Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Harperman it's time for you to go.


Environment Canada Scientist
suspended for protest song

     Here is a link to a song created and performed by a scientist for Environment Canada who has now been suspended. What happened to free speech in this country? When did satire about a politician become such a heinous act?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ei50lM6ab1c

     Please forward this to as many people as you can. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Helping a Bird Bander

26 August 2015
Cambridge, ON

     Kevin Grundy and Ross Dickson are a formidable pair when it comes to bird banding,  having many, many years of experience between them, with a whole range of bird families. However, they can only band together on the weekends because while Ross, like me, is retired, Kevin still has to work for a living and is thus not available on week days.
     During the week Ross has been banding alone so I offered to help him (or perhaps it was hinder him) by acting as his scribe, walking the round of the mist nets with him, carrying the birds back to the banding table and in any other way that he saw fit. Miriam even added her contribution in the form of home-baked muffins.
     I am very grateful to Ross for permitting me to accompany him and I find it quite incredible just how much I am learning - and me a lifelong birder. A bird in the hand looks quite different from a bird viewed at a distance.

Tennessee Warbler Leiothlypis peregrina

Tennessee Warbler

Common Yellowthroat Setophaga aestiva
Common Yellowthroat

     Ross has been very accommodating and never demurs for a moment when I want to take a picture. He patiently, and carefully, holds the bird for me and rotates his hand or his body to permit different angles.

Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus

Red-eyed Vireo
     As Ross examines the birds and records their fat levels, measures the wing chord etc. he points out to me various characteristics of moult and other subtle features not visible when the bird is in the field. Many of these characters are diagnostic in terms of sex and age. Certainly I don't remember everything, but gradually it starts to stick,  and soon I view the bird in his hand from a different perspective than even a capture of the same species an hour earlier.

Chestnut-sided Warbler Setophags pennsylvanica

Chestnut-sided Warbler
      New World Warblers are now in the full flush of their migratory cycle and, not surprisingly, many of the captures were of representatives of this family.

American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
American Redstart

    
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler Setophaga magnolia
Magnolia Warbler

     The next time I can get down to help Ross again will be on Monday of next week, but I am looking forward to it with great eagerness. Ross is a very patient teacher and I have no doubt that before this banding season is over I will have a store of new facts about species I thought I knew well.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Migrants at rare Charitable Research Reserve on 23 August 2015

     Every Sunday morning, spring and fall,  Miriam and I monitor a route at the rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge, ON. The statistics garnered from our walk, when combined with those of other monitors in different parts of the reserve, provide a detailed summary of the species using rare for breeding, or passing through as migrants.
     An integral part of this data collection is provided by the teams of bird banders and we always check in with Kevin Grundy and Ross Dickson before and after our walk. Here are Kevin and Ross busy at their banding station.




     By the second half of August many warblers, flycatchers and thrushes are already migrating and several interesting species had just been retrieved from the nets when we arrived, including this Least Flycatcher Empidonx minimus.



     Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis is a species whose numbers have plummeted in recent years so it was especially pleasing to see this one captured in the nets. Unfortunately, for some reason, most of my shots of this species were blurred and I cannot offer you a frontal view.





     The images below of a Northern Waterthrush Parkesia noveboracensis give a much better view of the bird.




     None of these birds had any noticeable level of fat deposition, so they will still spend a little more time here before they embark on the final stage of their migratory journey.
     For a while I was beginning to question the value of banding in an era when advances like satellite tracking of birds began to deliver such a wealth of information, often with more detail and precision than banding could ever do, and in real time. I mentioned this doubt to Phil Slade, a UK bander with whom I have regular internet contact, and he sent me this link to an article by Ian Newton, surely one of the finest ornithologists Britain has ever produced: http://britishbirds.co.uk/article/bird-ringing-still-necessary/  I think that it is convincing in its endorsement of the value of banding as an ongoing tool and it would make valuable reading for anyone interested in this practice.
     While on our walk we saw a couple of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks Pheucticus ludovicianus including this male moulting into its drab winter plumage.




     In addition to the birds we encountered this really impressive growth of bracket fungus, the largest I have ever seen. ( My good friend Janet Ozaruk advises that this fungus is Shelving Tooth Climacodon septentrionale. Thanks Janet!)
     

     On Thursdays I monitor another route at rare. I wonder what new species will be found then.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Water Vole (Campagnol terrestre) at Rutland Water

25 July 2015

     During our visit to Rutland Water we were very lucky to see a European Water Vole Arvicola amphibius, the United Kingdom's fastest declining mammal.


     This animal, sometimes called a Water Rat, although only superficially resembling a rat, has a life span of a mere five months. It lives in burrows along the banks of rivers, but also in dense reed beds where it will build a ball-shaped nest. It was in the latter habitat where we observed the animal.


     It is an expert swimmer and diver and we witnessed its ability in this regard.


     It feeds voraciously on a range of aquatic vegetation although, interestingly, it has been proven to feed on frogs from time to time. This is perhaps to compensate for a lack of protein in its usual vegetarian diet.
     I was not in a good position in the hide to get any decent shots, but Miriam did much better from her vantage point and these photographs are hers.
     We certainly considered ourselves fortunate to be present when this delightful little creature decided to make an appearance.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Trip Report England and Scotland 2015

22 July - 10 August 2015

22 July 2015
Waterloo - Toronto - Paris

     John and Karen arrived around 14:00 to take us to the airport. We had left ourselves lots of time to take into account any possible highway delays, but it was clear sailing all the way and we arrived at Pearson International Airport shortly after 15:00.
     It was a long wait, (and time at an airport seems to pass at an infernally slower pace than in other situations), but boarding was on time and we finally took off for Paris at 18:50.
     We had hoped that Air France would provide us with a little better cuisine than other airlines (this has been our experience in the past) but, of course, they took their food on board in Toronto, so it was pedestrian fare - a mixed bean salad, chicken with a mildly spiced red curry, jasmine rice with limpid vegetables hinting of dish water - and allegedly a Japanese furikake garnish, which was invisible and taste free to both Miriam and me! Dessert was Cracker Barrel cheese (which has the texture of stiff axle grease and little taste) and a fruit compote which looked and tasted for all the world like apple sauce, and a tiny piece of strawberry-lemon cake.  They did, however, serve us a quite pleasant Chardonnay and - bravo, the wine was French!
     When they came around with coffee, which Miriam had, I declined, so they offered me a Cognac which I accepted with alacrity. Very smooth it was too, and combined with the wine, propelled me to a brief but blissful slumber.
     After midnight Ontario time (06:00 Paris time) breakfast was served. It comprised orange juice, a small tub of yogurt, a muffin which had seen better days, and coffee.

23 July 2015
Paris - Manchester - Chez Pegler - Calke Park - Staunton Herold Round Car Park - Staunton House - Little Owl Site No. 2

     We landed at Charles de Gaulle (now there's a giant of history) International Airport at 07:27 and took  a shuttle train to our terminal for the connecting flight to Manchester. Embarkation on the plane was achieved by means of another shuttle, this time a bus, out to the tarmac to board. Take off was at 10:00, whereas in Manchester it was only 09:00, and back in Ontario was only four in the morning. No wonder at times we felt befuddled.The flight was short and we touched down in Manchester at 10:10. Progress through the airport was swift and we had the good fortune to experience that rarity of rarities, an immigration officer who was friendly, jocular almost, and smiled at us. 
     Our good friend, Richard Pegler, with whom we were staying in Ashby de la Zouch, Leics arrived to greet us at exactly the moment we came through with our baggage. What timing! Richard is a fellow blogger, with a special dedication to Little Owls, and since we had developed our friendship on line, we had never seen him before. It was delightful to meet him in person, and he welcomed us warmly.
     By 10:50 we were in his car and motoring down to Ashby, gabbing all the while and getting acquainted.
     Arriving at their house just before 13:00 we were cheerfully greeted by Lindsay, Richard's charming wife, who promptly made us a cup of tea - and we knew that we were in England! The lunch she prepared for us was quite outstanding, consisting of salmon in a very tasty sauce, baby potatoes boiled and gently sautéed, and peas. Richard and Lindsay's daughter, Melanie, arrived shortly afterwards with their granddaughter, Georgie.
     After a session of comfortable birding from their conservatory, looking on a variety of garden species in the backyard, Richard took us for a drive to visit some of his Little Owl Athene noctua sites and to generally acquaint us with the area. We searched diligently at various Little Owl sites but could not find a bird.


Staunton House and Church

Richard on the prowl

      Before heading home, we checked on Richard's local patch and a Little Owl flew from the peak of an old derelict barn and gave us the briefest of glimpses. We wished for a better look, but it didn't matter as it turned out; not only would we have a great look at this individual before leaving for Canada, Little Owls could be dished up almost on demand by Richard, the result of several years of careful monitoring and close observation.
     Returning home, Richard prepared pasta with a mushroom and tomato sauce for dinner - and quite delicious it was too. We were then introduced to Le Colonel for dessert, a dish we had never heard of but were glad to get to know. It consists of lemon sorbet liberally doused in Vodka! 
     Tired as we already were, this put an end to us, and we retired to bed by 21:00. 

All species 23 July: Mallard, Common Pheasant, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Coot, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Little Owl, European Green Woodpecker, Western Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Barn Swallow, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, European Robin, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, European Goldfinch, Yellowhammer.

Accomodation: The Pegler domicile   Rating: Unsurpassed.

