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

15th September 2013 - Canvey Marshes

Whilst being good and staying in to tidy the flat and do general admin tasks, we happened to spot the alert for the juvenile Red-backed Shrike in Essex and realised it was only 45 minutes away.  Into the car we away and away we went.  We’d seen reports of good viewing of the bird, but when we got there realised it was nearly on a par with the Abberton Desert Wheatear!  It was flying back and forth from a bush to a nearby fence, feet away from the front row of photographers.  It did worry me how close they were, but in all honesty it didn’t seem to bother the bird.  We hung back in any case; the views were excellent from anywhere!  Lovely little bird.  Unfortunately as I went to take a photo my camera kindly informed me that I’d forgotten to put the memory card back in that morning, so I had to rely on Stuart and his iPhone for my photos.  Luckily, he’s a dab hand and got some gorgeous shots of a gorgeous bird.  There was a Reed Bunting and an unidentified warbler hopping around behind the Shrike. 

On the way home, on the dual carriage way just around the corner from the Shrike, I looked over into a field and saw a bird that I will swear until I die was a Crane.  Unfortunately it had gone by the time we reached the next island and turned around and with no other mentions of it by other birders,  I’ll have to accept I was merely going insane.

It was still a Crane though.

Trip list: 10
Year list: 187
Lifers of year list: 25

6th to 10th September 2013 - Scotland

Time for a holiday, up to Scotland.  We drove up (nutters) to stay in Arisaig for a couple of days and then moved up to Plockton.  It wasn’t primarily a birding holiday, but we got a good few sightings in!

As a surprise for me, we took the steam train from Fort William to Mallaig and back again on the first full day we were there with a couple of unusual sightings amongst the more common sightings of Robin, Swallow and others.  When we disembarked from the train in Mallaig, we saw what we initially thought to be a Guillemot clambering over the train tracks, but it actually turned out to be a Manx Shearwater!  Poor baby.  We also had an Eagle high overhead which was later identified as a White-tailed Eagle and on the trip back, I spotted a lone Muscovy duck at the side of the track.  Odd.

First Hooded Crow of the trip

Manx Shearwater scrambling across train track
A trip around Arisaig later in the evening in hope of Red-breasted Merganser didn’t turn up any, but I did see my first Raven of the year as soon as I got out of the car – result!  There were many young Curlew around which were lovely if a little confusing at first and there were lots of Hooded Crow around which are always lovely to see.

Lion's Mane Jellyfish

Herring Gull with starfish
 The next day had another surprise for me, as we took a small boat out to the pub at Knoydart for lunch.  It is apparently the most remote pub, with no roads in or out, only accessible by boat or an 18 mile hike over the munros!  The boat trip was brilliant, with a bird that looked suspiciously like what I’d expect a Petrel to look like sighted, but no tick as I couldn’t ID it!  There was also a lovely little Pied Wagtail hanging around outside the pub throughout lunch.
Hooded Crow
Pied Wagtail
The next day it was off to Skye to head out to sea on a RIB.  It was incredibly exciting, and got a fair list of birds, including Eider, Ringed Plover and Fulmar.  A Tern on Rum that we stared at for an age we have now decided is a Little Tern and a couple of Eagle were seen although not ID’d.  One was having great fun soaring on the thermals, so I like to think it was a Golden.  Obviously not ticking it though, would need more confirmation!

Peacock Butterfly
It was off on another boat trip the next day, this time from the other side of the island and somewhat slower.  There were plenty of Cormorant and Shag around, which was interesting for comparison.  We found a bird in the water which turned out to be a juvenile Kittiwake, very sweet.  There were a few flocks of Guillemot and Razorbill floating around and plenty of different gulls flying overhead.  The best bit of the trip had to be when the call of 'dolphins!' was heard. Apparentl'd they hadn’t been seen in over a fortnight, so this was a great sight!  They swam alongside the boat for ages, leaping out of the water and just looking generally awesome.  We also had another amazing sighting right at the end – the White-tailed Eagle couple coming back to their nest.  One swooped down to get something from the water and one chased a gull past the boat.  Amazing! 

White-tailed Eagle
On the way back, we had a quick couple of twitches for both the Blue-winged Teal at Frankfield Loch and the Lesser Scaup at Pennington Flash.  The Blue-winged Teal was a great success with a couple of Pectoral Sandpiper in attendance too, but unfortunately the Lesser Scaup wasn’t in view, but there was the second Muscovy of the trip!
Trip list: 53
Year list: 187
Lifers of year list: 24

Sylvester the B&B cat

31st August 2013 - Norfolk

Having seen many reports of excellent birds in Norfolk, we went slightly mad and headed up there for the day.  It’s not really a day trip for us, so possibly was a little silly!  It also turned out that all the cool birds have moved on and we didn’t get anything spectacular, although we did have an excellent day out.

It started at Lyford Arboretum, looking for the Two-barred Crossbill.  It didn’t show for us, but we did add Crossbill to our year list and got a few shots of a couple of very sweet Nuthatch.  I was on top Treecreeper form, with Stuart jokingly asking me to find him one and 3 seconds later, one zooming onto the tree next to us.  I am a Treecreeper goddess.  (Although it has been suspected that I carry a wind up one and stick it to trees when people aren’t looking).  There was a tree filled with Goldcrest and Coal Tit which kept distracting from looking for the Crossbill and a rather large flock of Jackdaw flew overhead, filling the sky with a black cloud briefly. 
We hadn’t heard of Holme Bird Observatory before, but it was recommended as a good place to pop along to.  On the way, I managed to persuade Stuart to take a quick detour into the biggest beer shop in the country, Beers of Europe.  It.  Was.  Amazing.  I bought far too much interesting beer and could have bought many bottles more.  Definitely recommended.
Small Tortoiseshell
Holme was a delight and provided a new, if distant lifer, Arctic Skua.  We also saw flocks and flocks of Sandwich Tern, which we somehow hadn’t managed to pick up this year yet.  I think they’re a great little Tern with a bit of attitude, but Stuart finds them boring.  Boo.  A lone Shelduck flew past and Sanderling were doing their little jogging down on the shore.  When we returned to the office, we found out that a Wryneck had been seen on the adjacent NWT site, but this unfortunately proved a fruitless search.  It did turn up a Lesser Whitethroat, Redstart and Wheatear though, so not all was lost!
Black-tailed Godwit
It was then back on the road to Titchwell for lunch and a wander.  We added a lot of the more common species such as Coot, Canada Goose and Mallard to boost our day list.  A great memory of the trip there were 13 Spoonbill flying over in formation – gorgeous.  We had another Little Stint incident – ‘Stuart, is that a Little Stint.’ ‘No, no!  You’re rubbish at waders!’ 3 minutes later, a guy wanders over to point out a Little Stint.  No prizes for guessing which bird it was!  That was also a year lister and a lovely little bird.

 A great day, although not as bountiful as expected.  Certainly won’t be doing a day trip to Norfolk again in a long while unless something super special arrives!
Trip list: 75
Year list: 181
Lifers of year list: 23