Wildlife-watching in Bonnie Scotland

My first blog update for a long time, but I came back from a long weekend wildlife-watching in Scotland last night, and it deserves a write-up!


I started early with a train to Leeds, to meet up with Keith and Ken for the long drive. We belted up the country, with a stop in North Yorkshire for black grouse, which we got some scoped views of on the hillside, in a gorgeous spot that also gave us curlew, lapwing, snipe, golden plover, oystercatcher, grey partridge, meadow pipit, dunlin, red grouse and redshank among others.


The next stop off was way up over the border at Townhill Country Park for a long-staying ring-billed gull, but sadly we’d arrived the day it had decided to depart. We had to console ourself with some ticks for the day at the site, including cormorant, long-tailed tit and reed bunting.

Then it was straight up to the cottage in Newtonmore, where there was just enough light for an hour’s walk. The scenery here was stunning, with oystercatcher, lapwing, red-legged partridge and rook among the birds seen.


A quick look at a small loch in the town yielded a male goldeneye displaying to two females.

Newtonmore also has a ‘Wildcat Trail’, where there are many painted wildcats dotted around the town and surrounding countryside. The closest we would have to a chance of a wildcat!


Then we met up with the others who would be joining us – John, Jim, Mark and Graham – and had an early night in preparation for the next packed day…


We started the day with an early look round some likely-looking forest hoping for crested tit and capercaillie, but with no joy, with the only notables the first siskin of the trip, and some flyover crossbills (which we weren’t calling to species), and we consoled ourself with seeing caper droppings, if not the birds themselves.

The next step was Loch Garten, and passing through Boat of Garten on the way we passed a field of gulls and Keith noticed one with clear white wings. The other car in front had noticed the same bird, and we all pulled into a layby and walked back to see a stonking Iceland gull just before it took off with the flock. John, Jim and Mark had the same bird (or a different one?) on a nearby pond before we got to Loch Garten.

We got to Loch Garten and after a bit of initial confusion made it to the same car park. It was at this point we realised we’d timed it slightly wrong and the Eclipse was happening just as we’d entered a pine woodland! Luck was on our side and we got great views of the disappearing sun over the treetops.


We scanned the feeders for a while for crested tits, but only got coal, blue, great and long-tailed, plus chaffinch, treecreeper and great spotted woodpeckerCommon toads were all around doing their courtship, and a very obliging red squirrel posed for photos.



Quizzing some RSPB volunteers we got an alternative site for crested tit near Nethy Bridge, so after another stake out of the feeders made that our next stop. This proved a great decision as we didn’t have to wait long at the feeders there for two crested tit to drop in, including one showing very well. We also picked up bullfinch for the trip list.


We followed this to a walk in a forest where Scottish crossbill can be found, but apart from a distant calling flock of crossbill sp., we didn’t have time to sit and give it the stake-out needed.

Next stop was Findhorn Valley for a raptor watch. Taking the winding path up gave us a grand feral goat eyeballing us from the roadside, and it didn’t take long to find a pristine white mountain hare on the hillside.



We parked up, and met up with Marcus, who would be showing us some sites that afternoon and Saturday. It was freezing and drizzly at this point, and I must admit I wasn’t expecting much, but I’m glad to say I was proved very wrong. It wasn’t long before eagles were spotted distantly over the hills, mobbed at various points by raven, peregrine and buzzard, and at one point two were interacting together, locking talons at one point. But which species?! Views were mainly silhouetted with little to go on in plumage. We flipped between ID… that’s definitely a white-tailed eagle… nah it’s definitely a golden eagle. It was only when the light changed and we began to see plumage details, and we realised different members of the group were on different birds, that the penny dropped that both species were present. The two birds together had been white-tailed, with at least one golden doing the rounds too. Amazing luck! (Vindicating us on our ID too was the guide in the next day’s pine marten hide, who had exactly the combination of birds at the site on Saturday).


Jim and Marcus stayed behind to photograph hares, and the rest of us gave the caper poo site another try, but with no luck (this was after a terrible bit of navigating from me took us over twenty miles out of the way after missing a turning, but at least we got some whooper swans on the way…). Also during our journey we picked up a crow that looked good for a hoodie, but was probably too dark and likely to be a carrion/hooded hybrid. Sadly we didn’t get chance to scrutinise it as it flew over the road. Back to base for some food, a couple of drinks and off to sleep in preparation for another packed day…


The first stop on Saturday was another likely-looking capercaillie site, and some of us got a brief glimpse of a hen bird distantly flying into the trees, but sadly not Ken and Keith, Keith needing it for his life list.

