Monday 23rd April 2018
We left our base in Essex and once all pickups had been made started the journey northwards, noting with a few RED KITES around the Peterborough area plus COMMON BUZZARD and COMMON KESTREL.
After several stops along the way, we headed onto the moors where we spent the afternoon birding. It was pretty breezy at our first stop which produced some drumming COMMON SNIPE, EURASIAN CURLEW, PIED OYSTERCATCHER, NORTHERN LAPWING, COMMON REED BUNTING, MEADOW PIPITS and a single COMMON BUZZARD which drifted over much to the distain of the local EURASIAN CURLEWS!
Up on a nearby ridge we had brief views of a single WILLOW PTARMIGAN but it promptly disappeared so we tried another area nearby. The journey to the site produced three BROWN HARES feeding in a field that had recently been spread with muck. Parking up, we took a stroll down by a stream which was alive with WILLOW WARBLERS, all vying for territories.
Eventually we had brief views of a WHITE-THROATED DIPPER and with a little patience, good views with up to three birds being seen. GREY WAGTAILS were plentiful on the stream, the males looking particularly splendid with their black throats.
The wind was rather chilly so we headed back to the van and took a slow drive along one of the single lane tracks. It didn’t take long to find three BLACK GROUSE in a grassy field and although a little distant, we had good views. Another bird, this time much nearer was seen until it flew over the road to the southern side.
Sian did well to find a pair of GREY PARTRIDGE, a species we hadn’t seen on the moors before and we watched them until they flew and dropped down into a sheltered gully.
There were more WILLOW PTARMIGAN including some birds very close to the road which pleased everyone as they fed on heather shoots protruding from the grass. It was otherwise pretty quiet except for the usual waders, plus some GREYLAG GEESE which flew over.
As we left the area, another couple of BLACK GROUSE were spotted sheltering from the wind near a drystone wall and more BROWN HARES fed closer to the road.
It was then time to head westwards towards our overnight stop and a road diversion proved fortuitous with a small party of EUROPEAN GOLDEN PLOVER flying past the van in a particularly heavy downpour.
Another BLACK GROUSE was seen as we meandered our way towards Cumbria and the rain stayed with us pretty much all the way until we reached Carlisle, where luckily it stopped for us to unload our luggage.
After time to relax we met in the restaurant for our evening meal, which was very enjoyable and after completing the bird list, we retired for the night after what had been a long day.
Tuesday 24th April 2018
Breakfast was at 7.00am when we tucked into a good variety of food and didn’t leave hungry. We loaded up once again and began our trek north to Scotland. A couple of stops later we were in the highlands with fantastic scenery whilst taking our winding route past Loch Lomond.
HOODED CROWS sat in the tops of pines whilst we made a stop at Tyndrum with COAL TITS singing and EURASIAN SISKINS zipping overhead whilst we stretched our legs.
With lunchtime approaching we stopped off at one of our favourite places and whilst tucking into some wonderful food, Gill spotted a WHITE-TAILED EAGLE flapping slowly past!
Afterwards we birded the area and could hear a singing WOOD WARBLER from high on the slopes and on the Loch itself were a pair of COMMON MERGANSERS (GOOSANDER).
It was then time to make our way to Oban where after a brief stop for fuel, we checked in at the ferry terminal for our journey over to the Isle of Mull.
A single BLACK GUILLEMOT bobbed around in the harbour and once on the ferry we had good views from the upper viewing deck, plus a pair of COMMON EIDER busy feeding on crabs.
The 45 minute crossing was productive bird-wise with several GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS ranging from winter to full summer plumage. BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES seemed to be more numerous than in previous years but only one NORTHERN GANNET was spotted.
After docking at Craignure we made our way round to our base for the holiday and had only been driving for 10 minutes when a WHITE-TAILED EAGLE was seen circling the hillside. Luckily it landed so we had really good scope views as it sat on a rocky outcrop.
A few moments later, an adult GOLDEN EAGLE drifted over along with a COMMON BUZZARD for good ID comparison.
The light was stunning as we made our way west, with a few RED DEER, COMMON STONECHATS and a female NORTHERN WHEATEAR along the way.
On our arrival at the hotel we checked in and some explored the area before dinner with EURASIAN SISKINS in the garden and GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS, COMMON SCOTER, RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and COMMON SANDPIPERS around and on the Loch.
After completing the bird-list we enjoyed a really good evening meal before heading to bed for a well deserved rest.
Wednesday 25th April 2018
Some of the group went out early for a pre-breakfast stroll which produced really good numbers of GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS out in the bay, including some moulting nearly into summer plumage.
EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER, COMMON SANDPIPERS and a couple of COMMON RINGED PLOVERS were on the shoreline and along the road we could hear singing TREE PIPIT, GOLDCREST and the very common WILLOW WARBLER.
