Thursday 26th Feb 2004
On the crossing from Douglas to Heysham, Chris was the only one mad enough to do a seawatch in the freezing cold but did pick up Gannet, Guillemot & Razorbill.
On entering Heysham harbour at around lunchtime there were the usual Herring & Black-headed gulls flying around the boat.
A mixed flock of waders, which included 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers & Redshanks flew towards the exposed sandbar on the south side of the port. Where there was already a flock of c100 Knot.
In the port, as we looked everywhere for Little Gulls, we spotted several Turnstone under the wooden jetty and a single Mediterranean Gull standing on the stone breakwater.
After disembarking the Ben My Chree at Heysham, we drove out toward the M6. On the way there was a small group of 14 Whooper Swans in a roadside field.
Further checking of the fields produced several large flocks of Lapwings & Curlews.
All the way north we kept our eyes peeled and this paid off with several Common Buzzards being seen. One was even having a doze on a motorway boundary fence!
We had been given some good Dipper info. by a contact of Chris and Rob, so a (very) last minute decision was made which resulted in a sudden-ish (but safe!) turn off the Motorway and a visit to Wigton.
On finding the stream, all we saw was a Grey Wagtail and a pair of Mallard. (Although there was a rusty mountain bike & a shopping trolley on there too!)
We soon crossed the border into Scotland and a couple of hours later we had reached Milton Loch in Dumfries & Galloway.
A cold Northerly wind was blasting over the Loch so our search for the Ring-necked Duck was extremely short lived (wimps, I’m surrounded by wimps! – Chris) but in the few minutes of looking we did pick up Goldeneye, Pochard & Tufted Duck. Chris also had a quick scan in the surrounding trees and found Willow Tit, Great Tit & Blue Tit. Unfortunately the only view I got of the Willow Tit was a brief flyover, not enough to claim my lifer! Doh.
Next stop was the neighbouring Auchenroch Loch to check the Ring-necked Duck hadn’t wandered a bit, but again there was no sign. My depression was numbed by finding a group of 5 Goosander & a Great Crested Grebe.
After a great and much-needed hot meal, we had a quick check around the Loch Ken Hotel (http://www.thekenbridge.co.uk/ ) for Tawny Owl but did not hear a twit or a twoo. Although trying to hear distant noises over Chris's unintentional Mallard impressions (I really should stop eating beans – Chris) was quite difficult!
Friday 27th Feb 2004
After waking up very very early we headed for a Black Grouse site in a nearby forest. On arrival we could hear a Tawny Owl in the distance and after a while saw a pair of Ravens fly over. A Woodcock also flew past as we walked down the track. After an hour or so the sun was fully up so we had to give up and head back to the hotel for breakfast.
Back at the hotel we had a quick check of the surrounding trees and found a group of four flighty Bullfinch. All attempted pics of these Bullfinches sadly failed but there was nothing to worry about as we intended to check this area every morning we were there.
After breakfast we headed Northwest through the mountains, towards our ultimate destination of Stranraer. On the way we had a quick stop at Loch Clatteringshaws to see Crossbill but could only find about four million Chaffinch. We quickly carried on to our main port of call for the morning - Murray’s monument. Here was a chance of Golden Eagle and Peregrine but again our luck was out. Whilst Rob and I were scanning the hilltops, Keren walked up to the monument & Chris went off for a walk along a partially frozen stream (I can do it when it’s not frozen as well - Chris). A few minutes later I heard a faint whistle so went to investigate. I spotted Chris about 3/4 mile away waving his arms in the air and jumping around like a man possessed. Thinking he had been shot I shouted to Rob and we scurried off. As we got closer Chris starting doing a strange almost Pagan ritual dance then started bobbing up and down. Personally I was extremely confused and was worried that he had finally gone over the edge, but Rob instantly said “oh S*** , he’s got a Dipper!”