24 July 2015
Chez Pegler - Burton upon Trent - Chatterley-Whitfield Colliery - Willington Gravel Pits

     We were awake at 05:00 but had slept soundly until then and sensed already that some of the jet lag was slipping away. Miriam actually got up first and went down to the conservatory, having made herself a cup of tea. I followed and we both enjoyed sitting there watching the birds availing themselves of the feeders outside. Not having seen these common species for a long time, it was as though they were new all over again. We took great delight in watching the antics of Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus,  Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus, Great Tit Parus major, Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis, Common Blackbird Turdus merula and others. Perhaps the most appealing of all was a flock of ten Long-tailed Tits Aegithalos caudatus, which might have been a family group still travelling together.


Common Wood Pigeon

European Goldfinch

Eurasian Bullfinch

     Richard and Lindsay were up at around 07:00 and we had breakfast together; for Miriam a bowl of cereal and a banana, for me a bowl of cereal and a slice of toast with a delicious apricot/brandy jam. Needless to say, tea was drunk by all.
     Richard had checked the internet and learned of a Red-footed Falcon Falco sparverius which had been hanging around for a few days at Chatterley-Whitfield Colliery in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs, so we elected to go there to see if we could spot this rarity (see earlier post). At 09:30 we set off in light rain, stopping en route at a supermarket to pick up something for lunch. Miriam and I bought a chicken fajita wrap to share and a bag of crisps (chips). Richard had brought iced tea from home for us to drink.
     Not long afterwards we arrived on site and, noting that several birders and photographers were already present, quickly located the bird, or more correctly had it pointed out to us. It was a fine sighting and we enjoyed trading stories of other rarities with the birders there. The fellowship of birders is a convivial community indeed. This visit was capped with the sighting of a Black Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus and it was a well-satisfied trio that sat in the car munching lunch, by that time in a steady downpour.
    Richard's plans for the afternoon's birding were thwarted by heavy traffic and numerous slowdowns so he abandoned those plans and took us instead to Willington Gravel Pits which was close by. In rain of varying intensity we birded along a dirt road and from a lookout at the water. It was cool and wet, but the birding was not bad at all. Little Egret Egretta garzetta was a rarity guaranteed to mobilize ardent twitchers when I first saw it in Britain about thirty years ago; now it has become an expected species on every suitable wetland and barely merits a passing glance. 


Willington Gravel Pits

Little Egret

     We returned home and around 18:00 Richard and I went to Vinnie's, a local fish and chip shop of some renown, and returned with haddock and chips for everyone and mushy peas for Lindsay, Miriam and me (Richard eschews this cultural delicacy). In my experience fish and chips can be as variable as the weather in the UK. From a meteorological standpoint then, this was a fine, sunny day, cloudless and with high pressure! Everyone's empty plate bore silent testament to a feast well enjoyed. Traditions are easily initiated, especially when vodka is involved, so it was once again that we enjoyed Le Colonel, this time with raspberry sorbet, with a sprinkling of fresh mint. Decadence in Ashby is alive and well at the Pegler house!
     Following this excess we sat in the conservatory, chatting and laughing until about 22:00 when Miriam and I hauled ourselves off to bed, glad that we had been able to resist the temptation to turn in a little earlier. By tomorrow our bodies should be totally adjusted.

All species 24 July: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Great Cormorant, Western Osprey, Common Buzzard, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Northern Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Common Tern, Stock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Eurasian Kestrel, Red-footed Falcon, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Long-tailed Tit, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, European Robin, Black Redstart, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch. 

25 July 2015
Chez Pegler - Various Little Owl Sites - Rutland Water Nature Reserve - Various Little Owl Sites

     Another good night's sleep - we didn't wake until around 06:30.
     Richard and Lindsay were already up by the time we ventured downstairs and we had breakfast almost immediately. I had the same cereal and toast as yesterday and Miriam had cereal and a nectarine. We had a cup of tea with breakfast and followed up with a second cup in the conservatory where we sat chatting and looking at the delightful array of birds at the feeders, which Richard had replenished with seed and suet.
     At 09:00 we started out on a mission! Our target was Little Owl and Richard intended to visit a number of his sites on our way to Rutland Water. Miriam has proven time and again that she has excellent capability in spotting birds and is able to concentrate her attention in the way that is required to achieve success. Once again this skill was put to good use and she found the first owl. In fact, I noticed before our trip was over, that Richard had started to refer to the location as Miriam's tree!





     This little owl is a bundle of enchantment and it is not hard to understand Richard's fascination with them, and to appreciate his dedication in discovering and monitoring fifty-one sites, while constantly searching for more whenever a likely location is encountered. Seemingly more confiding than most species of owl, Little Owls are prone to perch in the open (which does not mean they are always easy to spot) and for the careful observer the reward of an ongoing relationship can be achieved. One cannot help but admire Richard's dogged persistence and detailed record-keeping about each site. His data represents a mine of information about the life saga of individual sites, some of which no longer exist due to collapsed buildings or rotted trees.






     I should mention that by checking on the way out and on the way home we observed no less than ten individual owls at Richard's sites number, 44, 23, 34, 43, 42 (outward bound) and 42, 34, 36, 41 and 46 (homeward bound).  At site number 42 there was a juvenile owl present in the morning, but in late afternoon on the way home an adult bird was also present. Richard was very happy to see the juvenile in a year which has been a poor one for breeding.



     In Ontario, in years when there is a mass movement of northern owls into the south, I have seen more than ten individual owls in a single day, but never ten of one species. What a remarkable experience!
     To cap off the Little Owl experience we had the sheer exhilaration of a Red Kite Milvus milvus putting on one of those classic Red Kite flight displays to flaunt their mastery of the skies. Some things defy words and to watch a kite navigate every wind current and change in speed and direction is one of those events. It simply takes one's breath away, leaving one grasping for words to describe the majesty and sheer technical skill of what one is witnessing.
     When we arrived at Rutland Water - Lyndon we ate our lunch, which we had purchased earlier at a Marks and Spencer service station, (with some difficulty I might add, due to an employee who lacked any competence and had a chip on her shoulder bigger than her head) on a bench inside the nature centre. Miriam and I each had half of a chicken sandwich with salad and another with chicken, chorizo and roasted red pepper. Again we had iced tea still in the car from yesterday which provided a good drink for all of us.
     The weather was intermittently cloudy and sunny, interspersed with rain showers, but we visited four hides (blinds) and did some good birding. No species of great excitement, but a very pleasing variety of waterfowl and shorebirds, to say nothing of the Ospreys Pandion haliaetus which attract most of the attention at Rutland. At one of the hides a young lady who was a volunteer for the Osprey recovery project (and doing a fine job at fourteen years of age) advised me that a bird I saw (four of them in fact) was a Lesser Whitethroat Sylivia curruca, but Richard has now processed his pictures and says that without a doubt it is Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis.


Great Cormorant

Juvenile Common Moorhen

     This whole concept of providing blinds is nowhere near as well developed in North America as it is in Europe and it leaves me wondering why. It is such a great way to observe birds closely without scaring them off. I can only imagine how valuable a couple of blinds, strategically situated, at Laurel Creek would be.
     As mentioned above we made our way home via the Little Owl sites, arriving at just before 20:00, but not before visiting a garden centre where Richard told me that I would be able to water the flowers. The following pictures of the urinals need no further comment from me!





     The ever patient Lindsay greeted us with a cup of tea while she prepared a wonderful dish of chicken breasts in a mushroom sauce seasoned with tarragon, green beans, carrots and potato croquettes. For dessert we had a dish of ice cream with an orange liqueur. Being spoiled sits okay with me!
     We talked until about 20:30 and then we all went to bed.

All species 25 July:  Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Egyptian Goose, Common Shelduck, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Common Pheasant, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Great Cormorant, Western Osprey, Common Buzzard, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Northern Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Wood Sandpiper, Eurasian Curlew, Black-headed Gull, Common Tern, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Little Owl, European Green Woodpecker, Eurasian Kestrel, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Barn Swallow, Common Chiffchaff, Common Whitethroat, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, European Robin, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, Common Linnet, European Goldfinch.

26 July 2015
Chez Pegler - Boston Spa - Beadnell
     
     We had another good night's sleep and got up to watch the birds from the conservatory for a while, before having our usual breakfast. We then packed our bags to head north, bidding farewell to Lindsay at 10:00.
     The day was overcast and cool with rain a constant threat. Our drive to Boston Spa was uneventful and we stopped for lunch at the Deli Caffe, a favourite of Richard and Lindsay when they are in the area. There was a good selection and Miriam chose a pulled pork panini with barbecue sauce and apple sauce and mozzarella cheese, with a small side salad. I had a chicken and roasted red pepper panini with a salad. Miriam tried her first coffee of the trip since a number of choices were available, none of which were instant coffee! She was very happy with her selection.
     After eating we took a short stroll along the street, but being Sunday everywhere was closed. By now I wanted a coffee so I returned to where we had lunch and got a cappuccino to go. It was good coffee indeed.
     By 12:30 we were back on the road.
     We arrived at the Beadnell Towers hotel around 15:00 and checked into a very agreeable room. We made ourselves a cup of tea there, before meeting Richard to head over to the beach. We walked out quite a way, through a series of interesting tide pools, finding fossil-embedded rocks and dead jellyfish marooned on the sand.


Beadnell Towers Hotel

Beadnell Beach

The Dunes
Tide Pools

Jellyfish

     Our main target was a breeding colony of Little Terns Sternula albifrons and Arctic Terns Sterna paradisaea. We were not disappointed and there was lots of activity with a great deal of interaction between adults and chicks. Miriam had to take off her sneakers and socks to wade through the water, but we all joined up to have a great experience at this breeding colony, remaining at all times a respectable distance from the birds, of course. No doubt the constant presence of humans on the unrestricted areas of the beach has made the birds somewhat tolerant of minor disturbance and we got excellent access to an exciting natural spectacle. We also were able to study five species of gull in various plumages at close range. All in all it was a great experience.


Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull and European Herring Gull

Black-headed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull, Mew Gull, European Herring Gull

Arctic Terns

     On the walk back a few Sanderlings Calidris alba and Common Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula were seen.
     The Muses granted us good fortune that day because the rain held off until we were back at the car, when it started to sprinkle, as though on cue, the moment we took our seats.
     Back at the hotel Miriam found that the WIFI signal was weak in the room and she had to go out and sit on the stairs to connect to the internet. At 18:15 we met Richard for dinner and enjoyed a fine meal. I had a glass of Merlot (at a ridiculous price!) and Miriam and I split a goat cheese salad. For her main course Miriam had curried chicken with basmati rice and naan bread which she pronounced as good as we make at home. Now that's high praise indeed! I had roast lamb with mint sauce, Yorkshire pudding, parsnip, carrots and cabbage. Good English food cooked by someone who obviously knows how to do it.
     By 20:00 we were back in our room and it was decidedly cool. I tried to turn on the heat but in whatever fashion I did so no heat came on. I went down to the desk to inquire as to my difficulty in something so basic, and was informed that the heat was turned off in the rooms in July! Obviously that did not take into account a temperature of around ten degrees outside. The manager seemed surprised that we found it cool but, in any event, went to the storeroom and found a heater for us. We plugged it in and the room warmed up nicely.
     We watched the BBC news for a while on TV and then turned in for the night.

All species 26 July: Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Common Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Black-headed Gull, Mew Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, European Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Little Tern, Arctic Tern, Rock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, European Robin, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, European Goldfinch.

Accommodation: Beadnell Towers Hotel   Rating: Four stars

27 July 2015
Beadnell - Low Newton-by-the-Sea - Seahouses - Budle Bay - Lindisfarne Beach - Holy Island - Beadnell

     We were downstairs for breakfast at 08:00 where a fine selection of cold items was laid out with the option to order hot items from the kitchen also. Miriam stuck to the cold table having orange juice, yogurt, apricots, figs, prunes and grapefruit. I had a dish of figs, prunes and apricots, but I couldn't resist the hot menu and ordered an egg, black pudding, sausage and mushrooms. Good drip coffee was served and we enjoyed our morning fix!
     The weather did not look good for our trip to the Farne Islands. It was cold, rainy and the wind was blowing strongly. At 09:15 we set out for a visit to a hide at Low Newton and just after we settled into the hide it started to rain with a vengeance. The birds visible from the hide were numerous and included a Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago right out in the open, feeding vigorously. 





     Again, this points out the benefit of concealment in a hide because the bird carried on with its business totally unaware of us. In fact it was still feeding when we left. Other species included Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, Common Redshank Tringa totanus, Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica and many others. The rain abated enough for us to have good views of most species, leaving us only to dream of a fine day with improved visibility, spent there.


Common Moorhen

Grey Heron

     We left the hide at 10:40 and made a quick visit back to the hotel to load up on some extra clothing. Richard checked with the operator of the boat tour and it was confirmed that no sailings would be made today. What a disappointment. I had looked forward to this legendary destination with great anticipation, knowing full well the experience that awaited me with close up encounters with alcids, gulls and other species. 
     Miriam was now well prepared for whatever the weather threw at her. She was wearing a tank top, long-sleeved blouse, a fleece hooded top, Gortex jacket and had a rain coat to add over the top of it all as necessary. I forget what I was wearing, but we had certainly not come prepared for the kind of weather we were dealing with. We had packed for summer in July and August. Temperatures of less than ten degrees with strong, cold winds had not figured into our calculations.
     We visited Seahouses from where we would have left on our boat trip and enjoyed a visit to the harbour, despite it being wet, cold and windy. We went into a small restaurant and ordered sandwiches to go. I had ham with pease pudding and Miriam a club sandwich. Each was accompanied by a tiny tossed salad, a little cole slaw and a few crisps. We also picked up two hot coffees.


Seahouses
     We drove over to Budle Bay to sit and eat our lunch in the car. There was not a great deal of activity out in the bay so we moved on shortly after 13:00.
     Our next destination was the Lindisfarne hide where we were joined at one point by a local birder who was a soldier just returned from a three year stint in Cyprus. The wind was blowing in through the open windows, the rain was cold against our faces and it seemed to him a cruel fate having left the sultry climate of the Mediterranean. The birding was quite good there and the highlight for me was a lone Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, the only one we would see on the entire trip.
     We were waiting for the tide to recede so that we could drive across the causeway to Holy Island and we could see the lines of vehicles massing at the entrance. We left to join them at 14:00 with the temperature registering 12.5°, which was the high for the day. We pulled off into a lay-by a couple of times on the way over to the island and viewed a variety of shorebirds and gulls. 



     Having parked the car, under the careful scrutiny of a Western Jackdaw Coloeus monedula, we meandered through the town and visited the ruins of the ancient monastery. It was an interesting visit indeed, with much to occupy both the tourist and naturalist alike. It was rare that as we meandered along, a White Wagtail was not scurrying ahead of us. The rain had let up somewhat so we birded along the shore where there were both good numbers and good variety of species, included several Whimbrel Nemenius phaeopus and a couple of small flocks of European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria. A couple of local birders came along to help us with the identification of some of the species unfamiliar to us and we appreciated their help, especially for shorebirds in intermediate plumage, and enjoyed chatting to them.


Western Jackdaw
Holy Island Street

Monastery 

Whimbrel

Eurasian Oystercatchers

Bar-tailed Godwit
    We were heading back across the causeway by 17:10 bound for Seahouses where we planned to have dinner. The Neptune Traditional Fish and Chip Restaurant seemed like a fine choice and both Miriam and I enjoyed steak and kidney pie, with chips and gravy, and mushy peas. I had a cappuccino and Miriam a mocha coffee. It was a good choice of restaurant and we enjoyed what we ate. I remember that Richard chose haggis sausage and he proclaimed it good also.
    After dinner we left to return to the hotel. We checked out to save us the time doing it in the morning and then relaxed in our room until bedtime. Miriam soaked in the tub for a while while the heater provided the night before pumped some well appreciated heat into the room. It was raining outside, gloomy and foreboding, more like day in November than the end of July.

All species 27 July: Mute Swan, Common Shelduck, Mallard, Common Eider, Common Merganser, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Great Cormorant, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, European Golden Plover, Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Eurasian Curlew, Dunlin, Black-legged Kittiwake, Black-headed Gull, Mew Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, European Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern, Rock Dove, Stock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Sedge Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Eurasian Wren, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Western Yellow White Wagtail Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, Twite, Common Linnet, European Goldfinch.

28 July 2015
Beadnell - Rosslyn Chapel - Glenshee Ski Area - Grantown-on-Spey - Lochindorb

    After an indifferent night's sleep we packed to be ready to leave for Scotland, and went down for breakfast. Miriam had fruit and yogurt, toast and jam and a coffee. I had the prunes, apricots and figs again, followed by sausage, black pudding, mushrooms and tomato, and coffee. It is a good thing we are doing lots of walking!


Common Blackbird

     At 08:45, under misty rain with a decided chill to the air, we left to journey north, arriving at the border with Scotland an hour later. We stopped to take some pictures and then got back in the car to head off again. For Miriam this was her first time entering Scotland and there was a brief sunny interval to welcome her, but it didn't take long for a light rain to start to fall again.



David, Miriam, Richard

     Richard had planned a visit to Rosslyn Chapel for us and this turned out to be an interesting stop. This was the chapel chosen for the end of the movie version of The Da Vinci Code and it was easy to appreciate, given the ancient and atmospheric qualities of the chapel, how suitable a choice it was. Our tour was very enjoyable with a good deal of interpretation from the staff. 


Rosslyn Chapel
     We went back to the car and were on our way just before noon stopping at the Dalmore Restaurant for lunch, another favourite of Richard and Lindsay, on their way north. A light lunch menu features two courses and a drink and there was an interesting selection. Miriam chose tomato soup with a bread roll, Richard and I both opted for monkfish cheeks with a salad. For the dessert part of the two items Richard and Miriam both chose the sticky toffee pudding, which Lindsay declares is the best anywhere, and I had a rhubarb panacotta which I found quite wonderful. Good coffee was available and was enjoyed by all.



     By the time we had finished eating the rain had moved from fine and misty to torrential and wet. Richard went to get the car and pick us up at the door since it made no sense for all of us to get any wetter than need be. Thank you Richard!
     We left at 14:30 and stopped at the Glenshee Ski Area to search for Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus, a species high on my most desired list. We were fortunate in that a single bird was against the wall of the ski centre as soon as we got out of the car, in full view, but it stayed there only briefly. Miriam and I went in one direction to try to relocate it and Richard in the other. We came up empty-handed, but Richard was more fortunate and was able to get some decent photographs. It was brutally cold and we were not dressed for the conditions. The temperature was 7.5° but the wind was blowing a gale and the effect was bone chilling. We were not sorry to return to the warmth of the vehicle.


