30th December 2013 - Portland

We decided to go for a proper twitch on the 30th, down to Portland to see the Brünnich's Guillemot.  The drive was quite nice as it was a lovely day and we got there relatively quickly.  The first bird that was of excitement (to me) were a couple of Red-breasted Merganser - a lifer for me!  This was quickly followed by another lifer but this time for both of us, a Black Guillemot.  

A lone lady Eider was fast asleep and a couple of Pied Wagtail were hopping around.  We decided to head up to where the majority of the twitchers were and as we got there the Brünnich's Guillemot appeared - and swiftly headed to where we had just come from.  However, we got some great sights over about 10 minutes, lovely little bird.  

Brunnich's Guillemot
One day I'll find that pot of gold

Whilst we were waiting for it to reappear I got yet another lifer - a Great Northern Diver.  It unfortunately didn't reappear for a while and it was getting late so we moved on to Radipole where there was a Glossy Ibis happily standing in a field with kids riding their bikes nearby and a small menagerie of photographers merely metres away.  Amazing.  

Glossy Ibis

We made a last ditch attempt to get the Poole Harbour for the Surf Scoter that had been seen there.  It was nearly sunset when we arrived and we met the last people leaving.  Luckily the last gentleman gave us fantastic directions to see the bird (thank you!) and we got to see it, albeit from a far distance.  Another lifer!  This took me from 194 to 199 birds for the year...noooo!  The 31st would produce just one more for me...right?!

Trip list: 13
Year list: 199
Lifers of year list: 33

28th December 2013 - Peak District

After Christmas, we headed up to Manchester to see my family.  Obviously we kept an eye on the alerts and this lead to us heading out across the Peak District to Broomhead Reservoir near Sheffield to see some Two-barred Crossbill.  As with attempts before, we just missed them but did get to hear them call this time which was quite exciting.  We weren't too disappointed though as we saw loads of Red Grouse on the way, something we weren't expecting at all!

Red Grouse

A few Mistle Thrush were around with Redwing and Fieldfare and I spotted a Raven as we headed back to Manchester.


Trip list: 14
Year list: 194
Lifers of year list: 28

15th December 2013 - Lower Halstow and Isle of Sheppey

Down to Kent in the blustery weather to hopefully hunt down a Black Brant.  It was really awful weather to be birding, that horrible stinging sheets of rain that makes it impossible to see anything and the freezing cold to go with it.  Whilst driving around trying to find the field that contained the flock of Brent Geese that the Black Brant was hanging out with, we had an unexpected and rather odd encounter with a Sparrowhawk which ran down the lane in front of the car for a good while.  Very odd.

We eventually found the flock due a very helpful lovely gentleman on Twitter and set about scanning it to find the odd one out.  With the weather this was clearly going to take some time so the three of us decided to take shifts with the scope, warming up in the car when it wasn't our turn.  Stuart eventually found the elusive bird and there was great delight all round - it was a good bird to see and we could finally all get back in the car!  I was hoping to see the Whimbrel that had been seen near there recently but unfortunately with the weather and not being entirely sure of the right location, we had to give that a miss.  No 2013 Whimbrel for me!

The plan was to then go on to the Isle of Sheppey to see what we could find there but the weather was abysmal at that stage so we settled down in the Ferry House Inn for some lovely grub.

Trip list: 25
Year list: 193
Lifers of year list: 28

5th to 12th December 2013 - Tenerife

We headed to Tenerife for a holiday, hoping to see all the endemic birds and anything else that popped up.  It was an interesting holiday as the island experienced the worst storms it had had in a long time.  There was a code red alert issued and we weren't able to leave the hotel on the 2nd last day, which was rather annoying as we still hadn't found any Bolle's Pigeon! The hotel also flooded on the 2nd day we were there and we had to eat in the dark, which amused us greatly but I'm not so sure the other residents found it as funny!

We didn't go out birding on the first day we arrived, just for a short walk from our hotel in Las Caletillas.  We did however see five birds on our walk - many Collared Dove (still to be identified as African or European), Blackbird, Yellow-legged Gull, Monk Parakeet and our first endemic - Canarian Chiffchaff!  The Canarian Chiffchaff is incredibly loud, it was the first thing we would hear when waking up each morning, which is certainly a lovely wake up call.