As we reached Chris in a state of panic and just a little breathless, we found he had indeed spotted a Dipper on the stream, so we slowly edged towards the bank. Nothing was seen until a little way down the stream when the bird shot out from a half sunken tree and we all got a nice view of the little brown blob with a white chest go bombing down the river. We had another go at trying to get a view of it standing on the rocks in the river (hopefully for a pic) but even though we edged along well away from the bank, the bird still spotted us and shot off again. Although we didn’t get a record shot, this did not take the edge off a ‘lifer’ for both me and Rob.
On the walk back to the car we walked through some trees and a Woodcock shot out from the ground (not a Sparrowhawk then Pete?). Also Chris picked up a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying over.
We then continued west to Stranraer to have a look at the famous Loch Ryan.
You can view the Loch from both the west and east side, we decided to try out the West side as this was where the long-staying King Eider had been seen from recently.
We stopped off at small pier in Stranraer harbour to start with, to have a look in the inner harbour, straight away we saw two Scaup (a female and 1st Summer male) and a brilliant male Eider only about ten yards out. Chris and Rob decided to have a quick check along the shore wall and they found a flock of nineteen Brent Geese very close in as well the usual Wigeon and Redshank.
After this we went further up the west side to a Yacht park that had a better view point into the loch. Obviously Rob had committed some breach of some obscure Scottish driving law as at this point we got some attention from a Police dog handler! After a small chat about the Isle of Man and where to buy some replacement wiper blades, we were able to have a look north into Loch Ryan. Almost instantly Chris said he had the King Eider and, after an interesting set of locating instructions, both me and Rob were onto the bird and could clearly see it’s mainly black body plumage with circular white spot on the rear flanks and a distinctly grey head, but at the this distance the colourful bill could not be seen as the bird had it’s back to us. It was associating with two common Eiders a few hundred yards north of our position. We decided that we would move up the road the few hundred yards to a closer vantage point to get some digiscope shots of the bird. We stopped at a perfect place to view into the Loch but to our horror we couldn’t see the King Eider or even the other two Eiders it was with. We scanned the water with three scopes but couldn’t relocate the bird. Our only assumption was that the two Eiders and the King Eider flew further out into the mouth while we were driving up the road. This was another shame as there haven’t been many (if any) photos of this King Eider on any of the UK birding websites.
Still completely flummoxed we started a full scan of the Loch to see what else was about.
On the shore there were Wigeon and more Brent Geese, further out were several Red-Breasted Mergansers including some smart adult males. There were also several Great Crested Grebes (many in near summer plumage) and quite a few Slavonian Grebes, their black and plumage standing out quite well even over a considerable distance. Every once in a while a Red-throated Diver would appear in amongst the grebes then disappear again. Also there were a few Common Scoter bobbing around on the slightly choppy water. Then I spotted a strange looking small grebe. I asked Chris to double check the bird as I had a suspicion as to what it was and sure enough Chris confirmed it was a Black-necked Grebe it’s generally dusky plumage and Dabchick jizz making it stand out amongst the Slavonian Grebes. (This was a lifer for both me and Rob.) As we were packing up I had one last scan of the water and had to do a double take as a superb adult male Long-tailed Duck, replete with tail streamers, appeared in my scope view. Everyone unpacked again and we found another six more Long-tailed Ducks. Where they all came from I have no idea since we had been scanning the same area only a few moments earlier and not seen them. After this we packed up and headed back east. On the way out of Stranraer we stopped off on the east side of the Loch and found a group of about twenty Scaup, this time including some adult males.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at Glentrool to see if any Black Grouse would appear at dusk. No grouse were seen but we did spot two foxes on the other side of a small valley.
One of these was asleep in a perfect position sheltered from the wind and the other was hunting mice.
I was very happy to see these in wild natural place rather than seeing them searching through bins in the middle of a city. With no sign of the Black Grouse we headed back to the hotel.