To the west a large dark cloud was moving towards us, so we retraced our steps only to be caught in a torrential downpour which meant some had to change clothes before meeting for breakfast.
Breakfast was superb and later we loaded up and took a slow drive around the loch. We hadn’t got far when we saw the distinctive shape of an OTTER on the rocks. Unfortunately it slipped into the water as we were stopping and despite a good search, we didn’t see it again.
We needn’t have worried as a couple of miles further on, we found another OTTER and over the next twenty minutes or so were treated to superb views as it fed along the shoreline, constantly catching fish. It also came out onto the seaweed covered rocks and scent marked before heading back into the water!
Moving on we found more GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS plus two winter plumaged RAZORBILLS just offshore and four WHIMBREL. As we headed up through a valley, the heavens opened once again so we sat tight in the van until the rain had stopped.
Good numbers of HOODED CROWS fed in the flooded fields and a few COMMON HOUSE MARTINS zipped overhead. A few COMMON BUZZARDS were noted but not the hoped for White-tailed Eagles.
The drive through the area was stunning with magnificent scenery as we dropped down towards the sea. A few EUROPEAN SHAG were on the loch plus a few BLACK GUILLEMOT, with good numbers of NORTHERN WHEATEAR seen in the short grass fields.
A tip-off made us head east to an area of offshore rocks where two adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLES perched giving brilliant scope views in the morning sunshine. Over the hills behind us, a pair of GOLDEN EAGLES flew over and the male started displaying before heading east.
With the wind whipping through the area, we had lunch in the van and then took a stroll through a picturesque valley. WILLOW WARBLERS were numerous and we were treated to stunning views of one sitting on gorse. EURASIAN SISKINS called from the pines and along the way were a few NORTHERN WHEATEAR, lots of MEADOW PIPITS and a party of 50 LESSER REDPOLLS flew over.
The loch was rather quiet with a pair of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and COMMON SANDPIPERS being the best birds.
Once again we got caught in several sharp showers so headed back to the car and made the drive across the island, but with road resurfacing taking place, we had to wait around 30 minutes for the road to open.
Once through, a stop was made at Salen where we checked out the bay and found COMMON MERGANSER (GOOSANDER), WHIMBREL, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER and a few ROCK DOVES that looked pretty good for wild birds.
A couple of stops were made as we travelled south, the first at a small pool where a male WHITE WAGTAIL fed alongside a PIED WAGTAIL and then a little further on, Caroline caught sight of a SHORT-EARED OWL sparring in the air with HOODED CROW before they split up and the owl continued hunting for a while before vanishing.
With time getting on, we headed to base but as is usual on Mull, there is always something to see. This time a ghostly grey male HEN HARRIER against the hillside but unfortunately not relocated.
It was then time for a hot shower before meeting for our evening meal which was once again delightful and we headed off to bed very tired after a challenging day weather-wise but great bird-wise!
Thursday 26th April 2018
Breakfast was slightly earlier as we planned to head out to the Treshnish Isles but sea conditions were not good with a four metre swell forecast, so we had to rearrange the trip for Friday.
Outside the hotel were the usual EURASIAN SISKINS plus at least two LESSER REDPOLL and a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER around the feeders.
After a hearty breakfast we headed round the loch noting COMMON GREENSHANK along the way and once again, we had superb views of a female EUROPEAN OTTER with a young cub that showed really well on the rocks and in the sea.
Another attempt was made to find the White-tailed Eagles but we were unlucky, although with up-to-date information from a local, we would be able to try later!
Retracing our steps around the loch, we then headed west towards Fionnphort and a stop at Loch Poit na h-l (pronounced Pottie) produced a single WHOOPER SWAN feeding in the shallows.
After parking we wandered down to the ferry but just missed it, so we had a cuppa in the waiting room whilst waiting for the next one.
Eventually we were underway and the crossing over the sound of Iona was pretty choppy to say the least. Once on the island we headed to a favoured spot and whilst strolling along the path we heard a calling CORN CRAKE. Stopping in our tracks we scanned the area but to no avail but then a few minutes later, it called again and we tracked it down to the beach.
Eventually with a little patience, we could see the bird poking its head out of the undergrowth but after a while it vanished. As we knew the bird was there, we opted to have lunch on the beach and a little later we had excellent views as it crept through the vegetation and would occasionally show its neck and head!
Delighted with this, we visited the north end of the island where point blank views of a pair of TWITE were had as they fed on seeds in front of us and ROCK DOVES flew low over the crofts.
The wind was quite blowy so we headed back down to ferry and returned to the mainland. The crossing produced several EUROPEAN SHAG in breeding plumage and a moulting GREAT NORTHERN DIVER near the slipway.