The next stop was Lochindorb, and we spent time at a gorgeous spot full of red grouse, meadow pipit, oystercatcher and all the usual moorland birds, plus a few wigeon on the Loch. Parking a bit further on some of the group got on to a large diver, and we doubled back and got incredible views of a full summer plumage black-throated diver, catching a large trout and looking spectacular in the sunlight. One of the smartest birds I’ve ever seen.


Then up to Cairngorm. After a fairly knackering few days most of decided to wuss out and go to the restaurant viewpoint via the funicular railway, while Marcus, Jim and Graham walked the slope. It was absolutely heaving with skiers, snowboarders and sightseers, but this did not detract from the sheer spectacle of the mountain.


The target was, of course, ptarmigan. We scoped practically every rock and lump of snow on the mountain, turning up nothing but a few mountain hares and a single red grouse, before hearing news that the brave ones walking up had scored and were viewing them to a few metres. We were just discussing giving up our stake out and sneaking down the mountain when a ptarmigan flew across our view and gave us scoped views on the opposite peak. Not quite the views the others had got, but it would do for us!


Another quick look round woodland yielded no capers, and we went back to the cottage for a quick rest, which included a skein of whoopers over the cottage. Then it was off for a guided hide visit for pine marten near Loch an Eilien. We waited for almost three hours, at one point fearing we’d spent twenty quid each to watch some wood mice, but eventually a gorgeous male marten appeared, giving stunning views as it munched peanuts on the feeders in front of us. It was a shame no badgers turned up, but you can’t argue with views like that, even if the marten did keep us hanging! Birds added here too were woodcock and tawny owl.



We made our separate ways, and had a quick look at the site where we’d seen the distant caper. This time I briefly saw one take flight, but sadly Keith and Ken didn’t get on to it in time – they were remarkably calm about this!

Others decided to go to Aberdeen for the harlequin duck, but we elected to cut out the 300 miles extra to the journey and head southwards. We stopped on the way at a site where the others had said they had black grouse by the roadside on the way up, and we must have driven past obliviously. We were amazed to see nearly twenty birds, some of them happily wandering around on the verge by the road. Compare and contrast with the picture at the top of this post!


We got news of a drake smew at Blair Drummond, and as it was almost on the way made a quick detour for it. A smart bird.


We realised at this point we weren’t very far from the Ross’s goose at Tullibody, and went to have a look, soon finding the bright white bird among the thousands of pink-footed geese present there. We lightly mocked the other carload for going for it on the way (Ross’s goose isn’t on the official British list due to birds’ dubious nature as probable escapes from captivity), but I’ll admit was a good-looking bird!


And from here it was a clear run over the border, stopping off at Leighton Moss on the way back to break the journey. Here we saw a few good birds, including avocet and marsh harrier, but best of all watched a rather obliging otter in front of the Lower Hide. A great end to the holiday.


And so it all ended, with six bird lifers for me, and three mammal lifers, and a great weekend all round in good company, stunning scenery and brilliant wildlife.

Full trip list

Continue reading Wildlife-watching in Bonnie Scotland

Playing with a new camera…

At the weekend I had a trip to Budby Common to see the Parrot Crossbills. After a while they gave really great views, the showiest crossbills I’ve ever seen!

I was rather disappointed by the photos I’d managed to get. Although I never consider myself a photographer by any stretch, my old FZ18 just didn’t give a good sense of just how great watching these birds close up was. As well as this it’s showing its age, and the battery’s stopped holding its charge.

I decided a while ago that unless I had a windfall I’d never bother with a DSLR. I can’t afford a set up that would allow decent bird photos, and as I usually bird on foot I would rarely take a cumbersome set up out with me. So another bridge camera it was… And my how they’ve come on since I bought the FZ18! After a bit of deliberation I took the plunge, and went to John Lewis and bought a Canon SX50.