Saturday 28th Feb 2004
Another early morning up in the Galloway forest, looking for Black Grouse, resulted in some very strange noises being heard. These noises were unidentifiable (I even suspected they may have been a coming from a distant grouse lek) until a putrid smell wafted past Rob and I from Chris’s direction!!! (I must have had a bad pint the night before – Chris)
After regaining consciousness we heard a Great-spotted Woodpecker drumming in the distance and a loud “chip, chip, chip” as a pair of Crossbill flew over. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good enough view to claim my Lifer. Dohhh.
As the sun came up we headed back to the car and another Woodcock flew past.
After breakfast we headed a couple of miles into New Galloway and Brough Woods where we were told of a walk through the woods which would give us a good chance of seeing Green Woodpecker. In the wood we got good views of a Willow Tit, Treecreeper & Goldcrest. Further down we could hear two Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming and we tried our best to get a view of them but they were just too cunning. With time at a premium we had to turn back and go back to the car.
We then headed to Ken Dee RSPB. In the car park we spotted a very friendly flock of Fieldfare.
Unfortunately they were all backlit so the good photo opportunity was quickly turned into record-shot-tastic. We walked to the geese observation point but couldn’t find the wintering Greenland White Fronted Geese, only a flock of Greylag Geese. The loch was quite distant from this O/P but we were able to pick out a male Pintail and a Great Crested Grebe in full breeding plumage. After this we headed towards our main destination of the day but, on the way, visited a picnic site in nearby Laurieston to try and pick up on Crossbill. Again no sign and all we saw was a Blackbird looking for food in the leaf litter.
We reached the main place of the day – Bellymack Farm, a Red Kite feeding station, just before the 2pm feeding time.
We sat in the Hide as it passed 2pm and could see two Buzzards sitting in the nearby trees. As it approached 2.30pm the two Buzzards flew off which I thought was not a good sign! A few minutes later the farmer’s wife finally arrived with a big white bucket, “here we go” I thought, expecting half a dead pig to be thrown into the field…. After seeing a few feathers put out into the field I realized why the Buzzards had flown away!! Not even a crow appeared to have an interest in the poor amount of food put out. Although this was very disappointing the hide was at a good viewpoint and we did pick up on two Red kites in the far distance. After we left the Farm (you could practically guarantee it) another Red Kite flew by near the road. A quick emergency stop and Chris and I (armed to the teeth with Digital slrs) bailed out the car like a Police SWAT team, including the “GO GO GO” bit!! This could have been the reason why the Red Kite had soared away before we got the record shot :).
On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at Craig of Grobdale another, supposedly, good spot for Golden Eagle. Again our luck was out so we headed back to base.
Sunday 29th Feb 2004
Our last day, so we had a lie in till 7am! and then had a quick walk in the vicinity of the hotel before breakfast. This resulted in a Pink-footed Goose flyover, Siskin and Long-tailed Tit in the nearby trees and finally a relatively photogenic Willow Tit. But no Bullfinches!!! Arhghghgghh!!
While the others went for their massive two course breakfast(!!!) I went for a quick walk across the bridge as we had heard a Great-spotted Woodpecker drumming there. Under the bridge were two Little Grebes and in the trees were two Treecreepers but I was unable to locate the woodpecker, unfortunately.
After breakfast we loaded up the Jeep and headed south. On the way, we tried again at Milton Loch this time we were a bit more lucky as there was a Scottish birder already there. He kindly pointed out the position of the Ring-necked Duck approx half a mile out with a massive flock of Tufted Duck in the middle of the loch. We picked up the RN Duck with its weird head shape and as it turned to the light the white ring around the bill was obvious even at that distance! Still, it was a long way away and only a duck, so not much to get excited over!
We then carried on east towards our next stop Mersehead RSPB on the way we came across several roadside Kestrels one hanging around long enough to get a shot. From reports, we knew at Mersehead there was a wintering Firecrest that had been giving great views. This was where I was hoping to finally get a good photo. Also we had found out there were ten Brambling showing well.
Chris was in the navigators seat with a GB Road Atlas and three Ordnance Survey maps to hand.
All sounded good.
