Return to Mai Po

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Following on from last July's trip to China, I had a follow-up trip planned for April combining it with the Hong Kong Rigby 7's tournament for which my company, Kukri, do all the merchandising. Of course, such a trip gives me the opportunity to do some birding in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar (and some more recognisable) birds. So I decided to go a little earlier with my wife, Bernie, to explore the area.

The first couple of days were spent acclimatising and doing some of the touristy bits, enjoying the Star Ferry and some of the parks amongst the stunning skyline. Bernie was surprised about how hilly and verdant the territory was. Common birds in the parks were the ever present Chinese and Red-whiskered Bulbuls alongside Oriental Magpie Robin, Crested Mynas, Black-collared Starlings and Masked Laughing Thrushes. We got some decent view eventually of Red-billed Blue Magpies at the HK Stadium but the bird that we came across all over the place was Yellow-browed Warbler - calling everywhere!
Oriental Magpie Robin
I had organised permits for Mai Po on Monday 3rd April and we arranged to meet up with Matthew Kwan (unfortunately his dad couldn't make it). Thankfully, though it was warm, the weather was nowhere near as hot and humid as last July but certainly warm enough.

Stejneger's Stonechats and a White-breasted Kingfisher along the access road was a nice start whilst the car park held the usual Azure-winged Magpies, Bulbuls and several YBWs calling. We collected our permits and entered the reserve almost immediately coming across a Black-faced Bunting and Long-tailed Shrikes. Plain and Yellow-bellied Prinias were very ugh in evidence everywhere we went.
Chinese Pond Heron
The pools had many Egrets and Herons and a few sandpipers (Common & Green). We made our way through to the main scrapes where there were good numbers of waders. A few Oriental Pratincoles dropped in but the numbers of Greensanks and Marsh Sandpipers were amazing. In amongst them were Spotted Redshanks and Wood Sandpipers as well as large number of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits.

We worked our way to the security fence area, passing lots of Dusky Warblers checking in the undergrowth. We also came across an Olive-backed Pipit bring back memories of last autumn at Spurn.
Deep Bay looking towards Shenzen, China
One area I hadn't visited last time was Deep Bay as the tide wasn't right. This day it should have been so we passed through the fence and made our way over the floating boardwalk through the mangroves out to the hides. As we got to the farthest one, we soon realised we should have been there about 30 minutes earlier as the extent of mud was getting very limited. We still had good views of Terek Sandpipers and the Black-faced Spoonbills as well as several species of Gull - Hueglin's, Vega, Mongolian and Black-tailed.
Black-faced Spoonbills, Caspian Terns, Mongolian Gulls, etc
As the water flooded the area, we made our way out of that hide and back to the one at the head of the bay but again the water had reached there and most birds had moved away. Still we got an immature Saunders Gull and some great views of the waders.
A very large 2cy Vega Gull with Heuglin's in foreground
So back to the scrape and an amazing site greeted us with hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets covering the water. We also had more Greenshanks and in amongst them some Nordmann's Greenshank - quite difficult to tell apart but eventually I got my eye in on their jizz; lower in the water and rather pot-bellied as well as the curvier bill. There were also many Great Knot, Red-necked Stints, Broad-billed Sandpipers and Greater Sand Plovers. We also had Far-eastern Curlews in amongst the more numerous Eurasian Curlews as well as the odd Grey Plover and Pacific Golden Plover.
Black-faced Spoonbills
Through the day we recorded 105 species with that huge variety of shorebirds. A splendid day all round.