Scottish Highlands

    The journey onward to the Grant Arms Hotel at Grantown-on-Spey was uneventful and we arrived there around 17:15. We checked into our room and Richard and I went downstairs at 18:00 so that  could meet John Poyner who I had engaged as a guide for a couple of days, and generally get caught up on the wildlife goings-on in the area. 
     At 1830 we went down for dinner and had our first experience of the fabulous menu at this legendary hotel. Miriam and I started with a carrot soup, followed by sea bass for Miriam and roast pork for me, both of which were accompanied by croquette potatoes, broccoli and Savoy cabbage. For dessert Miriam had the Eaton Mess and I had a cheese plate which featured goat cheese, brie and an aged cheddar with a selection of crackers. All was prepared and presented well and the food was absolutely delicious, with prompt, friendly service. I had a glass of Chilean Merlot with my dinner, but I will not repeat the experience. The cost of a glass is almost what I can buy a bottle for across the street at the co-op. So that is what I will do!
     The days are long at this latitude and so at 19:45 we went to Lochindorb to search for Black-throated Loon Gavia arctica, another species high on my wish list. How fortunate we were to have two adults and a fully grown youngster quite close in to the shore. They were diving constantly and the light was poor, but a few photographs were possible anyway, even if not of good quality.


Lochindorb

Black-throated Loon

     By 22:00 we were back at the hotel ready for a good night's sleep.

All species 28 July: Greylag Goose, Mallard, Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse), Black-throated Loon, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Mew Gull, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Kestrel, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Ring Ouzel, Common Blackbird, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Common Chaffinch.

Accommodation: Grant Arms Hotel  Rating: Four and a half stars

    It bears stating that this hotel, a venerable old structure, rambling and spacious, is a very fine place to stay and a veritable home away from home for a naturalist. From the moment one enters the lobby where the activities of the Bird Watching and Wildlife Club are prominently featured, to the corridors lined with posters and charts of every kind of wildlife and botany imaginable, to the well stocked library, to the club room, natural history is at the forefront. Several guided tours are available each day, some free and some carrying a modest charge. Interesting free lectures on a variety of topics are featured each night. I recommend wholeheartedly to any birder visiting this area, that this is the place to stay.

29 July 2015
Grantown-on-Spey - Dorback - Cairngorm Mountain - Avielochan - Dulnain Bridge - Carrbridge - The Findhorn Valley - Lochindorb - Grantown-on-Spey

     We awoke early and went down for breakfast at 07:00. I had vowed to be a good boy and have just cereal and fruit, yogurt, stuff like that, healthy, good for you. But that array of hot food lined up in front of me, steaming, hot and fragrant, overcame all of my good intentions and I went for an egg, sausage, black pudding (the best I have ever tasted), baked beans and mushrooms. Miriam, with more discipline, had what I should have had! Great coffee is served at the Grant Arms Hotel and we always looked forward to it.


Grant Arms Hotel

Grantown-on-Spey

     As would become our normal morning routine before heading out each day I went to a little bakery to pick up fresh sandwiches to take with us for our lunch. We then set off at 08:30 with the temperature a dismal 9.5°, the skies overcast, the air damp.
     Our first location (a sensitive area which Richard prefers we not divulge) proved very productive and delivered what might well be considered the single highlight of the trip. Hawk-eye Miriam spotted a Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus followed by a female Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, probably the most desired bird of our trip. A male would have been preferable, but a female was very acceptable indeed. The male proved an impossibility as you will read later, even with the help of a paid local guide who knows where this species can be found. All kudos are due to Miriam.


Short-eared Owl

     After this heady experience we visited the ski resort at Cairngorm in the hope of finding a Ring Ouzel, a species known to hang out there. No luck! Once again the weather was a deterrent to full enjoyment of the place. I don't know what the temperature was at that elevation, but I suspect it was not more than 5° and the wind was howling. We got chilled to the bone and beat a hasty retreat back to the car. In the meantime, we had searched a couple of rapid streams for White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus without success. This was another species that would prove impossible to locate during our visit to Scotland.


Dipper stream without a dipper!

     Following this windswept encounter we moved to the hide at Avielochan which is owned by the Grant Arms Hotel, requiring a permit from them to visit. The weather had improved quite a bit, but while sitting in the hide eating our lunch the rain started up again. In the meantime my favourite bird at this stop was a very co-operative Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus carrying food and permitting lots of pictures. The loch contained a pair of Horned Grebes Podiceps auritus with a youngster, as well as a whole suite of gulls and a bevy of Greylag Geese Anser anser. 


Willow Warbler
Mixed Colony of Gulls

Common House Martin

     Upon leaving Avielochan we drove over to the Dulnain Bridge, generally a reliable spot for dipper, where despite ideal waters, no dipper could be found. We next went to Carrbridge, in part to use the public facilities found there, and we got some pictures of the old bridge. Alas still no dipper. And it started to rain heavily.


Dulnain Bridge

     Our next foray was to the Findhorn Valley, also known as the Valley of the Raptors. Here we thought we might see Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, but this was another species that eluded us the whole trip. In fact, it was fair to say that birds in general were sparse, and we seldom had any concentrations of note. We birded at this location for the rest of the afternoon with periods of sunshine interspersed with the rain. When the sun came out it enabled us to more effectively appreciate the beauty of this rugged highland area, with dappled greens contrasting against the purple heather. It truly is a magnificent corner of the world.
     On the way back to Grantown-on-Spey we swung by Lochindorb but were unable to relocate the Black-thoated Loons, but we had stellar views of Willow Ptarmigan.


Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse)

Mistle Thrush

     Dinner at the Grant Arms was a fine affair. Miriam started with cauliflower soup and I had a venison salami and chorizo appetizer. Miriam moved on to a lamb cutlet with mint sauce, and I had fabulous roast duck, prepared to perfection. All was accompanied by croquette potatoes, sugar snap peas and red cabbage. For dessert Miriam had a white chocolate iced parfait and I stuck with my cheese plate. After dinner we went to the bar for a coffee.
    At 20:30 Richard and I attended a talk on Antarctic birds presented by Dr. Graham Lenton, and enjoyed it very much. Miriam decided to stay in the room where I joined her a little after 22:00 and we climbed into bed.

All species 29 July: Greylag Goose, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Western Capercaillie, Willow Ptarmigan, Common Pheasant, Little Grebe, Horned Grebe, Western Osprey, Common Buzzard, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, Black-headed Gull, Mew Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, European Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Short-eared Owl, Eurasian Kestrel, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Common Chiffchaff, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, European Robin, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Common Chaffinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin, Common (Lesser) Redpoll.

30 July 2015
Grantown-on-Spey  - Laggan - General Wade's Military Trail - Anagach Woods

      We were up just before 06:00 and downstairs for breakfast at 07:00. Miriam was virtuous once again and I was a model of decadence with a full slate of items from the hot table. Ah, I'm on vacation - that's my excuse!
      After breakfast I made my usual trip to the bakery to get sandwiches for lunch and by 08:15 we were on our way. It was cloudy, but thankfully dry, and the temperature was 8.5°. 
      Our first stop at Laggan was to use the public washrooms there and also to visit a small restaurant and country store called Coffee Bothy, which is owned and operated by a Canadian couple. Their names are Jason and Christy Zielsdorf, originally from Calgary, AB. We had a nice chat and I purchased the first cappuccino of the day there. Jason decorated the top of the foam with a little maple leaf flag, which I thought was a nice touch. In talking with him, I learned that they may be in danger of deportation simply because they have not met the strict requirements to employ the correct number of locals for the required period of time, despite the fact that they have invested in a business and do in fact hire local people. Seems like bureaucratic nonsense at its best.
     In any event, we were sorry that we had already bought sandwiches and wished that we could have put the business Jason's way. I urge anyone reading this report who may be in the vicinity of Laggan to go and patronize the establishment of these fine folks. I wish them well.


     Jason was actually able to provide some useful information to Richard on the state of the roads in the area to which we were headed, and at 12:30 we stopped for lunch. Today was chicken day to be sure. I had bought sandwiches of Mexican chicken and Tikka chicken, and Richard had coronation chicken. We had brought a pack of shortbread cookies from our room and filled our water bottles to drink.


Common Buzzard

Ram

     There were many birds around us as we ate, including scores and perhaps in excess of a hundred Meadow Pipits Anthus patensis. We also saw several Northern Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe and a couple of Spotted Flycatchers kept us entertained. There was a large flock of Greylag Geese feeding in a boggy area and Miriam carefully scanned the group and located a single Pink-footed Goose.
Meadow Pipit

Northern Wheatear

Greylag Geese with single Pink-footed Goose

     By now it had reached a balmy 14°!
     On the way back out of General Wade's Military Trail we passed an area of coniferous forest and saw a bird zooming through the trees. We believe it was probably a Long-eared Owl Asio otus but we didn't see the bird well enough to confirm its i.d.
      We stopped back in Laggan and I visited Coffee Bothy to get another cappuccino, this time sans maple leaf. The café was busy and the homemade soup and sandwich deal looked delicious.
      We were back at the hotel by 15:00 and shortly thereafter Miriam and I took a walk through nearby Anagach Woods. The birding was slow and other than for a Grey Wagtail we didn't see much at all. We then went for a stroll around town and returned to our room around 16:15.
     At 18:00 I went down to meet with John Poyner to discuss our arrangements for the next day. Dinner as usual was taken at 18:30 and we met Richard in the dining room. We all started with thinly sliced duck on a bed of greens with a sweet chili sauce. Miriam followed up with a carmelized beetroot and brie tart, while I had belly pork with black pudding and apple sauce. The vegetables were roasted potatoes, green beans and Savoy cabbage. Miriam passed on dessert and just had a coffee. I had my usual cheese plate.
     Richard was giving a talk entitled Speyside - a place for all seasons so we were ensconced in our seats by 20:30. It was an informative and enjoyable presentation. A fitting way to end the day, it seemed to us.