The next day we headed off up an incredibly steep road to join the TF-24 along through the Teide National Park, where the volcano is.  Teide is the highest point in Spain and we were hoping to go on the cable car to visit the top but unfortunately the queue was too long - we had birds to find!  It was on to Las Lajas to see the Blue Chaffinch, which we expected to be easy - in every guidebook and trip report it stated that you could hear them before opening the car door and they'd be easy to spot hopping around the water taps.  Were they hell.  We spent a good couple of hours wandering the site and staking out various taps and we didn't hear nor see a single Blue Chaffinch.  We did however see many African Blue Tit and Canary and a scramble down a slope produced a single Tenerife Goldcrest.  Upon returning to Las Lajas later in the evening to give the Blue Chaffinch another try, we saw lovely Raven and the Tenerife subspecies of Great Spotted Woodpecker.  A quick stop in Vilaflor for food at El Rincon de Roberto proved an excellent plan, with a lovely piece of rabbit for Stuart and pork with apples for me.  There were Plain Swift circling overhead, another lifer!

Monk Parakeet

Mount Teide
The next day we took a trip to the northern side of the island, in search of Bolle's and Laurel Pigeon.  We had read that Laurel were hard to find so weren't expecting any on this day.  However, at the first stop, at Mirador de la Grimona on the TF-5 we were pleasantly surprised to see 2!  There were no Bolle's Pigeon however, a theme which reoccurred throughout the holiday...The Mirador de la Grimona was probably my favourite place to bird watch.  In a layby on the edge of a busy road, looking up at a sheer rock face.  Ahhhh.  We saw also saw Blue Tit, Canary, Sardinian Warbler, Canarian Chiffchaff, Kestrel, Little Egret, Yellow-legged Gull and a possible Rock Dove from there that day.  Lunch that day was provided by Los Pinos in Garachio, with huge portions of delightful octopus, calamari, avocado and shrimp frittata and my favourite Canarian dish, papas arrugadas with green mojo.  Yum.



We popped down to the area by the airport on the Sunday as we wanted to do a whale watching trip.  We took a short wander in El Medano, where we spotted some Bertholet's Pipit and 3 lovely little Kentish Plover.  Both were lifers!  On round to the boat from Los Cristianos, where we were lucky to see lovely Short-finned Pilot Whale as well as Spanish Sparrow, an unidentified Shearwater and a Little Egret.  We were also mobbed by Yellow-legged Gull.

Yellow-legged Gull

Spanish Sparrow
Monday is was back yet again to Las Lajas for a stake out of the drinking pool.  We weren't leaving without seeing a Blue Chaffinch!  A false alarm which led us to stalk around a large bush for a while was actually quite fun and broke up the monotony of sitting in the car.  Two hours later and Stuart was being utterly rubbish at watching out for the bird and was playing Duolingo instead.  I should probably mention at this point that I had already had two fleeting glimpses but Stuart had missed both so he really should have been more alert than I was!  A blue bird flew into a tree directly opposite - cue 'STUART GET YOUR BINOCULARS UP NOW GOD HELP ME IF YOU MISS IT THIS TIME'.  It was very obliging and sat there for a while posing for the cameras.  Thank you Blue Chaffinch!  We stopped off in Adeje for an excellent fried chicken lunch at Otelo - truly delicious.  On the way back to the hotel we had a quick stop off at a pool by the Amarilla Golf club where we came across 8 Little Egret, 4 Spoonbill, 2 Little Ringed Plover and plenty of Spanish Sparrow.  Lovely.

Blue Chaffinch

We were now hunting the Bolle's Pigeon (and a Chaffinch if we could find one).  It was back to my favourite spot, Mirador de la Grimona for a brief scan, which gave us Tenerife Robin, another Laurel Pigeon and many Canary.  It was starting to get rather stormy so we sat down for a gorgeous fish lunch at Restaurante Escondida then headed back to the hotel.  The next day we weren't allowed out of the hotel - it looked like Bolle's Pigeon was not going to be seen this trip.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
The 12th was our last day and we decided to head up the TF-12 to El Bailadero in a last ditch attempt to get the pigeon.  An unexpceted bird was seen on this road - a Barbary Partridge!  It sat in the road for ages being adorable and didn't seem bothered by us being there at all.  Very exciting!  It was still very windy so being high up on the edge of a steep drop looking for birds was quite scary.  We scanned the valley below for a while, with only one possible sighting of a bird that could have been a pigeon.  We headed back to the car to go to the airport.  I thought I'd have one last scan of the valley and came across a bird perched on a branch.  Then I spotted the one next to it...and the five next to that one...a flock of Bolle's Pigeon!  Wooooooooooooooooooo!  A delightful meal was had to celebrate in the small fishing town of San Andres at La Posada del Pez, where we were introduced to the freshly caught fish and could choose one of our liking.  I went for red snapper which was cooked with lentils and Stuart went for some gorgeous scallops.

Bolle's Pigeon

I had a great time in Tenerife and was very happy we managed all the endemics in the end!  The food was delightful and I am now obsesed with mojo.  I wasn't so taken with the wine but it was cheap and easy drinking so I suppose that's always a good thing!

