Part I: London and Hertfordshire Part II: Norfolk Part III: Scottish Highlands
Habitat: Riparian woodland, willows, reeds, bordered by woodlands with chestnuts in bloom, hawthorn and blackthorn trees in bloom, etc.
Weather: Cloudy and sunny, cold (45 degrees), with some wind.
After work in London we drove to Hertfordshire and picked up Rick Simpson headed North and East toward Norfolk. We stopped at The National Centre for Ornithology at St. George's Nunnery in Thetford for a visit (recommended) then drove to the managed forest area where it had just been cut. Walked into the stump-filled area and heard many Woodlark. Just after a storm pelted us with hail and rain, a Woodlark took off in front of us and displayed and sang above us for about 3 minutes giving great looks. We also stopped at Lynford Arboretum in hopes of seeing a Hawfinch under a yew tree but no luck.
On to Little Walsingham and The Old Bakehouse (011-44-328-820454) owned and run by Chris and Helen Padley, who are birders. Chris is plugged into the beeper system and many migrants and vagrants come through Norfolk. This area is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, and The Old Bakehouse is the best place to stay and eat. Fantastic food and paintings and photographs of birds and all the conversation about birds you can handle. We birded a few hours in the morning and saw Dotterel, Red-footed Falcon, Nightingale and Lesser Whitethroat as the rare migrants, the locations and status beeping to us while we drove around. Also tried again for the Hawfinch (no luck) and saw Grey Partridge. As we were getting ready to leave a call came to Chris that a Ross's Gull had been sighted at Burnham so we all took off for that coastal wetlands to find some top birders in the UK already there. Further investigation revealed that the bird was actually an albinistic Little Gull, but it was fun almost seeing a Ross's Gull. There's also great coastal birding in Norfolk which I did last time I was at Bakehouse in Norfolk, but didn't this time. Last time we got Little Tern and Mediterranean Gull amongst many others. Thanks to bird guide Rick Simpson (011-44-1707-883536) for taking me there the first time.
After Norfolk we drove to Scotland. First to the W. Coast where we took a ferry to Isle of Mull then another to Isle of Iona. The corncrake migrate here every year and I asked everyone in the village if they had seen one. Few had, but they had all heard them. Finally, someone I had asked earlier saw me again and told me where he had just heard one, and I rushed over to a field where iris were growing down a wet slope and heard the corncrake. Two others birders (the only others on the island that day) heard it too, and we all got to within 4 ft away as the bird called again but could not see it. We were practically on top of it but never got a glimpse. Reminded me of my first black rail experience. Of course, it was the end of the day and the ferry was leaving, so we had to give up after 30 minutes of torture and run to the ferry but someday I'll go back and see that bird. Saw lots of N. Wheatear on the island as well.
Drove to Tobermory and spent the night in the Tobermory Hotel, then on to the highlands, arriving 12 noon at Abernethy Forest, a RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Reserve near Aviemore south of Inverness, where I met William Brackenridge, a biologist studying at Dunblane who volunteered to guide us for a day and a half. There is a hide there to watch a pair of Osprey nest, with a video camera on the nest and everything. Big news and a very rare bird for the UK. We walked in the pine woods for three hours not seeing much, and I started to get this sinking feeling as many of the Scottish specialties are there.
Someone in the hide told us that she had seen Black Grouse on a lek North of there, and so after dinner (it stays light until past 10 p.m. lucky for birders) we took off for Loch Ruthven. We hiked into the hide, read the log with a location of a farm across the loch where the grouse were, located them with out binoculars, then hit the road and got closer to get them in the scope. There were four males, one displaying. We watched for a while, also saw a Whinchat on the fence, then climbed a hill of heather to try for Ring Ouzel flushing a Red Grouse (Scottish race of Willow Ptarmigan) on the way up. Good day after all.
Early next morning went to pine woods near Balnacreve B&B in Dulnain Bridge (011441479-851228) in the rain and were lucky enough to see a male Capercaillie from 15 feet away, on the ground, motionless. We also flushed two more as we walked, and spotted the only Crested Tit of the trip. After breakfast, we drove in the rain to Lochindorb where we saw a pair of Black-throated Divers (Arctic Loon) swimming across the loch in the rain, in full summer plumage. Then we drove to Innis Marsh hoping for something unusual and watched Redshank and Eurasian Curlew and N. Lapwing displaying.
A great day, I thought to myself as I drove to the Inverness airport to begin the long series of flights home.
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