December Thrushes bring 2016 to a stupendous finale

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
2016 has got to go down in the birding annals as one of the best years ever. A scintillating autumn with perpetual easterlies brought hundreds if not thousands of waifs from east of the Urals. My previous post was drooling over the run of birds on the east coast - finally, the west and middle England got in on the act.
On 5th November, as I was tidying up the garden, I heard my first Waxwing of the autumn flying overhead - the unmistakable trilling call was to become even more familiar over the coming weeks as small flocks started to infiltrate this side of the Pennines with double figures in Blackburn and recently large counts in several places around East Lancashire.
Waxwings in Blackburn 27 Nov
On 20 November, I went to see this little beauty - a Desert Wheatear on St Annes beach - my third along this stretch of the coast and a fitting end to the autumn, or so we thought

Desert Wheatear, St Annes, Nov 2016

But there was more. News broke in mid December of a Dusky Thrush in Derbyshire and after much nervous anticipation, we decided to put the Christmas Shopping on hold to see this bird and though it gave us the run-around we did get some excellent if distant views. The bird is still there!
First-winter female Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire 10 Dec 2016
Then there was the Masked Wagtail, an eastern race of White Wagtail and first for the UK, that turned up in Pembrokeshire - such a smart bird was well worth the effort.
Masked Wagtail, Camrose, Pembrokeshire 11 Dec 2016
Ringing in my garden produced an early Brambling and several Redpolls but no meallies - yet.
So that was that? No, the news of a Blue Rock Thrush in Gloucestershire got us going again - a bird I missed when in Spain earlier in the year! Like the Wagtail and indeed the Dusky Thrush, it was hopping around the houses in a small semi-rural estate having been identified from images on social media.
Blue Rock Thrush, Stow on the Wold, 29 Dec 2016

And to cap the trip off, a female Black-throated Thrush showed itself fairly well at St Asaph having also been in the area for a couple of weeks. Thrushes galore and seven new birds for me in Britain this year - five of them lifers. I had none in 2015.

  • Penduline Tit (2) 24 Jan, Gloucester.
  • Pallid Harrier 18 Feb, Norfolk
  • Purple Swamphen, 5 Aug, Minsmere
  • Black-browed Albatross, 5 Oct, Bempton
  • Siberian Accentor, 14 Oct, Easington
  • Dusky Thrush, 10 Dec, Beeley
  • Blue Rock Thrush 29 Dec, Stow on the Wold.

A truly amazing birding year. I need my football team to have one next year! :/

East Yorkshire birding at its best

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Normally I have one or maybe two trips to the east coast in the autumn, especially if south-easterly winds are blowing. These past two weeks, a high pressure system has sat over northern Scandinavia and drawn winds from central Russia across northern Europe and across the North sea; at this time of year, these winds influence the migration of thousands of birds. Normally a light south-easterly is all that we require but we've had really strong easterlies for several days. So I, like many others, looked to do some birding on the east coast with the hope of bumping into one or two scarce and rare birds.
I have a few favoured spots but even a died-in-the-wool Lancastrian like me has to admit that East Yorkshire is the best place to be in these conditions so last Wednesday John Wright and I decided we'd have a days birding around Flamborough Head. The news of Britain's third Eastern-crowned Warbler at Bempton late on Tuesday certainly gave us a target to start with having seen the first a few years ago near South Shields.

Wednesday 5th October
We arrived at the Bempton car park around 8am and soon had some reasonable views of the Eastern-crowned along with Yellow-browed Warblers and a host of Goldcrests and Song Thrushes. It was all set up to be a good day when news of an Albatross seen off Filey 10 miles north set the pulses racing. The assmbled throng of around 60 birders legged it to the cliff-top observation viewpoints. Within five minutes I clasped eyes on it and with an expletive, got everyone else onto it. Unbelievable - a Black-browed Albatross making its way slowly along the coast - finally caught up with this species, one that I first dipped on forty - sheesh, forty! - years ago.
Immature Black-browed Albatross
Immature Black-browed Albatross
Immature Black-browed Albatross
Once the bird had passed, we continued searching the hedgerows for any more waifs - several YBWs and a Spotted Flycatcher in amongst the Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and Redwings which seemed to be arriving all the time.