Yesterday I had my first go with it outside the house, and I’m impressed. The 50 x optical zoom in twice the reach the FZ18 could get to on “extra optical” zoom. On top of this is up to 200 x (!) on digital zoom. Incredibly the stabilisation in the camera means it’s not hard to use handheld, even on ridiculous zooms.

I had an hour round Weston and Crookes Valley Parks on my lunch hour and stuck primarily to two modes – Auto and Continuos HQ. The day was relatively overcast, with the odd sunshine poking through. Below are some of the results.


The detail you can get on fairly close birds is brilliant…


And even in poor light quite decent record shots can be had…


I can see the ‘Continuous HQ’ mode, in which a rapid fire of 10 shots is taken, being useful in a few instances, as it even means you manage to get a shot of a Long-tailed Tit pointing in the right direction…


But it’s the zoom that impresses most – this Redwing was right at the top of a tall tree, a mere dot to the naked ID, only identifiable by call…


…and this Magpie was at a comparable distance. Not great shots, but it shows that perfectly ID-able record shots can be taken at quite phenomenal distances. I’ve no excuse for not photographing a potential rarity now, should one ever show up!

All in all I’m very happy. It obviously has its limitations… It’ll clearly lead to the best photos in strong light. It’s not too comfortable to hold compared to the Lumix, and I was getting slight hand cramps after an hour. From what I’ve played with, the manual focus is fiddly (but not as much so as the FZ18). But for a birders’ pocket it’s amazing – to get perfectly IDable shots at such distance is brilliant. I can even see many instances where the zoom will be useful to get a shot to confirm IDs when a scope isn’t to hand.

I’ve much to learn, and many more settings to play with, and look forward to finding out what else this camera can do. Hopefully there’ll be enough breaks in this murk and rain to do that soon…

Madeira Trip Report

This last week I’ve been in Madeira, and below is a bit of a trip report of the wildlife seen. It was a general, not a specific nature-watching, holiday, but nonetheless some good stuff was still seen.

It’s worth noting Madeira really is quality over quantity when it comes to wildlife – you could scour the island for all breeding species and still end up with a smaller tally than a good afternoon at a UK wetlands site… but there are three endemic species, a few more endemic to Macaronesia, and several unique subspecies to the region. It’s also a lovely place to visit, full of of beautiful plantlife, laid-back people, and good wines and beers!


Mute Swan – Presumed ornamental birds at Monte Tropical gardens and the Municipal Gardens in Funchal, the latter with cygnets.

Muscovy Duck – Some feral birds seen at Ribeira da Janela, and some presumed ornamental(!) birds at Monte Tropical Gardens.

Bulwer’s Petrel – The second most common bird seen out to sea during boat trips out of Funchal, after Cory’s Shearwater, with probably 15-20 seen on one of the trips.


Fea’s/Zino’s Petrel – No, we didn’t see any of these! Sadly a planned trip to the Fea’s breeding ground of the Desertas Islands (where one school of thought is it’s a third unique species – Desertas Petrel) was cancelled due to high winds round the islands.

We did visit the 1818m high peak of Pico do Arreiro, breeding ground of the endangered endemic Zino’s Petrel, where we visited the Madeira Petrel Centre, which told the history of the discovery, rediscovery and conservation of the species. As they only visit their burrows at night, we of course didn’t see any, but it was great to see the beautiful area they inhabit, way above the cloud layer.



Cory’s Shearwater – Very common out to sea, with many seen from all three boat trips we made, including some flocks numbering over 30 birds. Looking for excited groups of shearwaters seemed to be a good way of finding dolphins!



Kestrel – Seemingly common throughout, and of the subspecies canariensis, which is noticeably darker, especially in the females. Several could be seen swooping through Funchal, with great views had from the Funchal Cable Car.

Yellow-Legged Gull – Very numerous, especially around Funchal Harbour, with some even found at 1,500m asl plains at Paúl da Serra. The birds were of the atlantis subspecies (which we know as Azorean Yellow-legged Gull), which have darker backs (almost as much as British LBBGs) and are more heavily streaked on their heads in winter.


Lesser Black-backed Gull – One at Funchal (ssp unknown).

Roseate Tern – At least one among Common Terns at Funchal Harbour.

Common Tern – Very common around the coastline, with biggest concentrations seen around Funchal Harbour and São Vicente.


