19 October 2017

Papa Westray September 7th - 21st September

Our second visit to Papa Westray and a good time was had by all. It's a bit early for the real goodies maybe but we had a lot of fun in mixed weather conditions and a few good birds. We stayed at historic Holland Farm and were really comfortable in the quaint but spacious surroundings. There were waders everywhere as usual on beaches and rough-grazing. In the bushes were just a couple of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs which were joined by two Lesser Whitethroats. Then, on the 10th, following one the day before on Shetland, a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared in the School sycamores. Obviously an amazingly early date and the first of four over our stay.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler

The School sycamores are one of the best sites on the Island for migrant passerines, Papay is an Island with few trees.

The School sycamores

A Greenish Warbler soon followed, at Hundland, found by David Roche. It eventually showed well on the edges of low willows which is actually recreated native Orcadian woodland apparently. I haven't seen one for ages and Kathy never so we really enjoyed this one.

Greenish Warbler

Greenish Warbler

Next up was a Warbler flashing up onto a wall behind the beach at South Wick, it was instantly recognisable as a Barred Warbler even with poor, brief views in the blustery murk. Then it showed well in the roses at The Greens, sunning itself as a little patch of sunlight appeared. It stayed for ages, often showing well in the Creeping Sow Thistle, a tall yellow flower which grows along the beach edge.

Barred Warbler

Barred Warbler

There were usually Twite with the Linnets and Sparrows along the beach fringes and occasionally Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff or Lesser Whitethroat. There were always plenty of Eider and sometimes a few Red-breasted Mergansers just off the beach and rocks.




As always Papay was wader heaven and included quite a few Ruff at times but always the commoner grassland waders as well as plenty along the sands at The Wicks and up on the fine sward of the Wick Head end of North Hill where there were up to 3 Lapland Buntings present for much of the time. This is also the home of the exceedingly rare Scottish Primrose, a number of which were still flowering.

Scottish Primrose



North-east coast

We stayed at historic Holland Farm in the centre of the Island and the gardens here were some of the best places, along with the School and Hundland for migrant passerines but overall there were very few and some hung around a long while, long enough to be given names including Short-tail here.

The Quarry Garden at Holland

The highlight of the trip was probably the strangest moment. We were walking along South Wick beach when I just saw a Hoopoe perched at the back of Shore House. It was a bit surreal really but there it was and showed well for us and then all the Islanders who were interested to come and see it - quite a few as it turned out. It was the second for the Island at least, there having been one in 2011 I think.

And that was it, another couple of weeks on Papa Westray and quite productive, certainly more so than last year but still a bit quiet. A great, and thriving,  island though and great people - especially the two resident birders Julian Branscombe and David Roche who work incredibly hard there and found some great birds.

04 September 2017

Melodious Warbler Whitesands 1st Sept 2017

Not long after we'd started our circuit of St Davids Head both Kathy and I were drawn to a Warbler which popped up on brambles at the corner of the Woodchat Field. It was big and yellow in the bright sunlight, with an open-faced expression. Kathy started to say it had no supercilium, realising it was something different and I recognised it as a Melodious Warbler. An expected scarce migrant for the early autumn but still pretty amazing. I rushed back to get my camera while Kathy stayed on it, noting its clumsy, bouncing actions and large size when it was briefly joined by a Willow Warbler. By the time I returned it was being difficult so we decided to carry on and see if it would settle so we could catch up with it again later.

When we returned it had been re-located by a visitor from Carmarthen but was skulking in the backs of some Long-leaved Willows along the roadside and though they were thin it still managed to remain obscured most of the time. In the shady conditions the wing panel suddenly seemed more pronounced and the legs were clearly charcoal-grey, both of which made me consider Icterine but then it popped out into the open and the wing panel was properly subdued again. For the first time the primary projection showed clearly as no more than half tertial length. So, as expected, a Melodious. But we had a lot of fun chasing it around and it remained till next morning so a few people saw it.

Galera Summer 2017

A couple of months in Galera was, as always, good fun and very relaxing but we were a bit handicapped by just having an old camera with us while the new one was being repaired. So just a brief post for a few pictures. There was one pressing issue though - would the Trumpeter Finches have returned? I found them in the summer of 2015, breeding around the village, and last summer there were at least 50 present. However they disappeared last winter which was a bit more turbulent than recent times, and I was concerned to see if they had returned. The good news is that they had, though I only ever saw between 6 and 10. 

Juvenile Trumpeter Finch

Juvenile Trumpeter Finches

Trumpeter Finch

The majority were juveniles so they had bred successfully. We couldn't find them in the last couple of days we were there, in late August but they could still have been present, it was hard in 40c. Now to see if they're there in December and maybe try to work out what they're up to.

The Lesser Kestrels were present in Maria at the abandoned hamlet and there were, again, good numbers of juveniles. The other birds were highlights from the same area.