All species 30 July: Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Red-legged Partridge, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Eurasian Curlew, Mew Gull, Common Wood Pigeon, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Willow Warbler, Common Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, European Robin, Northern Wheatear, White-throated Dipper (Richard only), House Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Common Chaffinch, European Goldfinch, European Siskin, Common Redpoll.

31 July 2015
Grantown-on-Spey - Abernethy Forest - Nethy Bridge - near Near Nethy
Bridge - Broomhill Bridge - Craigmore Wood - Old Spey Bridge  - Grantown-on-Spey

    Breakfast at 07:00 followed pretty much the standard format, following which I went to the bakery to pick up our sandwiches for lunch. We met John Poyner at 08:00 and Richard decided to accompany us on our day with John.
    The weather was cool and cloudy, but at least it was not raining. We drove right away to the Abernethy Forest, pretty much Ground Zero for Capercaillie, but despite about two and a half hours of dedicated searching by four sets of eyes, we were unable to locate a bird. So we headed for Nethy Bridge to search for a dipper and to use the facilities there. The washroom break was successful, the dipper quest not so much.


Capercaillie habitat


    We drove to an area near Nethy Bridge and scanned the sky for White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, finally zeroing in on a bird high in the sky and quite distant. Initially it was hard for me to tell exactly what I was looking at until the bird banked against a dark cloud and its white tail was evident. A lifer to be sure, but one might have wished for a better view of a magnificent raptor.
     At 11:00 we stopped for a coffee. John had brought instant coffee, hot water and milk, and with a bit of sugar it really wasn't that bad. A chocolate chip cookie helped it go down.
     We then drove to a forested area and walked for quite a way, finally seeing European Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus, but the Capercaillie remained the phantom of the forest. We did observe several crossbills which John declared to be Red Crossbills Loxia curvirostra and not the endemic Scottish Crossbill Loxia scotica, about which there is still considerable controversy concerning the intergrade in bill sizes; indeed some authorities question whether Scottish Crossbill is a valid species.
     Light rain began just as we got back to the car at about 13:00 and we drove to Broomhill Bridge where we had lunch of roast beef sandwiches with salad. A subsequent visit to Craigmore Wood and a renewed search for the Capercaillie produced little and we returned to the hotel around 17:00. Just before going to the hotel we checked at the Old Spey Bridge and were able to locate Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea.


Grey Wagtail

Common Sandpiper 
     We made tea in the room and relaxed until dinner, which was as usual, quite splendid. For starters Miriam had garlic, mushroom bruschetta and I had a combination of salmon mousse and smoked salmon. Miriam followed with a pan fried chicken breast, I with sea bass. The vegetables accompanying the meal were potatoes, carrots and broccoli. A dish of ice cream was enough for Miriam for dessert but I had a delicious mango parfait.
     Richard and I took a quick coffee in the bar while Miriam returned to the room where she stayed for the night! Richard and I set off to an area where he had seen Black Grouse Lyrurus tetrix in the past and we wasted no time in finding them as soon as we arrived. For me this was a very desirable bird and I was extremely happy to be able to see them well. Kudos to Richard!
     Miriam was watching a movie on television when I returned and we watched it together for a while, but at 23:00 we turned it off and went to sleep.

All species 31 July: Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Black Grouse, Common Pheasant, Grey Heron, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, White-tailed Eagle, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Common Wood Pigeon, Common Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Northern Raven, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Crested Tit, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Eurasian Wren, Eurasian Treecreeper, Common Blackbird, Spotted Flycatcher, European Robin, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Grey Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, Red Crossbill, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin.

1 August 2015
Grantown-on-Spey - Dulsie Bridge - Drynachan - Cawdor - Findhorn - Burghead - Hopeman - Lossiemouth East Beach - Lochindorb - Grantown-on-Spey

     Our first glance out the window revealed sunny skies to start the day. We went down for breakfast where Miriam had her usual fare of cereal, fruit and yogurt. I had a bowl of cereal too and then I ordered kipper from the kitchen. It was delicious, but dealing with those bones is a challenge! 
     As usual I went to pick up sandwiches from the bakery for lunch and we set off for Dulsie Bridge at 08:00 when it was still sunny and 9.5°. Try as we might at Dulsie Bridge, in perfectly suitable habitat, we could not find a dipper.


Under Dulsie Bridge

The Rapids at Dulsie Bridge
     Somewhere near Cawdor we observed several Red-legged Partridges Alectoris rufa scurrying along the road, and Mistle Thrushes were plentiful in the area also.


Red-legged Partridge

House Martin Nests

Mistle Thrush

     We arrived at Findhorn on the Moray Firth just before noon and had our ham and cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread in the car at a car park by the bay. I had also bought a tea biscuit at the bakery which we all shared and all found delicious. We walked along the beach, which was quite pleasant, albeit cold and windy, and becoming cloudy. We did stop for coffee at a beachfront restaurant and then returned to the car around 13:00.
     We had seen a couple of Hooded Crows Corvus cornix before arriving at Findhorn, but after we parked there were several others hanging around the parking lot and the perimeter of the beach, including one adult feeding an aggressive, begging youngster. Under the taxonomy of the IOC World Bird List, which is what I follow, Hooded Crow is recognized as a unique species, while other systematists consider it conspecific with Carrion Crow Corvus corone. It certainly is morphologically quite distinct and for me was a lifer.


Hooded Crow

     At Burghead Miriam stayed in the car while Richard and I ventured out to see what was on the water. In the harbour we found a Eurasian Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus and a lone, out of place Pink-footed Goose.
     There was not much else right there and we drove to Hopeman to a local gallery to browse. It was raining steadily by now, so it was a pleasant way to shelter until it abated somewhat. 


Pink-footed Goose
      When the rain eased off we were delighted when a small flock of Ruddy Turnstones Arenaria interpres flew onto the breakwater. This is a reliable spot for dolphins and a father and son team were there to see them. When I asked them if they would like to use my scope to see the turnstones they took a very quick look and advised me that they were there to see the dolphins that were due in five minutes! It seems that dolphins move on a tight schedule in these parts, but I think they must be invisible dolphins, for we never did see them! 


Ruddy Turnstone



     We moved on to Lossiemouth, "The Jewel of Moray",  the location of a huge RAF base, but found little in the way of birds other than for a large aggregation of mixed gulls and many Eurasian Oystercatchers, a familiar but decidedly enigmatic bird.
Eurasian Oystercatcher

     The weather was starting to improve when we departed from Lossiemouth at 15:50. We checked Lochindorb on the way back to the hotel, but it was hard to find a bird other than a couple of ospreys patrolling the water.
     When we arrived at the Grant Arms I went over to the co-op store to buy a bottle of South African Shiraz, and Miriam and I each enjoyed a glass before dinner. Miriam's choice was tomato soup followed by risotto with asparagus, broad beans and tomatoes, which she found quite delicious. I had a chicken appetizer and a wonderful highland lamb shank with mint sauce. Miriam passed on dessert and I had what was rapidly becoming my usual cheese plate.
     After a coffee in the bar I returned to the room and Miriam and I relaxed with another glass of wine before turning in for the night around 21:30.

All species 1 August: Pink-footed Goose, Mallard, Willow Ptarmigan, Red-legged Partridge, Great Cormorant, Western Osprey, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Mew Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, European Herring Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern, Rock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Kestrel, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Eurasian Wren, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Eurasian Rock Pipit, Common Chaffinch, Common Linnet, Red Crossbill, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin.

 2 August 2015
Grantown-on-Spey - Abernethy Forest - Loch Morlich - Cairngorm Mountain - Boat of Garten - Findhorn Valley - Grant Arms - Badger Hide near Boat of Garten - Grantown-on-Spey 

     We were up at 06:00 and down for breakfast at 07:00. Miriam had a croissant, oranges and grapefruit, yogurt and coffee; I couldn't resist the lure of sausage, black pudding, baked beans and mushrooms.
     John Poyner met us in the lobby for the second of the two days we had booked with him. Our first part of the morning was spent in yet another fruitless search through the Abernethy Forest looking for Capercaillie (Miriam's discovery of a female looms ever more significant). We moved on to Loch Morlich, a gorgeous place, and were able to locate two Red-throated Loons Gavia stellata in breeding plumage. This was quite a delight for us since we normally only get to see them in their drab winter garb. We had great looks through the scope but the birds were unfortunately on the far side of the loch, way out of photographic range.


Loch Morlich
    Following this visit we moved over to Cairngorm Mountain where we took the funicular railway up to the summit to try for our target bird there, Rock Ptarmigan Lagopus muta. The conditions at that high elevation were not the best, strong winds and bitterly cold temperature. John finally had to go inside and warm his hands before he could scan any more. Miriam had her hoodie up and I pulled my toque down over my ears. Our quest for the ptarmigan was as barren of success as our mission to find the Capercaillie. In fact, I don't recall seeing a bird at all on the mountain, although there may have been a few Meadow Pipits. At the base we searched for Ring Ouzel which is known to occur there, but our score was zero once again.