Feral Pigeon – Very common throughout.

Trocaz Pigeon – Unfortunately a trip to the Balcões viewpoint at Ribiero Frio to find this endemic species was scuppered by a thick layer of fog (see below)! I did get three large pigeons flying high over the mountains later while travelling, somewhere near Faial, but as I don’t want to tick distant birds from coach windows I’m going to chalk this up, sadly, as a probable/possible…


Collared Dove – I saw one on wires near the Marina in Funchal, and sadly didn’t give it the second look it deserved. Collared Doves are apparently rare on the island, and lack of scrutiny means I’m not sure if it was a Eurasian Collared Dove, an African Collared Dove, or a feral Barbary Dove (domestic form of African Collared Dove).

Ring-necked Parakeet – An unexpected sight! Three flew noisily round Funchal on several nights. Truly feral birds or someone’s pets getting some exercise?

Plain Swift – These dark swifts are endemic to Macaronesia, and were common, especially in Funchal where several could be seen screaming overhead virtually all the time. I tried and failed to find a Pallid amongst them!

Madeira Firecrest – An endemic it actually was easy to find! These were found easily at both Monte and Ribeiro Frio, making themselves known by call on arrival, and good views had at both sites (although they didn’t stay still long enough for a photo…), including one perched a couple of feet from my head at the Monte Tropical Gardens cafe.

Blackcap – Seen or heard in a variety of locations, including loud singing from trees in urban areas of Funchal, and a pair in the hotel gardens. The birds were of the subspecies heineken, which is browner above than the nominate.

Blackbird – Very common, including a nesting pair in the hotel gardens. Of the subspecies cabrerae, these birds were smaller and darker than mainland birds.

Robin – Seen or heard at Monte and Ribeiro Frio, seemingly shier than British birds. This was the nominate subspecies (as mainland Europe, but not Britain).

Grey Wagtail – Common around rivers and inlets, with the biggest concentration seen being four at São Vicente. The birds were of the Madeiran endemic subspecies schmitzi, which is darker backed.


Berthelot’s Pipit – Two birds seen at Paúl da Serra, and one at Pico do Arreiro. I only got brief views, but pipit ID was made easy due to the island only having one species! The call was almost sparrow-like, initially making me think I’d found Rock Sparrows at Paúl da Serra. The species is endemic to the Canaries and Madeira, and the subspecies maderensis only found on Madeira, the Desertas Islands and Porto Santo.

Chaffinch – Not found in urban areas, but common (and very tame!) in the wooded tourist areas including Monte and Ribeiro Frio, including a female eating cake crumbs from our table at the cafe at Monte Tropical Gardens. These birds are of the distinctive endemic subspecies maderensis, with males particularly striking.



Atlantic Canary – An endemic to Macaronesia, this was the default small bird in most areas, with particular concentrations around Funchal and Santana. The call was surprisingly Goldfinch-like at times.


Greenfinch – Only has a small distribution on the island, but one was singing at Monte Tropical Gardens (presumably of the southern European subspecies aurantiiventris).


Sperm Whale – Two seen on the first (of three) whale-watching cruises we did.


Spotted Dolphin – Seen on two out of three whale-watching cruises we did, the second being a pod that probably totalled about 15 dolphins, giving excellent views by the boat.


Brown Rat – One particularly large specimen at Funchal harbour!


Madeiran Wall Lizard – Very common! This species is endemic to Madeira, although has also got a naturalised population on The Azores. They’re very inquisitive lizards, and will often come and check you out it you put a hand near them, smaller ones sometimes climbing on your hand, although larger lizards will tend to nip you instead if you try the same trick!


Loggerhead Turtle – Seen on two out of three of the boat trips.



Perez’s Frog – Heard calling at a number of sites, including Monte.


Monarch – Common. Great to see!


Speckled Wood – Tried to string it into the endemic Madeiran Speckled Wood, but couldn’t! Fairly common in wooded areas, with largest concentration seen at Monte Tropical Gardens.


Long-tailed Blue – Blue butterfly seen at Monte. Presumed to be this species based on most likely options.


Small White – Seen frequently.


Darter sp. – One seen from a bus window in Funchal – I’m not going to try to ID that!