Little Owl

Little Owl


Male Lesser Kestrel

Male Lesser Kestrel

Bonelli's Warbler

Juvenile Lesser Kestrel
These Spanish Ibex were in Castril Gorge and apparently invisible to the groups on the suspended walkway. They were pretty unconcerned and we had great views.

Back to Maria for this Red Fox which hung round the Area Recreativa bar, being fed by the Barman . The Stone Curlew landed on the road before heading off and a couple of smart insects - Cardinal Fritillary and Thread-winged Antlion.

Red Fox

Stone Curlew

Cardinal Fritillary

Thread-winged Antlion

The last few pictures are from our usual drop-in site at The Hoya de Baza, which always seems just about to be swallowed up by the agricultural conglomorates but just about survives for the moment though the Lesser Short-toed Larks seem to have gone. A gathering of about a hundred Red-rumped Swallows was very impressive as was a juvenile Squacco Heron the first we've seen in these parts.

Red-rumped Swallows

Red-rumped Swallows

Red-rumped Swallows

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron

05 June 2017

North Norfolk May 27th - June 3rd 2017

And what a brilliant short trip! After a poor spring for birds in Pembrokeshire we needed to get away and try something different. So it was back to our old area, we lived in Letheringsett and Cley for 15 years in total but this was only the third time we'd been back. We stayed in David and Heather Wilson's lovely cottage in Salthouse, to be joined by friends for the middle part of the week.

The first morning we were up early determined to walk to Weybourne or the Coastguard Cottages before breakfast. We were taking it easy on a gorgeous, bright day so I didn't take my camera with me. That was a mistake as it turned out. Just a few metres from the Cottage as we headed for the Skirts track, Kathy asked 'What's this?' and pointed to a small falcon overhead. It was an adult male Red-footed Falcon, quite low and drifting over the coast road then back towards the marsh. We watched it for about 3 minutes till it drifted further east. It was low enough to see all the details and I was struck again, as I was by the recent Strumble bird, how clearly the orange/red bill and orbital ring showed. I raced back for my camera, hoping we'd catch up with it at The Quags, but no luck, it wasn't seen again. Still we enjoyed some good birds, including Spoonbill over, bumped into Moss Taylor who had seen the Spoonbill circle higher and higher before setting of to the North-east. Then we spent the rest of the day, after breakfast, wandering around the Cley and Salthouse Marshes before Dinner with Penny at The Three Swallows, Cley.


Coastguard Cottages and Skelding Hill from Kelling Hard

Weyboune Camp

We kept up the before breakfast routine every day, often bumping into Moss and one day being shown round Weybourne Camp, noting the changes made over the years. The rest of the day was spent at Titchwell where we caught up with Bearded Tits for the first time in years, there were also a couple of Red-crested Pochards present amongst huge bio-diversity, as always a bit mind-boggling.

The next morning found us talking to Moss again, at The Camp, when Kathy pointed out a Heron flying over from the west. It was over our heads and it was a first-summer Purple Heron, to be fair Moss called it first but we all enjoyed amazing views as it was joined by a Grey Heron and they both drifted around between us and Weybourne Beach. The big difference in size was really striking, as was the sharp 'keel' effect of the Purple compared with the grey though the shape from directly below was indistinguishable. It drifted east but came back west a little while later and was subsequently seen further along the coast. Another great bird and we also had a couple of Hobbies through on various mornings.

We walked from Wells to Holkham missing all the breeding Firecrests along the route, as the main part of the day before finding Barn Owl at The Quags in the evening and then the first visit of the trip to The Dun Cow for a really good meal with superb wines chosen by Tony.

After breakfast the next day we met up with Dave Appleton, a mate from the old days and he showed us all round Burnham Overy Staithe and Gun Hill Dunes. Great to meet up again and explore such an amazing set of habitats. Great White Egret, Spoonbills, Cuckoos and a good range of Ducks, Waders, dragonflies and unusual plants.  All in blazing sunshine. A really good day.

Little Tern

Greylag Geese

Broad-bodied Chaser

Ringed Plover

The next day was another amazing day, spent with David and Heather and being shown first the Raptor Watchpoint, then a great lunch and finally the Swanton Novers Great Wood, a relic of the great wild wood which once covered Britain, complete with pingos and stunning history and bio-diversity. It was a real privilege to be invited into this restricted area. Then Kathy was off to Byfords' in Holt for tea with friends.

We spent the final day around Cley and Salthouse, revelling in the rich bird life and finally catching up with some Firecrests at Pretty Corner, though we missed a Glossy Ibis over the marsh as we trundled through the trees. We spent a lovely evening having supper with friends Gill and Philip. A nd on the way home we couldn't find Nightjars on Salthouse Heath though we did see both Red and Muntjac Deer. A nice end to a very sociable and very productive trip. Could almost imagine living there again.