About thirty minutes later as we were travelling down the A road. Chris starting to mutter “I can’t see Mersehead on this Roadmap” I didn’t pay much attention until he said “oh £$%$!!!!! WE HAVE MISSED IT!” He pointed out we had gone about 20 miles too far and we didn’t have the time to turn back… Total Disaster!!!
(I found out later the Firecrest was showing extremely well down to a few feet on the Sunday!!!!)
Slightly disappointed by this we carried on South to Haweswater in the Lake District. My depression was lifted by Chris’s optimism for seeing Golden Eagle here.
It required a long walk up and around a massive hill and half way along my three older companions couldn’t carry on – probably because of too much ale and food intake over the last few days :) so I was left to trot along the snow covered path to the Observation point.
I scanned the area but could not see any Golden Eagles so wandered back again.
Chris, Rob and Keren also had not seen any Eagles so we walked back to the car.
The area nearly produced zero birds but there was some Ravens flying along the Ridges.
An hour or so later we got to Leighton Moss RSPB. Here we hoped to see the Water Pipit and pick up the Bearded Tit’s and Bitterns.
But first by the main entrance was a feeding station and after an impression of a Mallard from Rob (which scared the living daylights out of at least ten RSPB visitors!!) we checked it out and we saw a Marsh Tit come in. A lifer for Rob! In Lilian’s hide where the Water Pipit was supposed to be, all we saw were a pile of Coot & Snipe. We then headed to the public causeway for the Bearded tits but a slight misread of the board (and you criticized my navigation? – Chris) meant we didn’t walk far enough down the path to see the birds…. Whoops a daisy!
We walked back up the road and, as we did, Chris heard a Nuthatch in the Trees. I wasn’t able to pick it out despite searching the area hard, so again missed out on a lifer…
With light fading fast a decision was made to visit nearby Woodwell. Unfortunately Chris’s memory isn’t what it used to be so we spent the next 20 minutes driving around trying to find a place that was only a mile away :)
Eventually we found Woodwell Cliff and we had a walk through the mixed woodland. Half way along Chris again heard a Nuthatch but this time I picked it out feeding on the trunk of a tree. Very happy to pick this up we turned around to go back to the car, suddenly Chris recognised a weird call from a wood across the road. He said it was a Green Woodpecker so we all quickly made our way towards the call. It called again as we approached but we just couldn’t find the bird in all the trees. We sat on a handily positioned bench and hoped it would appear but it never did and the disappearing light had defeated us again.
With the sun gone we then headed to the boat at Liverpool stopping off on the way for a KFC (experiencing the delightful Scouse accent) and came home back to comparative normality.
So, all-in-all a very good weekend’s birding which was only slightly marred by our inability to get good photographs and Chris and Rob’s “atmospheric embellishments”. A total of 105 species were recorded and I got 6 new species for my life list
|Red-throated Diver||Black-headed Gull|
|Little Grebe||Common Gull|
|Great Crested Grebe||Lesser Black-backed Gull|
|Slavonian Grebe||Herring Gull|
|Black-necked Grebe||Great Black-backed Gull|
|Atlantic Great Cormorant||Razorbill|
|European Shag||Black Guillemot|
|Grey Heron||Little Auk|
|Mute Swan||Rock Dove|
|Whooper Swan||Stock Dove|
|Greylag Goose||Collared Dove|
|Greater Canada Goose||Tawny Owl (heard only)|
|Brent Goose||Green Woodpecker|
|Common Shelduck||Great Spotted Woodpecker (heard only)|
|Common Teal||Meadow Pipit|
|Northern Pintail||Pied Wagtail|
|Greater Scaup||European Robin|
|Common Scoter||Song Thrush|
|Red-breasted Merganser||Mistle Thrush|
|Red Kite||Long-tailed Tit|
|Common Buzzard (62 in total)||Marsh Tit|
|Common Kestrel||Willow Tit|
|Common Pheasant||Blue Tit|
|Water Rail (heard only)||Great Tit|
|Eurasian Woodcock||House Sparrow|
|Total = 105 (inc 4 heard-only.)|