We moved on to Flamborough Head picking up Redstart, a few Wheatears and a lone Tundra Bean Goose but most everything else was being kept down by the wind. Returning to Bempton, we got brief views of a phyllosc that was purported to be a Greenish but later identified as an Arctic Warbler. Some final views of the ECW and we headed back after a great day.
Sat/Sun 8/9th October
I returned to Spurn with Bernie for the weekend as the winds continued to come from the east. We started at Easington by the old Bus Station where some nice birds had been reported. There were at least three YBWs as well as lots of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests. We also had a Red-brested Flycatcher there that was very elusive at times. We meandered down towards the cemetery south of the village where more goodies had been seen. There were hundreds of Redwings and Song Thrushes in the fields. Flocks of Bramblings and Chaffinches mingled with the resident Tree Sparrows - there were birds everywhere and the most ubiquitous were Robins.
The news of an Olive-backed Pipit at the Gas Terminal decided the next place we'd visit but unfortunately there was no sign. We headed for Kilnsea, parked at the Blue Bell and went for lunch - I wish they'd been a bit quicker with the bacon butty because as we left we bumped into Graham Jones and Gavin Thomas who informed us that the Rustic Bunting was showing in Church Field. We arrived at the gate just as a many were leaving - just flown off - grrrrrr. Ah well, there were more YBWs to enjoy and Goldcrests to search through.

After wandering around the 'Triangle' picking up several shorebirds, Woodcock, Black Redstart, Jack Snipe and the like, we made our way to Sammy's Point but soon after we arrived, news that the OBP was back at the Gas Terminal came out. What an obliging bird in the dimming evening light!
Olive-backed Pipit
What was even better was it staying to the following day when I could get an image in better light....
Olive-backed Pipit
Sunday brought us lots more birds - the buntings still eluded us though (both Rustic and Little). Great Grey Shrike at Sammy's was a long way off! A couple of male Ring Ouzels gave great views alongside Wheatears and more Redstarts.

Pallas' Warbler is a special bird, so one behind the White Horse was a very welcome addition to the day's birds. Though elusive at times it showed very well (when I didn't have my camera of course!)

Then it was back to the cemetery where another Red-breasted Flycatcher was posing.
Red-breasted Flycatcher.
Three great birding days on the east coast in the space of five days, yet there was more to come....

On the Sunday, news broke of a Siberian Accentor on Shetland - there were several goodies up there the following days but there surely had to be a mega on the mainland. Friends who were staying at Flamborough for the week were having an amazing time with some great birds but on Thursday afternoon, all hell broke loose. A Siberian Accentor at Eastington (not 50 yards from where the OBP had been!)

A hastily arranged day off was arranged and John and I headed east once again.

Friday 14th October 
We fully expected a large number of birders in the area - must have been a few hundred in the vicinity with parking all along the road into Easington. Such was the rarity and event, the invasion of birders caught the news headlines.

The bird was very confiding, hopping around the moss-laden tarmac of the old school yard nonchalantly tossing leaves aside to pick up tiny morsels underneath. Everyone was well behaved I'm glad to say.
Siberian Accentor
Siberian Accentor
With the target bird safely under our belts, we then headed out to do some proper birding to see what we could find. We headed to the Blue Bell car park where we managed to find a spot and as we got kitted up, a Shore Lark landed nearby. This bird eventually stayed all day in the same spot allowing everyone a great view.
Shore Lark
Shore Lark
There were birds absolutely everywhere - many more Fieldfares than the previous weekend and a few flocks of Redpolls (judging by the size and call, probably Meallies) moving south. There were Bramblings and Siskins overhead too.  Next though was the news of a Dusky Warbler trapped in Church Field which was subsequently shown off to around a hundred birders.
Dusky Warbler
There weren't many YBWs around though we heard one or two and then got to grips with a cople of Firecrests. As we made out wat around Cliff Farm, a flock of around 65 Russian White-fronted Geese flew over the humber and circled once before heading off. We saw Woodcock too. There had been an OBP near the Blue Bell and a Pallas' Warbler in the Crown and Anchor Car Park  so we headed back there but I soon decided to wander down to the canal scrape area and search for something else. I eventually met up with John again who'd seen the Pallas' and we went for a gander at an immobile Jack Snipe on the scrape. Next were the triangle bushes - I went one side and John the other - plenty of Goldcrests and a few Chiffchaffs and As I got to the Canal Bank I wondered where JW was - I then saw him waving to get my attention - a minute later we were enjoying good views of a very obliging Dusky Warbler 'tchack'ing away.

