5th to 8th December 2014 - Fuerteventura

Time for a bit of December sun, so we headed off to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands for a long weekend.  We arrived around midday and headed off around Caleta de Fuste to do a small spot of birding for the afternoon.   We were staying in Caleta de Fuste, so headed to some of the local spots. Unfortunately, we hadn't considered the roads and the hire car policy - our hire car wasn't allowed to be taken off made roads which quickly scuppered most of our ideas. With a plan to take the car back for an upgrade to a 4x4 the next morning, we parked up and set off on a walk around the salt plains.

Southern Grey Shrike 
Barbary Ground Squirrel
Our first bird was a great one, only the second I'd ever seen, a Southern Grey Shrike, the first being a couple of months earlier in Norfolk. As I had commented then, I commented again on what a bulky bird it was. As with the Norfolk bird, it was very confiding and we had a great time watching it. Whilst watching the Shrike, we noticed a few small fluffy things watching us with interest and went over to meet them. They were very cheeky Barbary Ground-squirrels, and with my love for all things fluffy, I instantly fell in love with them.

Houbara Bustard
Cream-coloured Courser
Southern Grey Shrike
As we walked on, a bird briefly confused us but turned out to be a pale Common Buzzard - most of the Buzzard we saw on this trip were similarly pale. Down at the sea we added a few Yellow-legged Gull and 4 Turnstone to the list.  We headed back to the car and drove around the corner to see if we could find our first of the targets for the island, but unfortunately there was no sign of any birds at all, let alone Black-bellied Sandgrouse.  However, we did nearly run over our first and only Hoopoe of the trip.

Fuerteventura Chat
Fuertventura Chat
Spectacled Warbler
I stupidly stopped writing this part way through and now I've come back to it, my brain is rather addled and I can't remember the precise details!  Whoops.  Basically, Fuerteventura was a great trip, but we found it quite hard going with the birding - great birds but a lot of effort to see anything.  For specific sites etc, get in touch and I can definitely help out. We caught up with all the target birds, Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Egyptian Vulture and Trumpeter Finch.  We also met three lovely British birders who were there for the week, who kindly pointed us in the right direction for the sandgrouse and the chat.

Stuart feeding cute fluffy things



30th September 2014 - Hackney Marshes

This short trip for an hour before sunset was to see an unusual visitor to London - a Nightjar, visible during the day!  There was a good turnout at the twitch and it was one of the friendliest of the year, with some really interesting people there to talk to.  It was also good to put some faces to names on Twitter!
Trip list: 10
Year list: 204
Lifers of year list: 17

27th September 2014 - Kilnsea

Only 2 weeks after our first ever visit to Kilnsea and Spurn, we were back on the road with Oliver Simms from NGB, heading there again hopefully to see the Masked Shrike.  A Barn Owl was our first spot of the day from the car when it was still dark.  The Masked Shrike was showing well but distant.  We had a short walk around Kilnsea after seeing the Shrike, where we saw a variety of species including many waders and a Sparrowhawk.  We were lucky enough to be with Oliver when he received a call from Tim telling him to get immediately to the Warren where they'd just caught a Common Rosefinch.  I'd actually mentioned in the car up that I'd love one day to see a Rosefinch, so this was a great experience for me!

Masked Shrike


Common Rosefinch
Trip list: 45
Year list: 203
Lifers of year list: 16

19th September 2014 - South Stack RSPB

The yearly trip to the Abergavenny Food Festival was preceded this year with a short stay in North Wales and our first visit to the South Stack RSPB reserve on Anglesey.  It's a lovely reserve and I look forward to visiting it again next September.  We did arrive quite late though so we only had a short time to wander around before we had to leave to check into our B&B.  Highlights were great views of a Rock Pipit and Northern Wheatear but the best bird came in the form of a lifer, the Chough.





Trip list: 19
Year list: 302
Lifers of year list: 15

5th to 7th September 2014 - Frampton Marsh, Spurn and Rutland Water

Despite hearing wonderful things about Spurn, I'd never actually visited, so a last minute decision was made and we headed up for the Migration Festival.  The route up on the Friday took us vaguely near to Frampton Marsh, so we also had a stop off here.  Frampton Marsh is lovely and the number of Curlew Sandpiper was impressive!  We couldn't find the Glossy Ibis that had been around earlier, but had great views of a little Red-necked Phalarope, as well as 3 Spoonbill.

