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

3rd April 2016 - Dungeness

A lovely spring day lead to a trip to Dungeness.  A brief sea watch didn't produce much but a wander onto the NNR had a lovely male Black Redstart and quite a few incredible views of Firecrest.  My first Swallow of the year flew over but there were no other hirundines seen that day.

Onto the RSPB reserve and the first bird over was a Sparrowhawk.  Looking out from the first hide, we spotted our first terns of the year, Sandwich Tern and Common Tern. There were a few Common Gull around and both Bearded Tit and Cetti's Warbler were seen from the viewpoint.  There were also the first few Sedge Warbler of the year.

Year list: 158
Lifers this year: 10

19th to 21st February 2016 - The Midlands

Our jaunt to the Midlands for the Warwick University Beer Festival came round quickly.  We had a slight detour to a local site where Hoopoe had been for quite a long time and were happy to spend time with it as it wandered around.  We also headed to Brandon Marsh twice (the second time as I was rather ill and had to forfeit the annual trip to Draycote Water, sniff).  There were the usual suspects at Brandon with a Marsh/Willow Tit (anyone know which is the more common here?) and an unexpected female Goosander.

Unexpected Goosander

13th to 14th February 2016 - Norfolk

Just two weeks later, we were back up in Norfolk agaim, although due to a mixture of illness (me) and late night drinking (Stuart), we didn't actually get there until around 2pm on the Saturday.  The first stop was at Lynford in hope of Hawfinch, but we didn't spot any mid afternoon.  We did however add Nuthatch to the year list, yay!  We took a brief detour after to Brancaster Staithe, where a Red-necked Grebe had been reported and we spotted it before we even stopped the car, best views we'd ever had!  There were also plenty of waders around, including Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover.  The last visit of the day was back to Holkham Hall for the Ferruginous Duck, which had appeared the day after our last visit.  It was dozing when we arrived, but a Mallard kindly woke it up and it had a small swim around before going back to dreamland.

Red-necked Grebe
We started the Sunday off in freezing and windy conditions at Blakeney Marsh, where, third time lucky, we saw a Lapland Bunting.  There were also 7 Twite, and seconds after I mentioned that I had seen on Twitter that there had been Jack Snipe, one kindly flew.  On the walk back to the car, Scandinavian Rock Pipit and a pair of Red-breasted Merganser were also seen.

Bad photo of Lapland Bunting
Two more sites that only provided a couple of birds (but included year listers!) were visited before lunch, which were Hickling Green, where a Woodcock flew low in front of the car as we were passing through and Acle Bridge, where the highlight was a pair of Crane.

Reed Bunting
Last for the short weekend was a small stop in Burgh St Peter, where a Cattle Egret had been hanging around for a short while.  As we arrived we spotted it, but it flew off seconds later, not to be seen again.  Lucky timing!

Cattle Egret

Year list: 145
Lifers this year: 10

7th February 2016 - Thursley Common

We were hoping to head to see some geese including a possible escaped RBG but I was decidedly well into a bad phase of illness by the weekend so we decided to try and have a short walk around Thursley instead.  Five minutes after we arrived there was a flash hail storm despite it being beautifully sunny and after a 'thunk' behind me, I turned around to see Stuart, scope and all, firmly fallen off the boardwalk and knee deep in water.  Donkey.

The common was pretty quiet, but we caught up with two Great Grey Shrike, as well as a split second view of a Dartford Warbler.  

Awful photo of GGS
Also, Ollie 'I hate dogs' Simms, had a beautiful moment with one...

Year list: 137
Lifers this year: 9

30th to 31st January - Norfolk

Norfolk!  Unfortunately not quite as cool as the last super birding weekend in Norfolk, but still fun.  We headed up early morning on the Saturday and completely missed the turning for our first target, so headed on to Wolferton to see if we could spot Mr Golden Pheasant.  When we turned into the road we were in for a surprise as it's usually just us sat there in the layby, but the layby was empty and around 10 cars were pulled up in tight formation around a small area where the bird was usually seen.  I was amazed to see that he was actually out on the road, but the moment we turned the engine off, every single car door opened and people poured out, only a few metres away from the poor guy who then hot footed it back into the trees.  I was really disappointed in the people who had decided that was a good idea and we left straight away.

Golden Pheasant

The first target we had missed the turning to had been the Pallid Harrier at Flitcham and of course we discovered upon arriving we had missed it by 15 minutes.  We hung around for an hour, delighted by the 70+ Brambling feeding in the field in front of us and a first ever view of a perched Merlin, but eventually gave up and went for a walk around Titchwell.  This is always a lovely walk and added a couple to the year list, including Long-tailed Tit, Grey Plover and Avocet.  A brief stop at Choseley Barns produced no Rough-legged Buzzard but one Grey Partridge pretending he was with a group of about 10 Red-legged Partridge.  We stayed the night in a wonderful B&B in Holt we had previously stayed in and enjoyed a catch up with the delightful Andy Stoddart.