We eventually left the to the crowd that had gathered and went to complete the triangle but hadn't gone far when we noticed nine Bean Geese on the saltmarsh edge. One had a very yellow bill but as it was a similar size to the rest we assumed all to be Tundra Beans.

After a deserved cuppa, we had a last look at the Shore Lark and then back to the Accentor where there were now only around 30 birders. It gave great views but the light was rather poor. So having sated our appetite for views of this bird, we checked the Goldcrests around and found another Firecrest. And then the one that got away - I pick up a flycatcher silhouette on the back edge of the trees but lost it as it flicked up into the canopy. We searched for quite a while but could only find more crests, a Blackcap and Chiffchaffs. Ah well. We headed to the chippy in Patrington and gleefully scoffed a celebratory fish supper!
Siberian Accentor
What a week and to be present on 4 out of nine days on the east coast in that weather was fantastic - migrants all over the place and one of the best birding periods I've had.
Dark-bellied Brent Geese

Tai Mo Shan with Matt

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Sunday morning and I set off to dump my bags at Kowloon Station in order that I could spend the rest of the day unencumbered by them. I had planned to meet Matthew and his father around 12:30 and sure enough, bang on time they were at the front door of the hotel. We started to get to know each other on the trip out to Tai Mo Shan, HK's highest point but one that was shrouded in cloud so we weren't all that confident of what we'd be able to do. I had to be at the Airport in four hours so we decided to go for it and as we reached the car park, it was clear that it wasn't as bad as feared. It was certainly a little cooler up here and there were lots of hikers, joggers and walkers. 

Matt immediately picked up on Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler a that was singing in a nearby bush which eventually gave itself up. Brown-flanked Bush Warblers were singing all the way up with a few tantalising views of a rather dull-looking bird.

Birding in the afternoon is never all that productive. Add that to it being hot, mid July and in heavily vegetated areas, birding was going to be challenging and indeed we heard a lot more than we saw - Lesser Shortwing for example had a lovely loud song but is your typical skulker.

We reached the 'birding area' - an area of upland grassland with disused buildings and fences. Almost immediately we heard a Chinese Grassbird close by - Matt's target bird. However, like most things, it skulked away and never gave a view of what is a very difficult species to get. A few Richard's Pipits called overhead - weird but a few do remain to breed.

Matt's dad suddenly picked up a call of a Chinese Francolin - something that we talked about on the way up in that it was a morning bird. We crept forward slowly and then there it was, sat on a rock calling its head off. We spent the next ten minutes appreciating it and gradually getting nearer to such an extent that it was the Kwan's closest encounter ever!
Chinese Francolin (Courtesy of  Matt)
We then searched in vain for more Grassbirds and heard some Vineous Parrotbills. I picked up another skulking warbler in a nearby bush that turned out to be a juvenile Russet Bush Warbler - another very good find. A showy Long-tailed Shrike completed the list as the Chinese Hwamai and Mountain Tailorbirds were just not for showing!
Russet Bush Warbler (Matt)

We did plan a brief stop somewhere else but traffic was stopped so we headed to the airport where we said our goodbyes with great thanks for a splendid afternoon searching out birds in unfamiliar surroundings. Must do it again sometime!

