Sunday 30 June 2024

Thirty Years Ago - June 1994

4th June:

After some frantic arrangements down the bar last night, I met Steve Bacon outside the front door at 5am for a trundle south to try and see the Thrush Nightingale at Dungeness. I had previously dipped one at Salthouse in September ’92 and he had already dipped this bird once and with it being a bitterly cold, wet June morning neither of us were hopeful.  Only fifteen people had turned up but thankfully it only took me ten minutes to find this singing bird and over the next two hours superb views of this notoriously elusive species sometimes down to only a few feet as it moved around the trapping area Willows.  A distinctive bird and more obviously ‘different’ than I expected.  The song was loud and powerful but lacked the overlapping note effect achieved by Nightingale.  With the weather deteriorating we came home.

Thrush Nightingale #403

19th June:

St Margaret’s was the first stop for Pete, Ted and I [Eds: Ted was one of Pete’s cycling friends and I remember he had proper milk bottle think glasses] and although several Marsh Warblers were in fine song in their usual valley, they were quite tricky to see in the windy conditions but with patience some good views were had. We wanted to see the Peregrines and a leisurely walk along the cliff top gave great views as a juvenile male cruised past the onlookers at head height. Absolutely magnificent. [Eds: Peregrines were only just getting a toe hold back in the south east at this point and it was a real treat to see them so well]. Over the next hour the adult male and a juvenile were seen and we watched the latter plucking a Pigeon.  The Kittiwakes did not seem too disturbed by their presence. [Eds: not sure that they are there anymore?]

After lunch we headed up to Elmley where Montagu’s Harriers and Great Reed Warbler were the targets. The pair of Harriers were viewable from about half way to the farm and quite a crowd were parked along the entrance road. At least one female showed very well along with several Marsh Harriers.

The real bonus was not a bird but an amphibian and it was not until someone told me what the weird grouse-like noises were that I started to look for Marsh Frogs in the ditches.  I crept up on them and got one in the scope and watched this impressive beast inflating its cheek pouches like two HubbaBubba bubbles!

On to the end a brisk stroll to the patch of Reedmace inhabited by the Great Reed Warbler. Could it be the same bird that we saw here last year? It could be heard a long way before we reached the spot but we only got a couple of glimpses but it was just great to hear that wonderful voice.  It was otherwise quiet with a pair of alarming Black-tailed Godwits and a Lapwing that got up off four eggs being the highlights.

On the way out the male Montagu’s Harrier decided to choose that moment to cruise across the road.  What a way to end the day.

Montagu’s Harrier 

Scotland for Bird's Wildlife & Nature Tours - Day 1: 16th June 2024

The entire crew made its way north by various means the previous day and by early evening were were all ensconced in the very fine Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown on Spey. 

Room with a view

The next morning saw a very wet start to our first day but a hearty breakfast got us underway. Simon took us up and along the coast as far east as Spey Bay, where, despite the dreich conditions we still picked up jangling Corn Buntings and wheezy Yellowhammers on the way in.

The river mouth area held snorkelling Goosanders, loafing Gulls, bobbing Common Sandpipers and a flock of tardy Tundra Ringed Plovers and black bellied Dunlin while Sandwich, Common and bouncy Arctic Terns moved between sea and nest sites.

Spey Bay

I am unsure if Simon's 'pirate face' was due to the weather or some bird imitation he was undertaking

An Osprey tenaciously hovered for its breakfast despite the attention of the Gulls, Terns and Oystercatchers.

Osprey - these pics give you some idea of how poor the weather was

Alaskan Lupins - taking over Scotland!

Wall-Rue I think

Grim but they were smiling but perhaps that was at the coffee being prepared

Onto RSPB Loch Spynie (site tick) where Tree Sparrows, Yellowhammers and Red Squirrels greeted us in the car park and Martins hawked the Loch before checking the pig fields of Balormi for absent Yankee Wigeon but a male Peregrine hurtled through so quick that nothing even noticed.  A couple of Hooded Crow hybrids were probing about with the Carrions Crows and Rooks.

Red Squirrels

Yellowhammer & Tree Sparrow - very pleased with this

We ended the day in drier conditions working the coast from Lossiemouth to Burghead (remember the November 1994 Grey Tailed Tattler?) where the sea was dotted with Guillemots and Razorbills and a single Black Guillemot, and Fulmars, Manx Shearwaters, Gannets, Shags and Kittiwakes moved across our view. A Minke Whale lunge fed under some Gannets and Eider and Scoter represented sea-duck. A striking male Wheatear and smoky Rock Pipits were on the rocky foreshore before we called it a day and headed back.

Rock Pipit - Pete Osgood

It still light very light at 10pm and had cleared somewhat and the Song Thrushes and screaming Swifts were serenading in the night.

Saturday 29 June 2024

Estonia - Day 8: 12th June 2024 for Oriole Birding

Peter took over final day guiding duties and we began at some hidden pools adjacent to the Aardla Wetlands.  These reclaimed gravel pits were well vegetated and were full of life and in our short walk we found a female Goldeneye with three half grown chicks while Black and Common Terns dipped down.  

