Thursday 29 May 2014

North Uist

It had been 20 years almost to the day since I last visited North Uist, so a return was well overdue.

Last Friday I joined Dave Gray, Colin Green and John Waters on a weekend away to North Uist. We arrived at Uig on the Isle of Skye in plenty of time to catch the ferry. Unable to get a breakfast, as everywhere was shut, we decided to do a bit of birding, but boy it was cold. The wind was strong and it had a northerly element to it - enough said.

On board the ferry we braved the cold and were rewarded with views of three White-tailed Eagles. They were distant, but we could make out their white tails. Loads of Puffins were loafing about on the sea, as well as both guillemot species and small numbers of Razorbills.

Arriving on Skye we headed straight to Balranald RSPB reserve where we eventually managed to get good views of Corncrake.


Wednesday 28 May 2014

The Republic of Belarus - Part Five

Rain returned with a vengeance as we headed away from Turov. The plan for the day was to visit some mature fishponds. Here we hoped to see Smew and we weren't disappointed, as we saw 14 in total and many of them were paired up. The only Black Kite of the trip was seen soaring at tree height near one of the lagoons and three White-tailed Eagles where seen close by. 

Those that left the comfort of the mini-bus ended up soaked to the skin. The best lagoon held 32 Caspian Gulls and also three Little Gulls. It was a great shame that it was raining so heavily, as I was afraid to risk my camera and so I missed out on the photographs of Caspian Gulls I so wanted. One of the Caspian Gulls was colour-ringed (yellow HC201). It took a bit of detective work, but in the end, with a bit of help, I've tracked it down to being ringed near Minsk in Belarus during 2013. The gulls shared the lagoons with three Black Storks an Osprey and the only Turnstone of the trip.

We spent the night drying off in a castle would you believe. We had dried off by the morning, so off we set to explore the castle gardens. The highlight was no less than six singing River Warblers and good views of three Penduline Tits. 

Roughing it at the Palace Hotel

Tuesday 27 May 2014

The Republic of Belarus - Part Four

I woke early and left our hotel in the town of Pinsk and went out for a walk. I headed to an area of parkland, which was sure to hold some good birds. I got great views of a Syrian  and a Middle Spotted Woodpeckers posing low down on the same tree trunk. I also saw the only Ortolan Bunting of the trip perched on a low branch near to a war memorial. Fieldfares were nesting in the area, which was great to see. A male was in full song and a few small chicks were begging for food. Close by an Icterine Warbler was in full song.

Icterine Warbler
Fieldfare Chick

Monday 26 May 2014

The Republic of Belarus - Part Three

On the third day we woke to the un-mistakable sound of rain hammering against our bedroom window. This was not what we wanted, as this day had been awaited with excitement for months. This was to be the day of the Greats - Owl and Snipe.

That morning we were given a very warm welcome by no less than the Director of the National Park that we were visiting. He gave a little speech and introduced us to our guide for the day. 

By the time we reached the first forest site the heavens had well and truly opened. We put on a brave face, as well as waterproof clothing, and followed our guide into the forest. We were searching for a nesting pair of Eagle Owls. Woodpeckers grabbed our attention first. Some drumming was apparently coming from a Three-toed and a Grey-headed Woodpecker was defying the weather by calling almost none stop. Sadly we failed to see either of them.

Eventually our guide pointed out three downy Eagle Owl chicks in a nest at the base of a tree. Despite our presence close to the nest, neither of the adult birds were discovered - I'm sure they saw us though.

Eagle Owl Chicks

Wednesday 21 May 2014

The Republic of Belarus - Part Two

Our second night in Belarus was spent in a hotel in a town called Pruzhany. We had noticed that there was some decent habitat near the hotel, so we arranged to meet outside the hotel at 05:30. As it happened not everyone was on parade at 05:30, but eventually most of the team appeared. The dawn chorus was in full swing although the raucous song of an Icterine Warbler was hardly harmonious. A Thrush Nightingale was singing loudly and un-typically it sang from an exposed branch.

Thrush Nightingale

Tuesday 20 May 2014

The Republic of Belarus - Part One

At the 2012 Rutland Water Birdfair, I spoke to a chap promoting a trip to Belarus called 'The Great Belarus Experience'. Both Dawn and I were intrigued and penciled it down as a possible next adventure. For one reason or another we couldn't make the trip in 2013 (it didn't happen anyway), but during late 2013 we contacted Maciej (Mathew) Zimowski at Poland Bird Service and expressed our interest. On May 9th we flew to Warsaw in Poland where we were to meet Maciej. We spotted five of the other members of the party: Alan, Bill, Chris, Dave and Howard whilst we collected our luggage and made our way to the meet up point. We were all a little nervous about whether we would actually be met by someone and our leader gave us a fright by being a few minutes late, but in the end he didn't let us down.

After picking up Susan, the eighth member of the 'Belarus Team',  we headed away from Warsaw and made our way by mini-bus to the border between Poland and Belarus. Prior to leaving we had to apply for a visa at the Belarusian Embassy in London. Maciej arranged an invitation to visit Belarus, which was needed to apply for the visa and also we had to fill out an application form and send it to the embassy. The cost of the visa was £70.00.

At the border our visas and passports were inspected by a very pretty Belarusian border gaurd and she wished us a happy time in Belarus - not what I was expecting. We had to fill out paperwork in duplicate and carry one copy with us. This was stamped each night in the hotel we stayed in.

The first night of the trip was spent in a wooden cabin near the Bialoweieza Forest. We were the first 'Westerners' to stay there, but the lady made us feel very welcome. It was like being invited into someone's own house rather than just staying in a hotel. The food was very good and there was more than we could manage. The beer and the birch sap juice weren't bad either. This was just the first night and we had been shown a very warm welcome to Belarus.

Welcome to Belarus Meal

Thursday 8 May 2014

Odd Sounding Chiffchaff

I heard a warbler singing at Shawell A5 Lagoons yesterday, which was obviously a Chiffchaff sp. but the song seemed wrong for what I would expect from an ordinary British breeding Chiffchaff. There are elements of the song that sound ok, but much of the middle section that you can hear in the video below seems very wrong for collybita. When I listen to it with ear phones on I can hear two parts that end with a faint Reed or Sedge Warbler like bit. I saw it briefly and it was obviously a Chiffchaff complete with a pumping tail, but I noted a yellow wash to its breast. The yellow wash to its breast made me think of Iberian Chiffchaff but the common Cetti's and Wood Warbler elements of the song were missing.

Below is a sonogram made from the song on the video. I'm afraid I'm no expert on sonograms, but maybe one of you can help me. It doesn't match anything I've seen so far?

Any thoughts?

Saturday 3 May 2014

Ring Ouzels

I had a really good time in the Peak District today - the weather was perfect. Arriving early was a good plan as I saw at least ten Ring Ouzels, but later in the day they had all disappeared. If you are a late riser you might conclude that the species is in steep decline. I only saw two females, but maybe the others are already on eggs . Most of the males were singing their melancholic song, which made them easy to find.

Male Ring Ouzel

Whilst watching one of the male Ring Ouzels, a female Merlin came up out of the heather and chased a Skylark. I lost them as they flew in front of the sun resulting in me temporarily blinding myself, but I had managed to get a really good view before that happened.

Other highlights seen on my very long walk included a male Redstart, a male Whinchat, quite a few summer-plumaged Golden Plover and five Cuckoos.