Hong Kong Birding – Mai Po

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Much to my shame I've not kept up with my blog posts for a considerable time. However, a recent opportunity with work to visit our supplier in China gave me the opportunity to do some birding in Hong Kong. I started searching for information on birding sites and things I'd likely see in July (typically the worst month for birding) and came across Matt Kwan's blog ( I contacted Matt on the off-chance that he could point me in the right direction and before I knew it he was suggesting an afternoon's birding! Great! More of that later.
I had already made enquiries about Mai Po, a place I'd read about and wanted to visit at sometime. There was a lot of confusing information out there talking about annual permits, scientific study etc but I eventually found the WWF site where you could book a place on a tour. Unfortunately, there were none in English on the day I had to visit but I also found the link to apply for a solo overseas visitor permit (numbers are strictly limited!). I filled out the forms and scanned the relevant documents and sent it off but hadn't heard anything for a week. Fortunately my ringing trainer, Richard du Feu knew someone there through his wader ringing exploits and emailing her certainly helped - they hadn't got my original application for some reason - slightly worrying.
Across one of the Fish ponds towards Shenzen, China
So after a week in China, I arrived back in Hong Kong and the following day took a train to Yuen Long and a taxi from there to Mai Po visitor centre where my permit was waiting. It was very hot and humid so I knew that birding was going to be difficult but I was there so I was going to make the most of it. The tides were wrong for the Deep Bay Area so I contented myself with a walk around the main part of the reserve which is like Leighton Moss on steroids.
Fortunately the paths had shelter from the sun!
I got my permit stamped at the warden's nicely air-conditioned chubby-hole and set out on the paved path around the reserve. Azure-winged Magpies were rather showy as was a Long-tailed Shrike with a juvenile. Amazingly there were NO nuisance insects but plenty of butterflies and dragonflies.

Chinese Pond Herons, Little Egrets and Great Egrets were very much in evidence wherever I went. To complete the herons, there were a couple of Intermediate Egrets alongside Eastern Cattle Egrets, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Grey Heron and Yellow Bittern.

Black-collared Starlings are very sizeable compared to the starlings I'm used to - they're common around HK. White-shouldered Starlings were also evident. I didn't see many small things other than Plain Prinia and Japenese White-eye but medium sized birds were quite vocal if not all that easy to see. Asian Koel and Greater Coucal showed reasonably well and there were a couple of flocks of Masked Laughing-thrush making one hell of a racket!
View from one of the hides
The first channel I came to held a few waders on the muddy fringes of the mangroves - Green and Common Sandpiper, Spotted and Common Redshank. There was also White-breasted Waterhen darting back into cover. Further along I took the paths to the hides which were oven-like I've got to say but in milder times would be spectacular. Nothing much was on show other than the interesting looking local race of White Wagtail but then a bird flew across my line of sight - Grey-headed Lapwing that shouldn't have been here at this time of year.

Thankfully, the paths were lined with trees that provided ample shade from the sun and there was a breeze that was difficult to find but when I did, I remained there for five minutes to try and cool down.

Meandering down towards the border fence, the main open water area had plenty of Herons and a flock of Avocets but the bird I really hoped but didn't expect to see was sat in front of the furthest hide - in fact two non-breeding Black-faced Spoonbills; a bird of extreme rarity! Marvellous!
Black-faced Spoonbills
After some lunch I continued back to the visitor centre picking up White-breasted and Eurasian Kingfishers along the way together with Black Drongo and Crested Mynahs.

I only met one other person on the whole of the walk - I must come back at a sensible time of year! A total of 45 species of which many were lifers of course. The centre ordered me a taxi and the return trip to my hotel in Kowloon was simple. I finished off the day with a trip on the Star Ferry across to HK Island for dinner.

Easter Easterlies put paid to ringing activities

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
The wind has been stubbornly remaining in the east for much of April and that is not the best direction for mist-netting in my garden. The 'dip' is quite sheltered from even quite strong westerlies but even a hint of a breeze from the east isn't good. So I've had to make do when I can and though I've had a steady trickle of unringed Chaffinches and Goldfinches in the garden, I've only managed to trap a few but enough to know that they're not hanging around.

One of my Redpolls was controlled at Heysham this-morning which is rather nice having ringed and retrapped it twice here between Feb and just over a week ago on April 10th.