Barbary Partridge

Books used:

Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia: Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Cape Verde - Eduardo Garcia-del-Rey

An excellent identification guide, used many times until Stuart managed to lose it halfway through the holiday.  Doh!

Finding Birds in the Canary Islands - Dave Gosney

We were lucky to receive the updated version, released just before we ordered.  This was a heavily used site guide with great recommendations.

A Birdwatchers' Guide to the Canary Islands - David Collins, Tony Clark

This book was quite old so used as a supplement.  We did find however it was still quite relevant and had sites that the others didn't.

Donde ver Aves en Tenerife - Eduardo Garcia-del-Rey

This was highly recommended on various blogs I read before leaving but unfortunately I couldn't get a hold of the English copy.  Luckily Stuart is quite good at Spanish and we used this also to supplement Dave Gosney's book.

Tenerife Bus & Touring map

Whilst not great, definitely useful if you've hired a car.  This was battered by the end of the holiday!

The Real Tenerife: The Insiders' Guide - Andrea & Jack Montgomery

Loved this book, an interesting guide to sights, attractions and most importantly, food.

17th November 2013 - Chew Valley Lake and Salisbury Plain

We stayed in Bath with a couple of friends this weekend as we had booked in to go and see the Great Bustard on the Sunday.  Chew Valley Lake was first as there had been a plethora of great birds reported.  

Chew Valley Lake

Mallard time

Of course, we didn't see any of them, but did get some distant views in the mist of lovely Goosander and Goldeneye.  It was then on to Salisbury Plain where the Great Bustard Group run their reintroduction scheme.  There were a group of 5 of us going out that day to see the birds and we hopped in the 4x4 and were driven to the hide, passing many a MOD warning sign!  

Great Bustard!
From the hide there was a bird instantly recognisable, even to someone who had never seen one before.  We soon spotted another bird sitting down and had a great time watching them for a while.  It was then on over the hill to see if we could find a larger flock of Great Bustard outside of the release zone where we had watched the first pair of birds.  


We were in luck as there were a flock easily viewable - it was very interesting to compare the size of the female bird to the male bird.  We also saw the first Fieldfare for the Autumn/Winter and a lovely perched Kestrel took the focus away from the Bustard briefly.  It is definitely a trip I would recommend although you need to book quite far in advance - apparently April/May trips are already booked up!

Trip list: 28
Year list: 193
Lifers of year list: 28

10th November 2013 - Farmoor Reservoir

The trip to Farmoor was a quick trip, specifically to see a Red-necked Grebe that had been hanging about.  As always with reservoirs, it was freezing cold and blowing a gale, but the sun was also out so it was quite a pleasant walk.  We had heard there were also a couple of Slavonian Grebe about and spent an embarrassingly long time staring at a few Little Grebe trying to turn them into Slavonian!  Thankfully we stumbled across a lovely little Slavonian Grebe further round the reservoir, just before we came across the Red-necked Grebe and the many birders watching it.  It was quite playful and very quick to move, which was good for exercise but not so great for my hangover.  

Trip list: 12
Year list: 193
Lifers of year list: 28

6th October 2013 - London Wetland Centre and Capel Fleet

We headed to the Wetland Centre to try and find a Jack Snipe.  There weren't any around, but there were plenty of Snipe showing well, a random Red-crested Pochard and a sun-bathing terrapin (uh oh!).  Plenty of Parkeet were around as usual and a Chiffchaff was hanging about. A couple of Little Grebe with little fluffy bottoms were there and a Pintail was hiding well.  

Freaky terrapin

Greylag Goose

Teal and Snipe

Lovely Spider

Then we went off to see the Lesser Grey Shrike that had been sighted the night before (actually when we were very close but too close to dusk!).  We saw it as soon as we got to the right place and spent a great time watching it flying from bush to bush.  It was an excellent weekend for Shrike!  We also had a brief stop at the raptor viewpoint along from the Shrike and met some lovely birders.  Unfortuantely didn't see any Merlin or S.E/L.E Owl but we will definitely be heading back there soon!

Lesser Grey Shrike

Lesser Grey Shrike

Found this little guy.  Is he a coach horse beetle?

Trip list: 30
Year list: 192
Lifers of year list: 27

5th October 2013 - Kent (Newlands Farm and Oare Marshes)

When you get into the latter part of the year, it's always trips to get a specific bird rather than a general walk as we're trying to add to our year list!  On this occasion we had actually intended just to go for a general bird walk as we were planning on teaching our lovely friend Naomi some waders, but the Great Grey Shrike down at Ramsgate happened to pop up on the alerts so we actually headed down there instead!  The white house described was easy to find but a quick scan of the telegraph wires didn't bring up any sign of the Shrike.  An hour of searching later, the number of birders had increased but there was still no Shrike.  I had however made friends with a rodent that for some reason was up in a bush at eye level with me.  We had the moment of staring at each other in shock before he dropped to the floor and scuttled off alongside the path.  I think it may have been some sort of vole but having never seen one before, I can't confirm that!