Notable fish

Flying fish sp. – The most notable fish we saw was a Flying Fish during one the boat trips – a remarkable sight!

So as you can see above, it wasn’t a huge list tallied in a week. Bird-wise, there were a few we could have got with a few more visits to other locations – including Spanish Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Goldfinch, Buzzard, Common Waxbill, Spectacled Warbler, Pallid Swift and Hoopoe. More dedicated seawatchers will get much more out of a trip to Madeira – including Fea’s/Zino’s/Desertas Petrels, Little Shearwater, White-faced Petrel, Madeiran Storm-Petrel and others, and during passage you get the impression it’s an underwatched island where anything can turn up. A more dedicated birding trip at the right time of year could do a lot better in terms of number of species than I did with this trip.

But in my week’s experience, Madeira really isn’t a place to go for a big list, but to soak in the spectacular views, look for the endemics and near-endemics, and just enjoy yourself!

13 tips for learning bird ID…

P1150102I’ve been hanging round a couple of bird ID forums recently, and it’s got me thinking about tips I’d give new birders who are struggling to get to grips with bird ID. This isn’t to say I’m anything of an expert – I still make some hilarious mistakes, as does everyone. And some of the tips below are stuff I aspire to, rather than always 100% practice, but here are some pointers for those starting out. Hopefully someone out there will find it useful…

(Pics Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler… but which one’s which?!)

1. Buy a book

Many new birders start off by asking for ID help on Internet forums. This is fine to a degree, but it can lead to a habit of simply relying on other people IDing birds for you. It sounds obvious, but you need to get a bird guide for your own reference.

But which one? The best guide is undoubtedly the Collins Bird Guide, but this can be a daunting and confusing book for beginners due to the large range it covers (the whole of Europe, and parts of North Africa and the Middle East), and the sheer volume of species. While I would always recommend buying a copy, absolute beginners should consider making their first port of call a UK only guide, because you won’t be confused by rare vagrants or birds that simply do not occur here. A good one is the RSPB Handbook of British Birds, which not only has good identification advice, but useful information about habitat, breeding, range and ecology.

2. Get out there!

It’s always good to do your research, but there’s only so much book-learning you can do. Not only make a special effort to go birding, but always watch birds in your garden, your local park, on your way to work, in your lunch hour… birds are everywhere and try and put a name to every bird you see to build up your skills and confidence.

Watch the familiar birds you see and imprint them on your memory – how they move, how they behave, what they sound like. Then you’ll start to notice birds that are out of ordinary, even if you don’t know immediately what they are.

3. Learn the common stuff first.

Don’t try and learn everything in one go, as you won’t take it in. Try and work out the birds you’re likely to see, and focus on them when you’re starting out. Working out what you may see can be  sometimes be quite tricky, though, so bear in mind the following couple of points…

4. Learn what’s local.

First of all learn what you’re likely to see in the UK, and then whittle it down to your local area or place you’re visiting. If you’re unsure what’s likely where you are, get hold of a local ornithological society’s annual report, which will give you a good idea of all the species that can be seen, their status, and even particular locations that are good for them. You may, for example, learn that Marsh Tits are very rare while Willow Tits are quite common, or Nightingales simply don’t exist in your area. It gives you a more nuanced picture and removes confusion species from the equation.

5. Learn about habitats.

Knowing habitats is also very important. Obviously birds fly, and many migrate, and they do turn up in usual or unexpected places. But generally birds are specific to certain habitats. A brown warbler in your suburban tree is pretty unlikely to be a Reed Warbler or a Grasshopper Warbler, and you can discount Wood Warbler from singing from a patch of bramble on a moorland edge. Once you get this sort of information down you can visit an unfamiliar site and realise it “looks good” for a certain species, and often get proved right.

6. Learn about movements.

Many birds migrate, which can remove confusion species at certain times of year. The “little brown job” checklist is vastly reduced in winter, for example, with Spotted Flycatcher, Nightingale, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, Tree Pipit and many others removed completely from the equation as they’re strict summer visitors! You can also learn finer details than that, knowing that you’re unlikely to see a Spotted Flycatcher before the very end of April or early May, although you may see a Willow Warbler by the end of March. Likewise some birds – such as Redwing, Fieldfare, Waxwing and Brambling – don’t occur (or only occur very rarely) during the summer.