Otherwise it's been mothing time with one notable record of a Waved Umber - very scarce in Lancashire, recorded at only a handful of sites before.
Waved Umber
That and a couple of micros were new for the 10km square and good records for the upcoming Moth Atlas. Otherwise it's been the usual stuff - Common/Small/Powdered/Twin-spotted Quakers, Hebrew Characters and Clouded Drabs.

on Friday we had to drop my sister-in-law off at Manchester Airport so had a good excuse to meander back via Dovestone Reservoir above Mossley where a Two-barred Crossbill had been seen. We eventually found the right car-park and heard a few Siskins overhead. After about 10 minutes I heard a Crossbill call and found 'the' bird - a rather handsome first-year male - sitting on top of a larch where it stayed for around 15 minutes singing and feeding. Splendid - I didn't have my camera with me of course.

Yesterday, I had a walk up Langden Valley with my son, Peter, and had a couple of singing male Ring Ouzels, Stonechat, Peregrine and several Willow Warblers and Common Sandpipers. No sign of any Harriers though, nor Wheatears surprisingly. After that it was up to Stocks where Mark had found a Green-winged Teal (the North American cousin of our Teal). We got there, just, as my clutch started to fail. We saw the bird as well as some cracking male Siskins, a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers and 12 Pinkfeet (rather odd) before I headed back to see if we could get the car back home (which we did somehow!).

Today, there have been plenty of birds in the garden - more Siskins and Redpolls overhead - whilst a pair of Jays has taken up residence in the clough at the back of the house. Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Treecreeper have all been singing. At the Reservoir, a pair of Little Ringed Plovers have got territory and a couple of Common Sandpipiers are present too. Plenty of Swallows and Sand Martins there today along with my first House Martin of the year. Another week and we'll hopefully have a lot more migrants making landfall.

Redpoll Conundrum

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Finch migration is well under way and so I've been trying to do as much ringing in the garden as time and weather allow. The wind has been a constant problem with mist-netting this winter - that and the very mild temperatures has meant that the birds have been able to find plenty of natural food and therefore less reliant on the feeders that attract them in.
Adult female Lesser Redpoll
Last week I had a chance on Wednesday morning and so I put a single 9 meter net up 'down the dip' and was rewarded with a host of new birds - first of all there were good numbers of Siskins moving through, so nine in the net on the first round was very fine! Then there were the Redpolls - many new expected Lessers but one Common (Meally) Redpoll that was clearly grey and larger than the rest of the Redpoll cohort but not by a long way. And then there were the Goldfinches and Bullfinches (19 different individuals trapped so far this winter). All in all, very satisfying but just a prelude to the weekend's highlights.
Male Siskin
The first Common Redpoll - Just short of 13g, 74 wing, 56 Tail
The first Common Redpoll
I decided to do the same thing on Saturday morning with showers forecast in the afternoon and a footy match to go to, it seemed to be a good opportunity. There weren't as many birds but the first one was another Common Redpoll - a much larger bird with bulging fat reserves, these continental cousins of the Lessers are quite scarce on this side of the country and their identification not all that straight-forward. However this bird was large and grey and fitted the bill perfectly.

2nd Common Redpoll
75.0 wing, 14.7g (Retrapped sunday 14.0 fat 3) tail 58 and fat 4
2nd Common Redpoll
I managed to get a steady stream of birds in the morning but then the rain started and so I went to put the net away - there was one bird in it, another Common Redpoll but this time even bigger and paler. I took photos of it as I had with the others, and then released it. It was only the next day that the penny dropped that it might have been something even rarer!

3rd Common Redpoll
77.0 wing 13.9g Tail 59 FAT 3
3rd Common Redpoll
3rd Common Redpoll (islandica? Coues's Arctic?)
Sunday was spent with mum in Southport but Mark had called to ask if he could come round and look for the Mealies. I left the key to the shed in a safe place for him and left it at that. Around lunchtime he texted that there were two Mealies still so I said to put the nets up and I'd see him in the afternoon.

To cut a long story short, we retrapped Mealy No. 2 and got field views of No. 3 looking distinctly paler than it did in the hand! It's got a white rump! An the Bill is looking more pointed and less hefty than the others.
Marks image of the pale 3rd Common Redpoll
We've now got the books out and sent images to a few people - Coues's Arctic was considered a possibility but it is very large for that species (though not out of range) and the rump is streaked faintly. We're leaning towards Pale Icelandic Redpoll as the nearest fit.