View from Cairngorm Mountain

View from Cairngorm Mountain
John and Miriam scanning
     We drove to Boat of Garten to pick up a sandwich for lunch. Miriam tried Richard's favourite coronation chicken while I had corned beef and onion. We stopped at a small lake close by to sit and eat. We had filled our water bottles, as we did most days in fact, so did not need to buy anything to drink.
     Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, a signature bird of the Scottish highlands had so far eluded us, and we decided to try to find it in the Findhorn Valley. Our string of failures continued, and the best bird of the afternoon was a Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus. A peregrine is a stunning bird at any time and never becomes ordinary in any sense of the word, but having spent the summer monitoring the successful peregrine breeding in Waterloo it was not what I especially wanted to see.
     We returned to the hotel at 17:00 and I paid John his fee. 
     We had been told that we would need to sit at a different table for the rest of our stay, due to several large coach loads of transient tourists arriving, and that we would be asked to select our dinner ahead of time. A menu was waiting for us at the front desk and we duly made our choices. Miriam opted for cauliflower soup and brie tart; I had a salmon mousse tart as a starter, and pork with beer battered onion rings. The vegetables were roasted potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower. Miriam, who was feeling a little out of sorts, went back to the room while I had my normal cheese plate for dessert.
     At 20:00 Richard and I left to return to Boat of Garten to meet Allan Bantick OBE to visit his hide at a badger sett. Allan picked us up at the pub in town and drove us to see the badgers. We climbed over a five barred gate and picked our way through the cow patties in the field until we arrived at the hide. All the while Allan entertained us with fascinating information about badger ecology and other anecdotes from a rich life spent with nature. I cannot imagine better company than Allan.
     The badgers started to emerge at around 21:30 when the light still enabled really good views and even some photography. It was fascinating to see these shy, retiring creatures that spend the bulk of their lives underground. I had never seen a badger before and I saw from four to six going about their business. I say four to six, since it is hard to know how many different individuals were present, their burrows being interconnected, so that badgers coming out of a tunnel at the back of the hide may have been the same ones that had been present at the front moments earlier. At one point I had three in view at the same time.




     I am a lifelong dedicated birder and birds are "it" for me, but this evening with the badgers ranks as high as any experience in nature I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. Allan's superb company contributed in no small measure to this sentiment.
     We left the hide in the dark and still needed to pick our way through the cow patties, but with the aid of flashlights provided by Allan we succeeded and rode home with clean shoes!
     Miriam was in bed but not asleep when I arrived back at the room and I was happy to snuggle into bed beside her.

All species 2 August: Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Common Pheasant, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Black-headed Gull, Mew Gull, Common Wood Pigeon, Peregrine Falcon, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Northern Raven, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Dunnock, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Common Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, Common (Lesser) Redpoll.

3 August 2015
Grantown-on-Spey - Dulnain Bridge - Carrbridge - Avielochan - Feshie Bridge - Uath Lochan - Glenfeshie Road - Tromie Bridge - Feshie Bridge - Aviolochan - Grantown-on-Spey

     We did not go down for breakfast until 08:00 and Miriam had cereal and yogurt. I also had a bowl of cereal, followed by black pudding and sausage.
As always the coffee was welcomed and delicious.
     It was 09:00 before we were on the road to Dulnain Bridge and the temperature was 16.5° and it was sunny. Yippee! Our first two stops were to continue our search for dipper in suitable habitat; in fact in areas where Richard had regularly seen them in the past, but we struck out at each location. We were starting to think that it was a vanished species!
     Our next stop was at the hide at Avielochan, a very pleasant spot, and a location that I had enjoyed very much on our previous visit. We scanned the familiar species and were delighted to add Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope, new since our last time there.



     On the way to Feshie Bridge we passed a field with a large flock of corvids feeding there and I was finally able to get a decent shot of a Rook Corvus frugilegus. Previously whenever we had stopped to try for a picture, the birds all lifted off before I had a chance to train my camera on them.


Rook
        We arrived at Feshie Bridge and Richard actually spotted a dipper but before he could draw our attention to it, it had flown upstream and out of sight. We then noticed a group of people riding tubes through the rapids so we knew there was little chance of the dipper returning.



      It was getting close to lunch time so we went to to Uath Lochan to eat there. Miriam had a Mexican chicken sandwich and I had ham and coleslaw. We had our water bottles with us for a drink. After lunch we took a walk around the loch and ventured into some areas of peat bog where Bog Cotton Eriophorum angustifolium  was prolific, to say nothing of a variety of insects, dragonflies and butterflies. We had seen Bog Cotton at other locations, but here it seemed especially beautiful and appropriate to its place.


Bog Cotton
     We followed a route along pleasing country roads back to Feshie Bridge where we thought it would be worthwhile to check whether the tubers had gone and the dipper had returned. They hadn't and it hadn't either!
     Our final stop before returning to the hotel was back to the hide at Avielochan for one final visit. It really is a beautiful spot and we enjoyed seeing its inhabitants for one last time.


Horned Grebe

Greylag Goose

      We were back at the Grant Arms by 16:30 and the temperature was 23° and there was bright sunshine. I went over to the co-op store to pick up a bottle of wine and the fellow at the checkout had the quote of the day. He said, "You should be buying ice cream. This is ice cream weather!" But a glass of South African Shiraz with Miriam seemed much more appealing to me.
     For dinner Miriam had cream of mushroom soup and I had a selection of Italian meats with a little greenery on the side. We both followed up with steak and kidney pie with a filo pastry, served with boiled potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and cabbage. We skipped dessert and Miriam went back up to the room. Richard and I went to the bar to have coffee with another couple we had met a couple of nights earlier and with whom we had become friends.
     Following that, I rejoined Miriam and we enjoyed another glass of wine together before turning in for the night.   

All species 3 August: Greylag Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Common Pheasant, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Western Osprey, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Mew Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, European Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, European Robin, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Common Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, Common Redpoll.

4 August 2015
Grantown-on-Spey - Braemar - Glenshee Ski Resort - Berwick-upon-Tweed

    We were up before 06:00 and were soon showered and packed for moving on. At 07:00 we went down for breakfast where Miriam had a croissant, fruit and cereal. As for me, it had occurred to me that I had been in Scotland for a week and had not tried haggis, so I inquired the previous night as to whether it might be possible to have some for breakfast. With the answer in the affirmative, I had a sausage and a slice of black pudding while I waited for my haggis to be delivered. Soon it was on the table and I attacked it with vigour. For those waiting to hear the verdict, I pronounce it delicious! I followed up with a small plate of mushrooms and steaming hot, delicious coffee.
     After breakfast I settled our bill, put some money in the tip barrel and returned to the room to gather our luggage together and take it downstairs. By shortly after 08:00 we were on our way.
     We made stops at a couple of fast moving streams to search for the still elusive dipper, but alas it remained elusive.
     At around 11:00 we stopped in Braemar at a small deli called Taste and had coffee and tea. Richard had some kind of decadent chocolate pastry and I had a kind of scone which was fresh and tasty.
     Today we had booked a boat for a trip out to Bass Rock but when Richard called to confirm, he was advised that due to inclement weather the sailing had been cancelled. This was a grave disappointment since this was the second opportunity where I had been thwarted in my desire to visit one of the legendary seabird colonies off the northeast coast of Britain. For Richard too this would have been his first visit to Bass Rock.
     We moved on under rainy conditions and at the Glenshee Ski Resort Richard stopped so that I could get out of the car and hunt for a Ring Ouzel, in the hope of getting a photograph. It was raining, windy, cold and miserable and after about twenty-five minutes of searching without success I gave up.
     For lunch we stopped at the Quarry Mill MacMillan Coffee Shop, where Miriam tried the potato and bacon soup with bread, and I had a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread. We all shared a pot of tea.
     Following lunch Miriam returned to the car while Richard and I set off along a river to hunt for, dare I say, dipper? You get no prize for guessing that we were unsuccessful in our quest.
     At 14:45 we left to carry on with our journey and re-entered England at 16:30. It was not long afterwards that we were entering the walled city of Berwick-upon-Tweed and our B & B, Tweed View House. We were shown to a charming, well-appointed room and knew we would be content staying at this location. The owner was helpful and friendly and did everything possible to make us feel at home.


Tweed View House
     Miriam decided that she would forego dinner but Richard and I walked over to a fish and chip restaurant that had been recommended. It was a good choice. The halibut had been landed the same day and everything was well prepared and tasty. We returned briefly to the B & B, where Miriam was having tea and cookies, before going to the beach to do a little birding.


The Beach

The Beach

     The rain held off and the birding was quite decent. It was very agreeable to see Common Eiders Somateria mollissima riding the inshore waves and Northern Gannets Morus bassanus were fishing not too far out. At one point a small flock of Common Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula landed just in front of us.


Common Ringed Plovers

Rock with Fossils
     Several of the rocks had fossils embedded into them and Richard found a stone containing fossils that he took home to add to his collection.
     I was back in the room by 21:00. Miriam was already in bed and I was happy to snuggle in beside her, knowing that I would have a good night's sleep in a very comfortable bed.

All species in Scotland 4 August: Willow Ptarmigan, Common Pheasant, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Gull sp., Rock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Kestrel, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Common House Martin, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Common Chaffinch,

All species in England 4 August: Mute Swan, Mallard, Common Eider, Northern Gannet, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Ringed Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Mew Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, European Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Rock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Carrion Crow, Common House Martin, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, White wagtail, Eurasian Rock Pipit, European Goldfinch.

Accommodation: Tweed View House Bed and Breakfast  Rating: Five stars

5 August 2015
Berwick-upon-Tweed - Alston - Bowlees Visitor Centre near Middleton -Ashby de la Zouch

     We were awake fairly early after a very good night's sleep.
     Breakfast was served in our room based on selections made the evening before. We started with a dish of grapefruit segments and a glass of orange juice for Miriam, while I had a bowl of prunes. Shortly afterwards we were provided with a bodem of excellent coffee. Then came the main event! Miriam had scrambled eggs, bacon and toast, my selection was a fried egg, bacon, sausage and mushrooms. There was a wide range of sauces and condiments available, one of which was a homemade date and apple chutney, which I tried with my sausage, and it was truly excellent. All in all, it was a very fine way to start the day, and we were well fortified when we left at 09:15.
     While we were still corresponding with Richard about this trip, Miriam had indicated that she would very much enjoy visiting Hadrian's Wall. Richard, who knows this part of the country very well, kindly took a less than direct route so that Miriam (and I for that matter) could fulfill this desire, and he took us to the best preserved section of the wall, where we had a splendid visit.