Knowing these movements can help a lot in whittling down the likely species even further.P1150088

7. Learn songs and calls.

I cannot stress how important this one is. There are some tricky visual IDs out there – Willow Warbler/Chiffchaff, Marsh Tit/Willow Tit and Meadow Pipit/Tree Pipit are among the most familiar. These pairs have very different songs and calls, however, and knowing these can make ID simple, even if you don’t see them!

Learning songs and calls isn’t always easy, and some people find it harder than others, but it’s essential for a full appreciation of birds. It will help you locate interesting species that are initially hidden from view, help you ID tricky species, and allow you to realise how abundant certain species are. Once you get your ear in, you’ll be shocked how many Willow Warblers, Wrens and Robins there are around!

As with all ID, it’s best to start learning the species you’re most likely to encounter. Also consider starting learning in late winter, when few species are singing, building up week by week as the spring arrives and new birds pipe up and others arrive from migration. There are plenty of CDs and websites available, including the excellent Xeno Canto site.

8. Get a camera

A camera can, of course, help you get an ID, either by closer examination with reference books later, or sharing it with friends or on online forums for their opinions. But be wary that this does not take over from the above points, and remember an unclear photo will not be identifiable for definite by anyone. You can also spend too much time trying to fiddle getting a record shot that you forget to actually look at the bird properly in the field, meaning you have a terrible photo and no clear memory of the bird’s salient features either.

Saying that, if you do see a rare bird, a photograph may be necessary to get the bird accepted as a record.

9. Always ask questions.

Always question what others tell you. For example if there’s someone holding court in a hide pointing out species to others, don’t presume they’re right! I remember being in a hide hearing a fella proudly and confidently showing everyone there a Peregrine sat on a fencepost – except it wasn’t… it was a handsome female Sparrowhawk. The Internet’s even worse, with many convincing sounding “experts” making claims with absolute certainty which are often not as correct as their confidence suggests…

Always think for yourself, and don’t be afraid to (politely) ask why a bird is what people say it is if you have doubts. You may learn something new, or it may be the other person who learns something!

10. Apply “Occam’s Razor”…

As many of the above points suggest, knowing what’s likely to be seen is the key to ID. There are almost 600 birds on the British list, but that doesn’t mean you have to consider them all as likely candidates.

Always start from the position that a bird is going to be the one of the most common possibilities, unless you have good reason to think otherwise. Always ask… why isn’t it the common option instead?

11. …but be prepared for the unexpected!

But saying that, and as I’ve already touched on, always bear in mind birds can be unpredictable beasts and can show up in odd places, at odd times, and do odd things. There’s nothing to stop you finding a rarity or an anomaly, at any level of birding, but knowing how to discount the common and likely stuff first is essential before you can convince yourself and others that you’ve seen something unusual.

12. Don’t be scared to make mistakes.

Don’t be scared to get it wrong, and be prepared to admit when you have. If you’re not sure, ask someone, as most of the time birders are happy to help. If people are sniffy or snobbish when you make a mistake, that’s more their problem than yours. Everyone has to learn the basics, and everyone IS still learning, even experts. Be wary of anyone who thinks they know it all, and feels the need to sneer at the abilities of others.

But saying that, don’t take it personally if people are skeptical about any finds you think you may have – sometimes the odds of an inexperienced birder getting an ID wrong is far more likely than a rarity turning up.

13. Always be prepared to let one go.

Sometimes you can’t be sure of an ID no matter how hard you try, and you have to be prepared to shrug your shoulders and let it go. Don’t get too hooked on listing in your early days, as you’ll find yourself too keen to hammer square pegs into round holes to get a “tick”, and don’t get too hung up on the “ones that got away”. We’ve all had them…

06/05/2013 – Stanley Hill and Dukes Road

A couple of trips out this morning – firstly an early(ish) morning walk through Wheata Wood and on to Stanley Hill and Stubbing House Lane. Wheata contained the flock of lesser redpoll as yesterday, plus a yaffling green woodpecker, a drumming great spotted woodpecker, and a couple each of chiffchaff and willow warbler.

Stanley Hill housed at least six singing willow warblers, and three whitethroat – the latter seems to be much more plentiful than last year. There were also 10+ linnet, a kestrel, a couple of swallows and a few meadow pipits about.