Anyway, I was out again for a couple of hours this morning and the first bird was another Common Redpoll.
Fourth Common Redpoll
Wing 74, Tail 56, Fat 4 weight 16g!
Lesser Redpoll

Time for a catch-up: Twitching Scotland!

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
I've been so busy over the past few months I've been neglecting to keep my blog up to date and so, after an interesting trip to Scotland this weekend, I decided it was about time I wrote something down.

You never know how useful this stuff can be but I have been contacted on several occasions with requests for help on certain areas I've visited. The most recent one was for the Cuban Grassquit site which was successfully relayed and the birds seen!

Not that this post will offer much of that of course. In the middle of last week, John Wright contacted me about the possibility of going for the American Herring Gull and possibly the American Coot which were both a fair way from home (for them and me!). The weather had been good and so we made plans. though the forecast took a turn for the worse AND the AHG was being rather difficult, we nevertheless decided to head off on Friday evening, stopping at my sister-in-law's place in Glasgow before heading towards Campbelltown on the Mull of Kintyre.

It's a long way. Just short of three hours and that's early on a Saturday morning with no traffic. The wind was picking up and it was rather drizzly but we made good progress with brief stops to look at some flocks of Geese. Campbelltown harbour held a few gulls but all were Herring Gulls. There were a few Black Guillemots and Eider along with a lone Guillemot and female Common Scoter. The American Herring Gull (our quarry in the area) had been elusive of late so we wasted no time in searching out the 'known' haunts. One spot near a school didn't have many gulls but there were lots of Greenland White-fronted Geese, Greylag Geese and a few Barnacle Geese.

Next it was off to the area near the airport where we found a HUGE flock of gulls - mainly Herring with a few Lesser Black-backs, Common and Black-headeds.And then there was the first of five Iceland Gulls (we had three first winters, one second winter and an adult during the day) but still no sign of the first-winter American. We tried another spot but again drew a blank. We toured the area again (with a brief stop for tea and bacon butties) but to no avail so after four hours we decided to head back up the peninsula to tick of the two Snow Geese before returning once again to the Mull.

We'd had a few 'candidate' birds but on a final look around the airport we bumped into a small flock in which was a good candidate - and another birder was watching. John lept out of the car and the gulls took flight to join the larger throng and the other birder confirmed that that was the bird - it had come into the harbour briefly where he'd picked it up before heading inland. We then managed to find it again and had several good views of it - not a classic perhaps as it was starting to moult and perhaps the reason we'd not picked it up earlier. The strong winds hadn't helped all day.

We headed north and stopped overnight in Oban, finding a rather nice B&B that accomodated our early start and at a very reasonable price (Raniven). We hadn't gone far when we noticed Black Guillemots sitting on the quayside - they were very approachable as around 20+ gathered for some courtship display on the jetties and in the harbour.
We eventually set off to Inverness - again just short of three hours on quiet roads. Just beyond was the winter abode of an American Coot on Loch Flemington and it was much more obliging than the gull though didn't want to come out into the open water where it was buffeted by the wind. However it gave us views one might expect of a Coot!
John had seen American Coot many years ago on one of the only other ones to make mainland landfall. The other one was a day visitor to Walney as we unsuccessfully twitched a Crag Martin at Swithland Reservoir in Leicestershire! ALl other birds have bee on the extremities of the country so this birds has been visited by many. In fact it was by fifth American British tick in a row - Killdeer, Buff-bellied Pipit, Myrtle Warbler, AHG and this.

Next stop was Speyside; we weren't going to climb the heights of the Cairngorms (or even take the Ski-lift) as was the original plan as there were winds of 90 mph on the tops so we satisfied ourselves with nice views of Crested Tits and Crossbills (Common ones) at Loch Garten before heading for home.