Marsh Warblers burbled forth a stream of expert mimicry and Great Reed and Sedge Warblers were doing their thing but the singing Penduline Tits were sticking to their willows and were tricky to find but a nice male Rosefinch did pop up briefly and say ‘pleased to meet you’. The sheltered path between ponds was full of Damselflies, Pearly Heaths and even a Burnet Companion moth.



Burnet Companion

Chrysops sp

Common Emerald Damselfly 

We followed the river track down to the main gravel road we found just before midnight two day previously and spent a goodly time just soaking up the now daylight sights and sounds of these meadows and pools.  Ravens were everywhere and they, along with Hoodies, Jackdaws, Gulls and White Storks were hanging around the rooftops associated with an out of view landfill site.

Suddenly a flock of panicked Lapwing appeared followed by more gulls and corvids and I shouted at everyone to look up and sure enough a male Goshawk was powering across at height before reaching the landfill and stooping down into the melee of birds. It was magnificent.  We had only seen two Goshawks so to witness a hunt on both occasions was a real treat.

White-tailed Eagles circled in the distance and a pair of Lesser Spotted Eagles cruised in from the north with out a beat and spooked the recently settled landfill birds once again. They were not having a good morning.  Marsh Harriers were constantly on views and frequently put up Green Sandpipers, Teal and the local foraging Starlings.  A Wood Sandpiper was also heard a couple of times.

Black Terns were scattered across the views and would bounce past us croaking as they went before dipping to pick insect from the water and reeds.  Obviously there were no Crakes, Rails or Bitterns this time but they were replaced by singing Reed Buntings, Citrine and Grey Headed Wagtails, Skylarks and Whinchats. With rain pushing in we opted to move around the corner and try the ponds where signs with Beavers on suggested a potential opportunity!

Black Tern

Black Tern

Citrine Wagtail - Sean Moore

A lovely circuit may not have produced the desired tree munchers although there was lots of recent evidence but it did give us unexpected and point blank views of a pair of Thrush Nightingales.  They (like the Willow Warblers and Whitethroats in the same clump) clearly had nests near the path so we did not linger.  It was so good to be able to show the crew one after hearing so many.


Thrush Nightingale

Thrush Nightingale

Golden Orioles fluted in the Poplars and two flew over us and a Marsh Warbler was seriously going for it and had amassed an impressive repertoire.  There were some cool plants with flowering Melancholy Thistles, Early Marsh Orchids, Siberian Irises and Bistort and a few insects to with Chimney Sweeps and Lattice Heaths being commoner than any butterflies.


Early Marsh Orchid

Melancholy Thistle 

Scorpion Fly

Azure Damselfly

Variable Damselfly

Ceratomegilla notata

We had to be careful on the path because of thousands of tiny Toadlets and one 100m section was littered with the plucked wings of hundreds of Dragonflies and Damselflies although I could see no predators or likely reason for them to be spread in that particular areas.  It was most bizarre.


With a little time left before our Tartu lunch we walked down a track towards some more hidden pools where a Whooper Swan stood watch and two Cranes waded through the long grass where many breeding plumaged Great White Egrets could be seen. There was little else but a fine Raft Spider crossed the path – she looked fit to burst.

Great White Egret


Whooper Swan

Yellow-winged Darter

Dolomedes fimbriatus

A fine final lunch and then off towards Tallinn with a short stop at some delightful fish ponds on the way.  Garrulous Great Reed Warblers were heard and Penduline Tits once again were only seen if they flew away from us!  There were Goldeneye, Mallard and Gadwall on the pools and we found spot where the Beavers had been leaving the water to forage on a felled Willow.  There were plenty of  Damselflies with Blue Tails, Variable, Azure, Red-eyed, Emerald Spreadwings and Blue Featherlegs.

Emerald Spreadwing

Blue Featherleg

Red-eyed Damselfly

Emerald Spreadwing

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Variable Damselfly

Azure Damselfly

Red-eyed Damselfly

Great White Egret

Great White Egret

Flowering Rush Butomus umbellatus

Bloody Cranesbill - Geranium sanguineum

Meadow Cranesbill - Geranium pratense

Glaucous Bullrush - Schoenoplectus lacustris

Lesser Reedmace - Typha angustifolia

Garden Chafer

Dioctria sp - a Robberfly

Lattice Heath

Small Tortoiseshell

The plan to spend time in Tallinn old town got easier as we headed that way as our flight home got pushed back to 22.50 thus giving us a bit more time to look around although given us a hideous arrival time.

Peter dropped us off at the perfect start point and we all enjoyed a good couple of hours ambling up and down the cobbled streets, passing churches of every shape and size, listening to the peeling of bells, crossing through city walls and narrow alleyways, stopping at view points over the city below, lingering at the poignant Ukrainian messages outside the Russian embassy on the main square, avoiding the stares of the faceless monks and of course picking up the fizzy sizzling of Black Redstarts from the rooftops. It was a fitting way to end our Estonian adventure.  


No idea where this was from the plane on the way home but it was spectacular