Red Admiral

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike
Anyhow, we decided that as the Spotted Crake had been reported again at Oare, to wander over there.  We stopped briefly before leaving the field to show Naomi a lovely nearby Jay.  It then flew up the field towards the other birders and started having a fight with another Jay - promptly flushing the Great Grey Shrike out of a bush!  It flew around a little then alighted on a tree to allow us all to get a great view.  Excellent!


Lovely fly - anyone know what it is?

Meadow Pipit

It was then on to Oare, but of course the Spotted Crake was nowhere to be seen.  We've heard since that it has injured a foot and is hiding a lot more, I hope it gets better!  Oare had at least 10 times the number of Golden Plover as the previous week but only 1 Avocet left!  It's amazing how much can change in a week.  As we drew close to the car we heard pinging extremely close by and watched in awe for at least ten minutes as a group of around 5 Bearded Tit showed really well in the reeds!

Very camouflaged...

Trip list: 36
Year list: 191
Lifers of year list: 28

28th September 2013 - Kent (Cliffe Pools and Oare Marshes)

I was pretty ill this week and weekend, so we only had a gentle bird in Kent.  Cliffe Pools was first up for the Lesser Yellowlegs and we were incredibly lucky – showing as soon as we got there for about 20 minutes then disappearing.  A lovely little bird, looked very at home.  It was surrounded by Ruff which made it easy to pick out.  I had had images in my head of it being surrounded by Greenshank and requiring slightly more work!  A large flock of Wigeon were present, mixed in with a couple of Teal and on another pool, lots of Shoveler.  A low flying Marsh Harrier didn’t seem to upset the birds too much, but I think I was also the only person who got excited about it…

Lesser Yellowlegs

Odd Thrush

There were 3 Green Sandpiper on the pool with the Lesser Yellowlegs and Stuart saw a Snipe fly in, but unfortunately I missed it.  There were lots of Little Grebe as well.

Stuart with a Pied Wagtail we followed down the path

After that we had a quick jaunt to Oare, but the Spotted Crake must have gone to bed as I think we were the only people we met that didn’t see it!  Another time hopefully.  On the way in an odd bird with a white head stopped us in our tracks, after a bit of staring through the binos we realised it must be a juvenile Song Thrush!  A lone House Sparrow was on the path and plenty of Starling and Collared Dove around.  A flock of Avocet had a few Bar-tailed Godwit mixed in and on the pools there were the usual flocks of lovely plumaged Black-tailed Godwit.  A nice sight for the day were a few Golden Plover, all facing East… A few Snipe, Little Egret and a hovering Kestrel completed the day.

Trip list: 35
Year list: 190
Lifers of year list: 27

22nd September 2013 - Wales (Mewslade Bay and Llanelli WWT)

Abergavenny Food Festival was a great excuse to head to Wales and get a day in birdwatching there.  The festival was excellent, as usual, and full of cider.  On the Sunday we went on a Chough quest, down the Gower peninsula but unfortunately we didn’t find any.  However, we did have a lovely walk to Mewslade Bay and the best views I have ever had of Raven.  There was a horrific 20 seconds where I had to walk along a narrow ledge on the cliff to get around the corner and was nearly crying (turns out I’ve still got vertigo) but happily made it.  There were lots of Stonechat, but no Dartford Warbler (possibly slightly optimistic in hoping for that one).  A family of 4 Rock Pipit and a Grey Wagtail flying over completed the trip.

Rock Pipit

Welsh Sheep
 We then had to choose whether to visit Llanelli Wetland Centre or Slimbridge Wetland Centre, both part of the WWT family.  There had been reports of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Slimbridge, a bird we really wanted to see, but Llanelli was a lot closer and we had never been there.  A quick look at the recent reports made the decision for us - Lesser Yellowlegs and also a Grey Phalarope reported at Llanelli!  Off we went.

We headed straight to the hide where both birds had last been seen.  The Lesser Yellowlegs was a no show, but the Grey Phalarope gave some great viewing.  I was surprised to discover there are only 3 kinds of phalarope in the world – only one to go!  There were also many Teal and Ruff around. With a few Greenshank and a Buzzard sitting surveying the land.  A Dunlin confused me briefly, and a Spotted Redshank wandered into view.
I would have like to spend a lot more time at Llanelli as it was lovely, but unfortunately we had to get back to London.

Grey Phalarope

Trip list: 32
Year list: 189
Lifers of year list: 26