Walking back up towards Grenoside two more whitethroats were present on the path between Stubbing House Lane and Skew Hill, and four swallows were on wires on Skew Hill. Passing back through the village, more redpolls were around, probably part of the Wheata Wood flock.



A lunchtime we enjoyed the Bank Holiday sun by having a quick picnic on the bench at the start of Dukes Road (near Bradfield). Highlights there were (again) two singing whitethroats, a calling cuckoo heard from not far to the south of the area, three curlew, and the obligatory chuckling red grouse.

05/05/2013 – Wood Warbler on patch, and Peregrines hatch!

A good morning on patch today – a walk through Wheata Wood, the south of the Chase, and up to Bank Lane.

My main target for the morning was wood warbler, and I expected a bit of a trawl round Wharncliffe Wood until I found one, but I was very pleasantly surprised to get a rather showy singing male not far into Wharncliffe Wood, just north of Wheata Wood car park (a not-too-great shot below!).


Elsewhere there was:

  • A few blackcap in Wheata and Wharncliffe Woods.
  • Lots of singing willow warblers (with the majority on the Chase).
  • A surprising amount of tree pipits, with 14 counted and 11 singing.
  • redstart on the Chase, including 2 pairs.
  • whitethroat in Wheata Wood, and another on Bank Lane.
  • wheatear on the Chase behind Wharncliffe Farm.
  • A calling cuckoo on the Chase
  • 3 common buzzards
  • raven over the crags.
  • 3 singing yellowhammer on the Chase, and a couple more near Wortley.
  • A good few swallow flitting around.
  • A flock of around 15 lesser redpoll near Grenoside.



No tree sparrows on Bank Lane today, sadly, but they may have just been feeding somewhere off the main track.

The big news, however, is the first two peregrine chicks have hatched at St George’s! For the latest news see http://sheffieldperegrines.wordpress.com.

03 – 04/05/2013 – Northumberland

Sorry I’ve not updated this week, I’ve been really busy and not made it out anywhere of note! I made up for it considerably this weekend, with a great trip to Northumberland.

We started the trip with a bit of a blustery walk round Bamburgh, where there were a good few eiders around, and a raft of common scoter in the sea. A few Arctic terns were around, and we spotted a couple of fulmar nesting on Bamburgh Castle. A subsequent trip to Beadnell was very windy indeed, meaning I didn’t manage any little terns (or was I too early?), although I did manage my first house martins of the year.

The next day we were greeted to a much sunnier and calmer day, which meant we had great weather for our planned trip to the Farne Islands. A pilgrimage we make most years, it’s one of my favourite places – one of the greatest wildlife spectacles the UK has to offer.

The boat trip out was great, with thousands of kittiwakes, guillemots and shags to be seen breeding on the rocks, and wonderful close views of grey seals. Gannets and Arctic terns were around, eiders bobbed past, and as we got closer to the landing site of Inner Farne, puffins and sandwich terns started to be seen in small numbers.






One landing on Inner Farne, we were greeted by two very close basking seals, which have apparently been a fixture for a week or so and were stupidly photogenic…



Because we were quite early in the season we didn’t witness the vast numbers of most species we have in previous years – and didn’t feel the wrath of the Arctic tern colony, which made it all a bit less terrifying – but everything was present and correct, including puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, shag, Arctic terns, sandwich terns, eider, fulmar and rock pipit.















Afterwards, we decided to have a trip to East Chevington… well a purple heron had turned up, it would be rude not to! It didn’t take us long to find a small group of birders, and after a while we got quite distant but clear scopable views of the heron lurking in the base of the reeds. An unexpected lifer for the weekend! The reserve was also a great place to spend an hour or so, with a few good birds picked up including a reeling grasshopper warbler, sedge warbler, whitethroat, swift, cuckoo, marsh harrier and a pair of red-breasted mergansers (terrible record shot below). I’d love to go again one day when less pushed for time.



After that we stopped in at Cragside, for a National Trust Victoria Sponge (getting middle aged? Me?!), and a quick look for red squirrels. Sadly no squirrels made themselves know, but there were some woodland bird species around such as nuthatch and siskin, in a beautiful location.

So a great start to a long weekend all in all!