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

26th December 2015 to 1st January 2016 - Majorca

Due to two trips to the Canaries in previous years, we had almost seen all of Spain's endemic birds and just had the Balearic Warbler left, which is a resident of Majorca. We thought this to be an excellent reason to book a trip there and extended it so we first spent a day at the Portaventura theme park then a day in Barcelona before we flew over to the island to attend a few days birding and to celebrate NYE. However, after booking the trip, we then read that the Blue Chaffinch we had seen on Tenerife had been split into two species so we would need to take a trip to Gran Canaria to finally complete the endemic list. Darnit. 

From the hotel window in Salou we racked up a reasonable list of 10 species in 15 minutes including Monk Parakeet and Tree Sparrow and Stuart got onto a Hoopoe which I unfortunately missed. Portaventura was nicely planted and landscaped which meant many birds including our first of many Black Redstart for the trip. There were more Monk Parakeet to be had in Barcelona and we came across a small enclave of Ring-necked Parakeet in a square.

It was then across to Majorca for the proper birding to begin. The first day wasn't a great hit, but a small reservoir near to the airport had a few Black-necked Grebe, Sardinian Warbler and a Serin singing loudly right beside the car.  After checking in to our lovely hotel in Alcudia, we drove up the Formentor Peninsula, not really seeing much but enjoying the scenery. A swift species was watched for a while, but having read the field guide which says they have no swifts at all during that time of the year, I'm not sure which it was! 

Thekkla Lark
The next day was started with a wonderful few hours across the island at Porto Colom. After watching a variety of passerines for a while, I thought I spotted something which looked very much like the bird we had come to see, the Balearic Warbler. Stuart got a quick glance and dismissed it instantly, saying it was a Lesser Whitethroat! I continued to insist it was the endemic warbler until the bird kindly popped up very close to us and it was unmistakably clear that that was indeed what it was! After watching it for a while we headed around the corner from the harbour/marina to the coast/headland where we saw a few more, lots of Sardinian Warbler and I caught a few sightings of a Dartford Warbler. We then had our first sightings of another lifer, the Audouin's Gull

Booted Eagle
Another bird we had been hoping to see on the island had so far evaded us so when as we drove out of Felanitx I saw a large bird stood in a field to the side of the road, I made Stuart turn the car around and we pulled up in a road 2 fields away. Upon inspection through binoculars and on the back of the camera, we deduced that this was in fact the bird we had been looking for, a Booted Eagle, enjoying his dinner. 

We finished the day at the salt pans, Salines de Llevant. Our first bird was flushed as we pulled up to park and a ruffled Stone Curlew glared at us from a few yards away. A large bird floating above our heads turned out to be the second Booted Eagle of the trip. On the pools were a mixture of Kentish Plover and Ringed Plover and a small gathering of Greater Flamingo. 8 Marsh Harrier appeared over the salt plans as the light began to go. 

Greater Flamingo

Little Egret
On New Year's Eve we headed to Palma via the mountain route, briefly stopping off at Lluc Monastery, Gorg Blau and finally Es Verger, where we had a delightful late lunch of lamb shoulder and a not so delightful walk up towards Castle Alaro, which was curtailed by a section of the path which affected my vertigo so much I was nearly sick. Ooops.