone Little Bustard (although we could hear plenty more calling around us).  Very exciting!  

We finished the day with Rui with two more amazing lifers, 2 pairs of Rufous Bush Robin and a cute Black-winged Kite. Rui was then kind enough to give us some locations for a couple of other birds we were hoping to see and we ended the day with excellent views of Red-necked Nightjar (and a mahoosive bat!).
Collared Pratincole
We followed another of Rui's instructions the next morning to see another lifer, Collared Pratincole. They are just adorable. We also added another species to the trip list with a few sleeping Audouin's Gull. We were pretty exhausted by this time so we had a tasty chicken meal in Guia, then filled our mini fridge with Portuguese beer and had an excellent afternoon on the balcony of our room, comparing bird lists and watching Hoopoe, Azure-winged Magpie and a Yellow-legged Gull thinking it was a duck, all mere yards from us. Too cool.
Before our flight out the next afternoon we had a little wander around a site near Faro Airport. There were excellent views of Purple Swamphen, plenty of the stereotype of Hoopoe on a golf course and we added Great Crested Grebe to the trip list. It was a lovely ending to a great trip.

Trip list: 103
Lifers: 23

18th April 2016 - Rainham Marshes

I woke up the day after getting back from Norfolk expecting to be absolutely exhausted as I'm just coming out of the end of a nasty virus which really aggravated my long term illness, but I was up and about by 8:30 (a miracle for me recently!) so I grabbed my optics and got the train out to Rainham.  It was gloriously sunny but of course pretty much as soon as I left the first hide the rain clouds came rolling in.  I had a walk round with none of the exciting things that had been reported over the weekend but enjoyable nonetheless.  There were plenty of Sand Martin and Swallow, a distant Marsh Harrier and a couple of Avocet.  Plenty of singing Sedge Warbler (not seen or heard a Reed Warbler yet though) and a brief glimpse of my first Whitethroat for the year.  I was wasting a bit of time on the river wall before I had to head back to the station when I heard unmistakeable reeling coming from the reserve side and I made a mad (quiet) quiet scramble down the slope.  I couldn't pinpoint the bird but spotted two gentlemen looking at something and made my way to them.  It had stopped by the time I got there and I resigned myself to this being yet another episode where I heard but didn't see the bird.  After chatting to the gentleman who stayed for around 20 minutes, the reeling started up again, right in front of us and seconds later and Grasshopper Warbler hopped into view.  Lifer!  It was amazing to watch, its whole body vibrating.  I was grinning so much the other guy kept laughing at me, but I think he was happy he'd helped me see a lifer!  Great trip (even if I did miss my train!).

Sedge Warbler
Year list: 175
Lifers this year: 11

16th and 17th April 2016 - Norfolk

We went to Norfolk for the weekend for the third time in 2016, staying again with the lovely Viv and Barley.  Our wonderful (not just because she puts up with us making her go birding!) friend Naomi came with us and we set off from London early Saturday morning.  First stop was just over the Norfolk border at Weeting Heath, where the Stone-curlew were showing remarkably well (not that you'd think that from my photos).  Also at Weeting were some Yellowhammer and a lovely little Treecreeper nest.  The next stop was a brief one at Lynford in the hope of Hawfinch, but to no avail although we had good views of Siskin, which is always welcomed.

After a lunch from Cookies Crab Shop, we wandered around Cley for the rest of the afternoon.  There were plenty of hirundines swooping around and my first Yellow Wagtail of the year were spotted.  Also a first for the year were Little Ringed Plover, Ruff and just as we were leaving, two

Little Egret
Brent Goose
Cley Beach
Before breakfast on Sunday morning we popped out to Kelling Heath where we got a bit carried away (and mildly lost) and nearly missed breakfast!  The highlight was 3 Dartford Warbler, singing away at the tops of their voices.

Kelling Heath is beautiful
Dartford Warbler
After a brief stop off at Choseley, where there were three Ring Ouzel, the rest of the afternoon was spent at glorious Titchwell.  A Water Rail was a first for a very long time and both the Cetti's Warbler and Bearded Tit population were showing remarkably well.  A couple of White Wagtail were seen but unfortunately yet again we missed the Water Pipit.  Out on the beach I was happy to have a flock of Sanderling descend (one of my favourite birds!) and there was a Great Crested Grebe bobbing away out on the sea.  The walk back to the car got us our second lot of Siskin for the weekend and then it was time for the long drive home.

Water Rail
Brent Goose
Sanderling <3
It should also be noted that this trip (the Ring Ouzel specifically) took me over my 2015 total for the whole year!  I did not have a good birding year last year...

Year list: 172
Lifers this year: 10