It was back to Flitcham early the next morning and we had heard the bird had roosted at Roydon Harrier roost, so we were a bit worried it might change its pattern.  As we drove along the lane to the field it was mainly seen over, a harrier flew over and perched in a tree to the left.  We both yelled PALLID and sat and watched it for a while.  However, we hadn't actually seen a Pallid Harrier outside of photos before, so when we got round to the field we checked with the other birders and my photo was in fact of a Hen Harrier.  Darnit.  We watched the skies about the field for an hour and a half, with very little action, apart from a few low flying visits from the Merlin.  We were beginning to think we were never going to see the bird when it swooped across the field putting on a marvellous show!  We watched it for a while (which involved a good deal of exercise as we ran from field to field and up and down the road to catch sight of it).  Having seen what was definitely the Pallid Harrier, we revisited my perched photo from 2 hours earlier and it was realised that it was in fact the same bird. Doh!  I'm happy we didn't realise and stayed to watch it however, as it was lovely to see in flight and about ten minutes later an actual Hen Harrier joined it and they flew together, a wonderful chance to compare the two birds.

Pallid Harrier
Pallid Harrier 
Pallid Harrier and Hen Harrier
We then skipped up to Choseley Barns where we saw a flock of Golden Plover (a bird we somehow seem to frequently miss!) and a happily singing Skylark.  We popped into Holkham Hall for a look at the Scaup and were also rewarded with a close low flying Barn Owl (I saw 8 throughout that day!).  The last site of the day before we headed back to London was at Blakeney Marsh, looking for the Lapland Bunting.  We didn't see them, but had my second ever sighting of Twite (although at the time all the people we met were definitely trying to squint and turn my absolutely horrendous photo into the buntings!).  Great weekend all in all, and back up there in two weeks for a goose and crane extravaganza!

Pretty awful photo but...Twite

Year list: 134
Lifers this year: 9

17th January - Dungeness

The first Norfolk trip of the year happened on the last weekend in January.  We went down to Dungeness with Oliver Simms from NGB, first stopping at the fishing boats to look for a Caspian Gull that had been hanging around for a while.  Ollie was a star and on it in seconds, whereas I was still mostly asleep and asking why that Cormorant flying out to sea had a white arse.  It was a Brent Goose.  Wow, I'm embarrassing.  A few more birds were picked up flying past out to sea, including Gannet, Great Crested Grebe and a little closer in, Kittiwake.

Caspian Gull 
Along to the RSPB reserve for the next part of the day and after a large flock of Knot went over, the next bird we saw was a UK lifer for Stuart and I!  The Long-eared Owl that had been there for a while was kindly sat in a bush at the back of the first pond and I swear it had the face of a cat.  I may still have not woken up at that point though.  The list from round the reserve was over 40 species, with a delightful Chiffchaff, flying Bittern and perched Kingfisher the highlights for me.  We also popped to Scotney and Walland Marsh for their respective goose and swan populations but only succeeded in adding Kestrel to the day list.

Year list: 112
Lifers this year: 8

2nd to 6th January 2015 - Scotland

We started 2016 with a renewed enthusiasm towards birding and on the 2nd, headed up to Aviemore in Scotland. We hadn't birded this area before, so Stuart set a target of 5 lifers and, preferring not to be disappointed, I set a target of 3 lifers.  Our first day out was targeting the local specialities. The first stop was Dorback, where in the driving cold rain (which, due to my stupid illness and inability to regulate my body temperature, I didn't recover from until we returned to the hotel and wrapped up in a duvet by the radiator for a while) we watched 8 Black Grouse lek and a couple of Raven flew overhead.  The weather eased up ever so slightly for the rest of the day and at Loch Garten I got the first lifer of the trip, a Crested Tit.  Despite taking about a million photos, they were all a bit rubbish.  The rest of the day was spent looking for Capercaillie, but they were busy hiding, so we finished off with three Whooper Swan and then spent the evening sampling Scottish gin.

Red Grouse

The second day was a day at the coast, which was a lot of fun!  We saw a few Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting, which we had missed last year, so they were lovely to see.  At Spey Bay we saw a few Red-throated Diver, Red-breasted Merganser and Goosander amongst a list of 40 other birds.  Lossiemouth was our site for lunch which had a few waders and a small group of Snow Bunting.

The main part of our watch was at Burghead from which I saw my first ever Little Auk.  The usual sea suspects were there, Eider, Common Scoter and Guillemot with a suprise fly past of a lone Purple Sandpiper.

Two Little Auk!
The last day we spent hunting the elusive Capercaillie again which again were not playing ball, but we saw a couple of Crossbill that were apparently as close to the current definition of Scottish Crossbill as possible, which was quite cool.

'Scottish' Crossbill
The trip was finished with a drive through the Findhorn Valley which was full of raptors, a female Goshawk, a few Buzzard, Peregrine and the icing on the cake, 4 Golden Eagle, harassing a White-tailed Eagle.  Epic.  Finished the trip on 7 lifers, so well surpassed my target.  Happy happy.

Year list: 88
Lifers this year: 7