Hadrian's Wall

Close up detail of Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall

Defensive ditch at Hadrian's Wall

      Miriam commented that she may never get to walk on the Great Wall of China and Hadrian's Wall might have to do for the bucket list!


Success! A stroll along Hadrian's Wall.


     We always found it a pleasant aspect of the English countryside that there were so many stiles and public footpaths so that one could wander at will through enchanting sections of bucolic landscapes that really give credence to the fact that England is indeed "a green and pleasant land." This stile, permitting one to cross over a dry stone wall seemed particularly charming to us.



The Stile


Miriam on the Stile

     Some of these dry stone walls have stood for centuries and are really quite remarkable. Here is a picture showing the detail of how the structure fits together so perfectly.


     We left Hadrian's Wall feeling very satisfied indeed that we had been provided with the opportunity to visit this ancient historic monument. Thank you Richard!   
     At 13:00 we stopped to take lunch at the Cumbrian Pantry in Alston. Miriam had a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich and I opted for a corned beef sandwich with a side salad. Tea was Miriams drink of choice while I had a cappuccino.
     We dove on through light rain and stopped initially for a bathroom break only at the Bowlees Visitor Centre near Middleton. The river looked inviting and we decided to go for a short walk, which ultimately became quite a long walk and hallelujah, break out the Champagne, we saw a dipper! I had left my camera in the car since I had thought we would be there only to use the facilities, and Miriam says that is what clinched the dipper sighting!
     On the way back we stopped at the visitor centre again to each get one of their English Lakes ice creams made with organic local milk. Indeed it was delicious.
     We now headed off to Ashby de la Zouch in earnest, with no further stops along the way. We arrived home around 18:40 and Lindsay made us all a cup of tea and we sat in the conservatory watching the garden birds and catching up. A fairly intense rain shower passed through and then Lindsay made dinner for everyone - a pleasantly light meal of fish cake, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes and salad, quite fitting after the nightly excesses of the Grant Arms. 
     As befitted the tradition we had established upon arrival in Ashby we indulged ourselves with Le Colonel in the living room before getting an early night. We were hunkered down in bed by shortly after 21:30 and fell asleep without delay.

All species 5 August: Mute Swan, Mallard, Red-legged Partridge, Common Pheasant, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Black-headed Gull, European Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Kestrel, Eurasian Magpie, Rook, Carrion Crow, Eurasian Blue Tit, Common House Martin, Long-tailed Tit, Willow Warbler, Eurasian Wren, Common Blackbird, White-throated Dipper, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, Common Linnet, European Goldfinch, Common Redpoll.

6 August 2015
Chez Pegler - Rothley - Queniborough - Langham - Rutland Water Egleton Reserve - Chez Pegler

    Miriam decided to spend the day with Lindsay and I went off birding with Richard. I know from both Miriam and Lindsay that they had a fine time together, as of course I did with Richard. However, since I had been relying on Miriam to take notes during the day and I neglected to do so, the details may be a little sketchy in this day's reportage.
     Basically we covered Richard's usual Little Owl route on the way to and from Rutland Water, seeing a total of four Little Owls. The first sighting involved a juvenile at Site No. 44 which gave Richard a good deal of satisfaction since it has generally been a poor year for the owls.
     I remember clearly the presence of Red Kites along the route and how captivated I was by their incredible aerial skill. There were also many Common Pheasants Phasianus colchicus, with scores of young birds seemingly playing a dangerous game of chicken along the edges of the roads. This species is truly common and it boggles the mind to think that all are derived from birds deliberately released to be hunted, and represent the remnant stock that escaped the gunners' aim.
     When we arrived at Little Owl Site No. 33 where we had seen a resident owl on our last visit less than two weeks earlier, Richard was concerned to see a Stock Dove sitting at the entrance of the hole. This was hardly a good augury for the continued occupation by Little Owls.
     We covered an area of Rutland Water that we had not previously visited and made stops at numerous hides. Along the way we were joined for part of the time by Titus John White, Richard's close friend and fellow Little Owl enthusiast. Titus John White - now that's quite a monicker! Sounds like a desparado or a western gunslinger, but the name has a wealth of meaning for those in the know.
     Here are a few pictures of species seen at Rutland Water.


Egyptian Goose

Northern Lapwing

Eurasian Curlew

Eurasian Curlew


     I actually took more pictures of dragonflies and butterflies than birds, but I will need some help with i.d. before posting them to my blog.

     On the way home we located two Little Owls at Site No. 41, and at Site No. 46 there was a single bird. Quite worrisome, however, was the presence of two Eurasian Sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus higher up in the same tree.
Little Owl
     We arrived home just before 20:00 and Lindsay made dinner for everyone. We had pork chops, green beans and an Indian potato salad which was a first for me, and very tasty.  Following that she produced a wonderful cheese tray with four kinds of cheese a brie, a German blue brie, a white cheddar and a Stilton blue, with a variety of crackers. All of the cheeses were quite exceptional, and since I had picked up a bottle of Chilean Merlot the two complemented each other perfectly. Bravo Lindsay!
     Miriam went outside with Richard hunting in the garden for a hedgehog, but without success. I went to bed around 22:00 and Miriam came up about fifteen minutes later. I was already asleep!

All species 6 August: Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck, Common Pheasant, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Great Cormorant, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew, Green Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Rock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Little Owl, European Green Woodpecker, Eurasian Kestrel, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Common House Martin, Long-tailed Tit, Eurasian Wren, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, European Robin, House Sparrow, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, Common Linnet, European Goldfinch.

7 August 2015
Chez Pegler - Calke Park - Hicks Lodge - Titus John White's house - Chez Pegler

     We all had a bit of a lazy start this morning and it was 10:00 before we headed out for Calke Park. Richard parked on a country road from where we could walk into the park and not need to use the main parking area where a fee was charged.
     This was a fortuitous choice as it turned out because one of the first birds we saw was a Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, the only one of our entire trip. The following shot is distant, but it does serve to record the presence of this species.


Common Redstart
     Following this sighting Miriam once again used her sharp eyes and concentrated searching to locate a Little Owl. I know that Richard does not wish to have the location of his Little Owl sites divulged but I think this description is sufficiently vague that it betows no advantage on anyone who might contemplate searching for it.

     The main reason we went to Calke Park was to sit in the hide where an amazing variety of species could be observed at close range with never a break in the action. The following pictures represent just some of the species noted there.

Juvenile European Robin

Adult European Robin
European Greenfinch

European Goldfinch
Juvenile Great Tit


     There are huge numbers of sheep at Calke Park, totally accustomed to humans and I thought this scene of a group of them resting in the shade of a hollow tree seemed exquisitely pastoral.








     We returned home for lunch and Lindsay had prepared bread rolls with ham and cheese, salad greens and tomatoes. This was followed by a slice of melon and an almond tart called a frangipan (Miriam and I split one). It was all very delicious.

    Miriam decided that she would spend the afternoon at home with Lindsay while Richard and I went to Hicks Lodge to do some birding. Once again, not having the benefit of Miriam to take notes, my memory is a little vague of exactly what transpired, but this photograph of a female Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula was taken there.








     We returned home early because Richard had a meeting to go to that night, and Lindsay made a delicious spaghetti bolognese for dinner.

     Titus John White had informed Richard that I would be welcome to visit his house, where he has Barn Owls Tyto alba in residence, and take my chances on seeing one emerge for its night time activity. Richard was back from his meeting in good time so we departed for John's house. I was shown the palatial quarters of the owls and provided with a chair and a convenient viewpoint, where I could begin my vigil to try to see an owl. As Titus pointed out, a bird might emerge at 21:00, but it could just as easily be midnight, there is no way to know in advance. However, it was pretty much agreed that if an owl had not appeared by 22:30 it would be too dark to see in any event.

     I must be living right, for around 21:30 a female Barn Owl came out to the lip of its house and performed a whole stretching routine before taking off in silent flight to begin a night of hunting for rodents. I had a front row seat and did not miss a single part of the owl's appearance. What a magnificent bird. To say that I was elated would be the understatement of the century!

     We were back home by 22:00 and found Miriam and Lindsay sipping on gin and tonic. Being the gentlemen that we are, Richard and I felt a deep obligation to join them - and so we did.

     Miriam and Richard checked the garden, unsuccessfully, for a hedgehog, and we were in bed before 23:00.



All species 7 August: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Common Pheasant, Common Buzzard, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Black-headed Gull, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Western Barn Owl, Little Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Common House Martin, Long-tailed Tit, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Eurasian Nuthatch, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, European Robin, Common Redstart, House Sparrow, Dunnock, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch.

8 August 2015

Chez Pegler - Titus John White's House - Little Owl Site No. 17 - The Coopers Arms - Chez Pegler

     Following breakfast, with bright sunshine and the temperature registering 18.5°, we left at 09:30 to go over to Titus' house. Upon learning that we had not yet seen Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus or Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius Titus invited Miriam and I to go and sit in his garden to watch his feeders where both species were regular patrons. When we got ourselves established there he even made a cup of tea and brought it out to us.