Red-necked Phalarope

Meadow Pipit 
We had our first taste of Spurn the next day with a guided walk around Kilnsea.  There were tons of Whinchat, Swallow and Yellow Wagtail, as well as Pied Flycatcher, Tree Sparrow and a lone Lesser Whitethroat.  We saw our first ever Barred Warbler, which is a surprisiginyl chunky bird and had such close views of a Wryneck.  We failed a bit at seawatching, with a single Fulmar and 10 Common Scoter.  The day culminated in a hog roast, excellent talk from Mike Dilger and a great couple of hours chatting in the Crown & Anchor.

Yellow Wagtail

We had to leave relatively early on the Sunday, but had a quick dash around, adding a Caspian Gull spotted by Martin Garner and 2 Razorbill to the list.  An extremely quick stop at Rutland Water meant we saw a beautiful Red-necked Grebe, my 200th bird for 2014.

House Sparrow

Red-necked Grebe
Trip list: 60
Year list: 198
Lifers of year list: 14

31st August 2014 - Dungeness

I love Dungeness anyway but this was a fabulous trip.  We started off at the entrance to the RSPB reserve, with a group of 5 Wheatear, doing what they do best by behaving like the Meerkat of the bird world and finding the highest point to stand regally on and look attractive.  I could watch them all day.  The first Yellow Wagtail we'd had in 2014 decided to fly over bellowing its little lungs out which led to general (muted) cheering and clapping, getting us some odd looks from cars passing by.
An alert then came up for a Wryneck, so it was off to Lydd Ranges for the first time, to drive up and down, completely missing the road we were meant to turn down for at least half an hour.  We did get distracted by our second, third, fourth...up to about thirtieth Yellow Wagtail of the year however, which was definitely worth it.  We finally found the Wryneck twitch and had a few short sightings of the bird, albeit through a heat haze.


We travelled back to the RSPB reserve for a wander around, where we saw lovely Garganey and completely missed two Honey Buzzard that must have been right above our heads.  Impressive.  The NNR provided little, with a lone Redstart being the highlight.

Pied Flycatcher
The last stop of the day was to another new Dunge location, the Denge Marsh Gulley.  It was full of photographers and birders and in the afternoon sun, a lovely location.  It was here within 5 minutes of arriving that I saw my first ever Pied Flycatcher, along with excellent close view of a Garden Warbler and Blackcap.

Millions of Swallow!

Trip list: 36
Year list: 191
Lifers of year list: 14

16th August 2014 - Birdfair

August is my favourite time of year - it has a week that involves the Great British Beer Festival, Birdfair and Alton Towers.  Genius.

I adore Birdfair, it's great fun going round all the stalls marvelling at birds you've never even heard of before, catching up with people you haven't seen in a while and eating lots of samples of chocolate from around the world.

I had three highlights this year:

Next Generation Birders - it was great to meet lots more members of this brilliant organisation for young (between 13 and 25) birders.  If you're in that age group I'd thoroughly recommend checking them out.

Facebook group

I love spiders and had a brilliant time discovering the fantastic Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes Plantarius).  It is a large, absolutely gorgeous spider which lives in lowland wetlands.  It unfortunately is red listed by the IUCN and is endangered in the UK.  For more information, check out this website.

Finally, I had admired his wonderful artwork at the last Birdfair but got a chance to speak with the great Leigh Charman this time.  His bird artwork is wonderful and in such a unique style, it really cheers me up.

3rd August 2014 - Norfolk

The first day I went out birding back in the UK after Trinidad & Tobago was a little confusing.  Where are the tanagers?!  Why are there all these gulls around?!  I don't understaaaaaaaand.  Luckily, we'd chosen Norfolk as our destination so I quickly settled back into British birds with some fine specimens.