As we traveled down the A9, we wanted somewhere to stop off and have a break - a Ring-billed Gull just south of Perth seemed a good choice (in fact Hobson's choice), so we headed for Newburgh on the Tay estuary. the tide was high and there were no birds around but after an hour wandering up and down the front, some gulls started to appear and as if by magic, the RBG duly landed in front of us and took a penchant to M&S chocolate Chip Cookies.
We finally arrived home just before 10 pm - just a little knackered!

A short break in Nerja, Andalucie

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
It's half term, so now that Bernie had had all four inspections a school could get in the space of ten months (and be rated as outstanding in every one of them), it was necessary to get her away for a few days so that the temptation of dealing with the pile of stuff at school was put well out of reach. Neither of us are fans of hot weather and lolling around on a beach but we thought that a trip to Nerja on the Costa Del Sol at this time of year would be just the tonic. And so it has proven to be.

We hired a car from Malaga airport and got a small hotel in Nerja - Casa Mercedes in a quiet part of the town - from where we could just loll around or set out to see some of the area.

In birding terms, there's not a lot written about this place as most of the really good sites are in the west so I thought I'd make note of a couple of trips we've made (though travelling some distance.

From the hotel balcony, we've been visited by the commoner species such as Serin, Sardinian Warbler, Black Redstarts and Blackcaps that inhabit the scrubby area below the hotel. I've also heard Cetti's Warbler and had Chiffchaff and Crag Martins (which can be sen easily at the coast over the beaches). One evening of stronger winds  brought Cory's Shearwaters into the bay and a couple of Gannets are regularly offshore. There has been a steady passage of Meadow Pipits and White Wagtails each morning and I guess an influx of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes that the local's take exception to. Robin, Goldfinch and Yellow-legged Gull are all regular too, not to mention the evening flights of Starling spp coming to roost and Cattle Egrets, etc.

Yesterday we took a trip up into the mountains at the Zaffaraya Pass. Birds were a little thin on the ground at first as a gusty wind kept a lot of things down but we eventually got good views of Black Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrushes and Thekla Larks as well as lots of Stonechats and Black Redstarts. Finches were commonplace - Green, Gold and Chaffinch with a trio of Rock Sparrows thrown in for good measure. Again, there were lots of Mipits, Chiffchaffs and Sardinian Warblers. There were no birds of prey until we 'd nearly completed our walk when a Bonelli's Eagle soared over the pass and a juvenile Hobby zipped through.

After that we made our way to the Laguna Fuenta de Piedra - a bit of a drive but we loved the quiet roads and scenery. Once there we scanned the hundreds, no, thousands of Greater Flamingoes out over the Laguna. A few juveniles were closer on some of the pools along with Marsh Harriers (lots!) and a ringtail Hen Harrier. Other birds included Black-winged Stilts, loads of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, lots of Little Grebes and the odd Black-necked. I was particularly happy to see 60 Cranes on one of the fields next to the lake, some of which trumpeted briefly. My day was made all the better when a small flock of Woodlarks landed nearby - just love their calls.

From there, it was getting late in the afternoon so we headed to Laguna Dolce to see what was there - lots of White-headed Ducks, Red Crested Pochard, loads of Coots and flocks of Little and Black-necked Grebes. It was all too much to fit in so we're heading back there tomorrow! A hoopoe flew up from the road and a Black-winged Kite sat on a telegraph pole as we made our way back to Nerja.

Today has been spent visiting the Alhambra in Granada. A magnificent site and well worth the trip.

Snow Bunting surprise

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Yesterday was spent in the Hartlepool area again with the presence of a Western Bonelli's Warbler and a Pallid Swift enticing birders there. Last weekend, we were at Spurn on Saturday in the drizzle and rain and got to grips with several nice birds but no real megas. They all arrived the next day!

And then last week I had the amazing good fortune to jam in on a juvenile Bonxie on Rishton Reservoir before it headed off towards Preston. So it's been quite good for birds this past week.

Anyway, back to the latest birds....
Snow Bunting at Greatham Creek
Western Bonelli's Warbler - Harlepool
Western Bonelli's Warbler - Harlepool
Folks think this is a juvenile Pallid Swift - seemed a bit dark to me but I know very little about such things!
Pallid Swift (?)