     We saw but one tree sparrow and the jays decided to give it a miss, but we had a very enjoyable time there nevertheless, chatting to Titus and his wife Veg who is coping with serious health issues.
    Titus was able to show Miriam the impressive Barn Owl facilities they have erected, fancifully called the bungalow and the house, I believe.





     When we left to return home at 12:00 noon we had the makings of a really fine day. It was sunny with a slight breeze and the mercury had climbed to 23.5°. 

      Lindsay had prepared a great lunch with bread, ham, smoked salmon, and a lettuce and tomato salad. We had Battenburg cake with our tea. Everything was truly delicious.
     Miriam decided to remain home with Lindsay for the afternoon and Richard and I went to check on his Little Owl Site No. 17. Alas, no owl could be found. Two owls were found at other sites, however.
     We then motored around the countryside a little, birding here and there. I found the village of Upton especially charming.










     We had a reservation for 18:00 at the Coopers Arms in historic Weston Hall for dinner, so we needed to be home fairly early to get ready and drive to Weston-on-Trent. 



Coopers Arms


     It was a happy foursome that went in for dinner.



Richard, Lindsay, Miriam, David
     Dinner was quite superb. Miriam started with an asparagus and Stilton tartlet and I had paté. We should have recorded tonight what Lindsay and Richard had but unfortunately we didn't. Three of us chose the carvery for our main course,   which featured roast beef or roast pork with Yorkshire pudding, gravy, roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, turnip, carrots, peas, leeks etc. Everything was first class and was helped down by a bottle of Chilean Merlot. Instead of going to the carvery Richard had a second appetizer, a fish plate, which had a substantial amount of food on it, and that complemented the earlier seafood starter he had chosen. We skipped on dessert, but Miriam had tea and I had a cappuccino. 
    We were home by 21:00 and chatted for a while - and then had Le Colonel! 
    I went to bed around 22:15 but Miriam put on a jacket and went out into the garden with a flashlight to have one last try to see a hedgehog. At around 23:15 when Richard and Lindsay decided to call it a night, she almost came in too, but decided to stick it out a while longer. It was a great decision for a short time later a hedgehog came trundling by and she was able to watch it for several minutes as it went about its business, completely indifferent to her presence.
    She came to bed a happy woman but I was fast asleep so she had to wait  until the morning to tell me about it.

All species 8 August: Grey Heron, Common Buzzard, Black-headed Gull, Rock Dove, Stock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Little Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, European Green Woodpecker, Eurasian Magpie, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Common House Martin, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, European Robin, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Common Chaffinch, European Goldfinch.

9 August 2015
Chez Pegler - Swithland Reservoir - Various Little Owl Sites - Rutland Water Nature Reserve - Chez Pegler

     Miriam had decided to go to an international quilt show near Birmingham with Lindsay and daughter, Melanie, and they left before Richard and I did. Here they are just before getting into their car to head out.



Melanie, Lindsay, Miriam
      Richard and I made our way to Swithland Reservoir where we had been led to understand that there was a good chance of seeing Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo. When we arrived there we were advised by local birders already present that while hobby had been seen at that location there were no recent records and we were unlikely to have any success. The water was filled with a variety of species and there was quite a large population of Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus. While containing a nice assortment of birds there was nothing unusual at the reservoir, although it was entertaining to watch numerous Common Terns Sterna hirundo diving for fish.
     This old pump house is a pretty impressive structure.




     Rutland Water had also been host to Eurasian Hobby and given the abundant dragonflies there, the hobby's principal food, we made off in that direction stopping at various Little Owl sites, of course.



     Richard was not at all happy at Site No. 33 to observe that the Stock Dove we had seen in residence there on our previous visit was still present. On this occasion there was additional evidence that the dove has usurped the owl, for when we first looked there was no sign of either owl or dove, but then the dove emerged from deep in the hole to sit at the edge of the cavity.
     We had a great look at this Common Buzzard en route to Rutland Water.



     We had no success in finding a hobby at Rutland Water, and while in one of the hides I was told by one of the staff that he thought we had at best a 5% chance of seeing one. Dragonflies were abundant and I took many pictures but as mentioned earlier I will need some time to complete identification before posting them.
     I watched several young Common Moorhen parading up and down in front of these Greylag Geese; both species seemed unperturbed but the moorhen parents were nowhere in sight.



     We planned to be home somewhat earlier than normal so we left Rutland water in good time to have a leisurely drive home but still make it in good time. In fact we were home by 17:30, about a half hour after the ladies had arrived back from their quilt show.
     Richard made a fine sweet and sour pork with noodles for dinner, following which Miriam and I packed ready to leave the next morning. We came back downstairs to enjoy our final Le Colonel together and we were in bed by 21:30 to get ready for our long journey home the following day.

All species 9 August: Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Common Pheasant, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Great Cormorant, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Northern Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Common Tern, Common Woodpigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Little Owl, Eurasian Kestrel, Eurasian Magpie, Rook, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Common House Martin, Long-tailed Tit, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, European Robin, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, European Goldfinch.

10 August 2015
Chez Pegler - Manchester - Reykjavik - Toronto - Waterloo

     Lindsay made breakfast for us on this our final day and we sadly said goodbye to her at 08:00.
     The traffic moved well all the way to the airport and we arrived at 09:45. We bid an emotional farewell to Richard and quickly entered the departures area.
     We were scheduled to fly KLM to Amsterdam and then on to Toronto so we presented ourselves at the KLM check-in counter, only to be told that our flight had been cancelled and that we had been rebooked with Icelandair through Reykjavik. Actually the new schedule meant that we would be arriving in Toronto about an an hour earlier than had previously been the case, and when we went to check in for our flight we were delighted to learn that we had been upgraded to Comfort Economy. This meant that we had spacious seats with more leg room, and only two abreast. Furthermore food and drink was provided free of charge. In addition we were able to visit one of the airport lounges before take off where coffee, tea, soft drinks and food were available. I had a bowl of minestrone soup and Miriam had a coffee. A little later sandwiches were brought out so we each had a sandwich and Miriam also had an orange and I had a banana. This was all very pleasant!
     We were in our seats on the plane by 13:00 with a bottle of cold Icelandic water waiting for us.
         Our flight to Reykjavik took about two hours and fifteen minutes and we were taken a short distance to the terminal by shuttle.



Arrival in Reykjavik

      During our descent and looking out from the terminal we were able to get enough of a sense of the country to know that Iceland would be an interesting country to visit sometime.
      At 17:30 we went to our gate and then directly onto a bus which took us out to our plane. Once again we had upgraded status and were very comfortable in our spacious seats. For dinner we ordered from the items for sale menu, but our choices were provided at no charge. Miriam had a ham and cheese baguette while I had red curry chicken with green beans. The food was mediocre in the extreme, but a white wine for Miriam and a red for me helped it seem a little more palatable. For desert we tried an Icelandic yogurt called Smyr and really enjoyed it.
    Our flight duration was five hours and forty five minutes and we landed in Toronto at 19:05 local time.
     Karen and John were there to meet us and we had an uneventful drive to Waterloo, despite a couple of slowdowns. As always, it was good to be home!
     

General Comments
    
     This was a fine trip, although at times one might have wished for better weather. Even that would have been less of a downer had we brought clothing a little more appropriate to the conditions. We travelled through some beautiful areas in both England and Scotland and revelled in some of its nature, as well as seeing ancient castles and monasteries, and enjoying traditional food such as fish and chips. It was a great opportunity to visit the UK again.

Richard and Lindsay Pegler

     Whatever superlatives I might heap upon these two it will not be enough. I had met Richard through blogging and we had developed an on-line friendship and exchanged communication now and then about owls, and commented on each other's posts. From this led an invitation to visit each other, and we took up the challenge first. It is a bit of a leap of faith to stay in the home of someone you have never met, and not just for a night but for days at a time, but I never had the slightest concern about doing it. It was obvious from the getgo that Richard was a straight-up guy without guile or pretense of any kind.
     Miriam was mildly concerned that Richard and I had just hatched this whole adventure and she was demurring a little about whether Lindsay was equally on board. I think she felt that Richard and I, avid birders both, were barreling ahead with our plans, and perhaps we might be foisted on Lindsay without wholehearted acquiescence. Nothing could have been further from the truth. From the very moment that we met Lindsay we knew that we had landed on a welcome mat ten metres wide!
     Richard drove every single kilometre of the distances we covered without a hint of protest. I am sure that he was tired at times, but nothing seemed to stand in the way of him making sure that we had a good time, showing us what we wanted to see and getting to the birds. His intimate knowledge of every area we covered enabled us to see most of the species we had targeted - and more. It was, in fact, like having our own tenacious, knowledgeable guide.
     I cannot wait for Richard and Lindsay to visit us here so that Miriam and I can reciprocate their kindness, although I doubt that we can do as well. Thanks again guys; we are forever in your debt.

Our Guide

     I think that John Poyner is a gregarious, personable fellow and I liked him. He was, however, the second most expensive guide that we have ever hired, and based on the results we achieved, the least successful. Of the list of our target birds supplied to him only two were seen. The White-tailed Eagle was a mere speck in the sky and we had a brief view of one Crested Tit. I had wanted to go to the west coast to see the eagles but John assured me that I could see the species locally. This sounded fine to me but I certainly had expected better than a single bird which, had it not banked against a dark cloud, I would never have known was a White-tailed Eagle. I have no sense of the bird at all and I feel we would have done much better on the coast.
     However, what is done is done. Were I to return to the area I would simply stick with my other guide, who didn't charge me a penny for great successes. His name is Richard Pegler.

Further Information

     Please contact me at theospreynest@sympatico.ca.