Titchwell was our main place for the day and upon entering the main path, we spotted four young Red-crested Pochard on the pool to the left.  There were also plenty of other ducks keeping them company, including Tufted Duck, Pochard and Mallard.  Both Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe were present and some lovely looking Ruff were soon seen.  The star of the show was however the Spotted Crake, which kindly walked about giving us great views of this lifer.  We popped down to the beach for a while where we added Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, a group of Eider and some baby Pied Wagtail to the list.  There was also a distant Arctic Skua which was quite exciting as my seabird list is abysmal.  On the way back to the centre, we saw Wood Sandpiper, both Black-tailed Godwit and Bar-tailed Godwit and a handsome Spotted Redshank.

We had a brief stop at Choseley Drying Barns on the way back to London and I am very glad we did!  We spotted the usual Yellowhammer and Red-legged Partridge, then as we were leaving, a Quail dashed into the hedge, another lifer for the day!  A few metres down the road and we flushed around 8 Grey Partridge, which nearly gave us a minor heart attack.

A final stop was at Cornmill Meadows in Essex, a fantastic dragonfly reserve.  We saw Green Sandpiper, some very good looking Snipe and a Garganey here as well as plenty of dragonflies.

Swallow, Titchwell

Trip list: 55
Year list: 183
Lifers of year list: 11

26th June to 4th July 2014 - Tobago

A week after arriving in Trinidad, it was back to the airport to do the short flight across to Tobago.  The flight is only 17 minutes, which was a bit of a novelty.  The second week of the trip was to be spent here, with a view to it being a slightly calmer week with more time for touristy/relaxing things.

We met with our guide for the week, Peter Cox, to have a quick chat about the week and map out a basic plan.  A quick wander around Crown Point and a paddle in the sea, then it was to bed to wake up early the next morning and meet Peter.

The next morning we met the others and headed up into the forest.  We had heard the Trinidad Motmot was easier to see in Tobago, but we were still surprised to see one just sitting at the edge of the road and took the opportunity to get a great look and some photos.  Our first stop was in the small village of Moriah, where we saw a Ruby Topaz and also a nest with a baby Black-throated Mango.  Amazing!  We also had our first encounter with the other kind of Grassquit that lives on Tobago, the Black-faced Grassquit.

Carib Grackle

Rufous-tailed Jacamar
On to Castara, where we stopped at the edge of a river to see our first Green Heron.  As we were watching it, a pair of Red-crowned Woodpecker flew in and landed on a tree nearby, giving us a great view.

Red-crowned Woodpecker
The bulk of the day was spent on the Main Ridge in the rainforest.  Red-legged Honeycreeper are a lot more prolific in Tobago and we were seeing lots of them around.  Within 5 minutes of being in the rainforest we had come across the infmaous White-tailed Sabrewing and we were to have many more encounters with them throughout the week, an especially good one being a pair fighting a mere foot over Stuart's head.  Another Tobago species is the Blue-backed Manakin and we had a few glimpses of these lovely coloured birds.  We also were lucky enough to quickly add the Olivaceous Woodcreeper to our list, a species not present on Trinidad.  Heading out of the rainforest we had two more new species, a Great Black Hawk and a Venezuelan Flycatcher.

White-tailed Sabrewing

Yellow-legged Thrush
That evening Stuart and I did a little birding by ourselves in the Bon Accord area.  We added some species to our list here including Common Gallinule, White-cheeked Pintail, Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Tricoloured Heron.  We spotted a couple of birds we didn't know and discovered from the book that they were both Fuscous Flycatcher and Brown-crested Flycatcher.  Stuart was disappointed as he was hoping to turn one of them into the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo, a bird that had been allocated at least half a day to find!  As we drove out of the area, I asked to stop to have a quick look at a bird I had spotted across the grassy area.  Upon looking through the binoculars I realised it had a long stripey tail and was suspiciously cuckoo like.  I yelled at Stuart to come over and look but the bird took off.  Luckily, it flew straight at us, then landed in the tree behind and it was indeed a very sweet Mangrove Cuckoo!  We also first noticed here that the Spectacled Thrush seemed to have larger eye rings than on Trinidad but I can't find any literature about it on the internet.  If anyone has any information, please let me know.

Mangrove Cuckoo

Yellow-crowned Night Heron
The Magdalena Grand was our first stop the next day, the old Hilton Hotel site.  This has many pools and is great for all sorts of herons and supposedly waders, although we didn't see any here!  Plenty of Green and Tricoloured Heron were always here, with the occasional Great White Egret and Little Blue Heron.  We also saw our only Black-crowned Night Heron here, a juvenile unexpectedly sitting on the side of a pool.  Behind the same pool I spotted a few large black birds I didn't think we'd seen before and upon further inspection, these turned out to be Giant Cowbird, a species we'd missed in Trinidad.  Another surprise was a large heron flying in, a Great Blue Heron.

White-cheeked Pintail

Smooth-billed Ani
Further round there were some overgrown pools where the Masked Duck had been seen.  Unfortunately they weren't here when we arrived and didn't show their masked faces at any part of the afternoon.  However, there were baby Cattle Egret chicks and Little Blue Heron chicks, so that made up for it.  We saw a small flock of Least Grebe and incredible views of a Ruby Topaz, with it coming down to 2 foot away.  We followed the call of a White-fringed Antwren for a good half an hour before it decided to give us a fleeting glimpse and then we were off to Buccoo Marsh.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Cattle Egret
Upon arriving at Buccoo Marsh, we promptly got lost and wandered in circles in very sticky mud for quite a while.  Eventually we got onto the right path and had great views of the very same bird we'd stalked for ages earlier, the White-fringed Antwren.  There was also another new bird for us, a Scrub Greenlet.  Although we had seen the Yellow-breasted Flycatcher on Trinidad, there were three in the Marsh playing around and taking absolutely no notice of us and they were an absolute delight to stop and watch.  Tiny little bright yellow things.

Brown-crested Flycatcher

Short-billed Dowitcher
We headed across to the island of Little Tobago on the Sunday, to try and get a few more species that were local to there.  On the boat across we saw Brown Booby and once landed, a Broad-winged Hawk.  On the way up to the viewpoint, we stopped off at an abandoned house and the boatman told us to go up and have a look in one of the rooms.  I did and there was an incredible number of bats roosting in there, which made me very happy!  One flew out just past my face and I nearly hyperventilated from excitement.  I think I may love bats a little too much.  From the viewpoint, we saw the incredible Red-billed Tropicbird almost straight away.  There were also Red-footed Booby, Sooty Tern and Bridled Tern and I watched a Scaly-naped Pigeon fly along the cliff. On the way back to the boat I spotted a bird I didn't recognise and the boatman had no idea what it was and got quite excited.  Once we got back to the mainland, it was IDed from the photos I had taken as a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, not particularly rare as they do come to the islands but it was very early apparently.

Red-billed Tropicbird

White-winged Swallow
A short trip to the Main Ridge again the next day gave us Plain Antvireo and the one we thought we would miss, the small White-throated Spadebill.  We had some more good looks at the Blue-backed Manakin and were lucky enough to see another Olivaceous Woodcreeper.  A quick pop in to Magdalena (as we had been doing every afternoon!) finally proved fruitful as one of the Masked Duck must have known it would be our last visit and was kindly out on one of the pools.

Least Grebe

Masked Duck
We also had a quick drop in at Bon Accord, where we found a Little Egret.

Little Egret
That night we joined Peter on a patrol of Stonehaven Beach to see if there were any turtles coming in to lay eggs.  We had heard that they had only seen one or two over the past few nights, mainly after midnight, so we didn't expect to see anything.  However, within half an hour of starting the patrol, we came across little movements in the sand and then we realised there were loads of them - leatherback hatchlings!  Unfortunately they were nearly all headed towards the street lights and the road, in the opposite direction to the sea.  We quickly started gathering them and taking them back to the sea.  We must have gathered about 60 in the end, with one even being found having made its way right up the embankment, across the road and down into a drainage channel!  It was an incredible experience and something I'd like to go back and help with again.  It was added to about twenty minutes later when we spotted a fully grown pregnant female lumbering up the beach, finding her spot, digging out the nest and then laying eggs.  An amazing night.

Goofiest grin ever
Trinidad and Tobago was an excellent introduction to world birding and with such a high concentration of birds, somewhere I'd definitely recommend.