With a little time left we headed into Glenmore following another tip-off about a GOLDEN EAGLES nest and with a little help, we found the correct spot. David had brief views of an adult in the vicinity but there was no further sign so we headed back to base for a well deserved rest.
Our evening meal went down well and we retired for the evening after another superb day!
Friday 27th April 2018
We awoke to find much calmer conditions which was absolutely perfect for our day trip to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles.
After a filling breakfast we began the journey towards Tobermory and had only gone one mile when a male HEN HARRIER flew over the road and started hunting on the rough grassland before dropping down behind a farmhouse.
The journey was slightly slower than one would have liked due to oncoming traffic and another male HEN HARRIER got our attention! We arrived in Tobermory with five minutes to spare and after a quick trip to the facilities, we joined our boat for the day.
Sailing out from Tobermory with its famous coloured houses was superb and within a few minutes, we noted a few BLACK GUILLEMOTS and a couple of brief sightings of HARBOUR PORPOISE.
We headed to Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula to pick up a couple of passengers before making our way out towards the Treshnish Isles. It was relatively quiet bird-wise but the views and light were absolutely stunning!
The skipper carefully manoeuvred his way through the islands and a PURPLE SANDPIPER flew from some rocks nearby. These birds are stopping off as they make their way northwards to the Arctic to breed and to see them was a good start to the day.
The island of Staffa was our first destination, famous for its basalt columns and the famous Fingal’s Cave which was the inspiration for Mendelsson’s Hebrides overture in 1830.
More PURPLE SANDPIPERS were seen by the jetty and our first ATLANTIC PUFFINS bobbed around on the open water. Some of the group wandered to Fingals cave whilst others took the staircase to the top of the island where views were magnificent.
A BARN SWALLOW flew north and a male NORTHERN WHEATEAR flitted over the grassy knolls whilst the air was alive with the sound of displaying EURASIAN ROCK PIPITS.
We enjoyed an hour on the island before boarding the boat and slowly making our way to the island of Lunga. The crew on board showed us a fine specimen of SPINY STARFISH that had been caught by local fisherman four weeks previously, kept in the Mull Aquarium and was being released into the area where it was caught.
As we headed out across the sea a couple of MANX SHEARWATERS flew northwards and on the open water were lots of RAZORBILLS, EUROPEAN SHAGS, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES and NORTHERN FULMARS.
The tide was rising which made getting across the beach at Lunga slightly easier than usual and we made our way onto the top of the island where we were greeted to the sight of hundreds of ATLANTIC PUFFINS just feet away from us.
A lone GREAT SKUA drifted overhead but was a little quick for photographs, so we concentrated on watching the nesting seabirds on the island.
Over the next two hours we had a fantastic time watching the comings and goings of a seabird colony. We met up with Gill who had stayed on the beach, where she had amazing views of a Hebridean race EURASIAN WREN as it flitted around the rocks.
We left the island with large smiles on our faces and made our way back towards Tobermory where one last surprise awaited us. On the rocky coastline was the distinctive outline of a WHITE-TAILED EAGLE sitting in a tree which flew off, whilst another was feeding on a rocky column that rose out of the sea and it gave superb views as we sailed past.
After disembarking at Tobermory, we eventually found somewhere for a welcome cuppa before making our way back to base.
After a hot shower we all met for dinner with a healthy glow to our faces after a great day out on the water.
Saturday 28th April 2018
Conditions were perfect when we awoke and the Loch outside the hotel was like a mirror. There was frost on the vehicles and grass and it only warmed up slightly when the sun came over the hill.
A pair of RED-THROATED DIVERS were present along with around 30 GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS. David spotted an OTTER swimming west along the shore and with calm conditions, we located COMMON MURRE (GUILLEMOT) and RAZORBILL side by side.
A COMMON CUCKOO called from the hillside and we picked it out on top of a large pine tree in the distance. It was then back for breakfast which was fantastic and afterwards, whilst loading up the van, a pair of COMMON EIDER swam past giving superb photographic opportunities.
Our first port of call was another attempt at finding the White-tailed Eagle nest and this time, failure was not an option. During our walk we found three 1st year GOLDEN EAGLES circling over the hillside together which was brilliant and then an immature WHITE-TAILED EAGLE flew low over us.
WILLOW WARBLERS were incredibly common and we picked out several GOLDCRESTS in the early morning sunshine. Eventually we found the area in question and close by, an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE flew out of a tree before vanishing from view.
A few minutes later we had finally located the nest with an adult sitting quietly on top and with the scope, you could see it panting in the heat. We gave it a while before strolling back but not before two adult GOLDEN EAGLES were seen above us, alongside a COMMON BUZZARD which made us appreciate the shape and size of these birds.
Moving on, we drove along the roads noting COMMON WHEATEARS, ROCK PIPITS and the occasional GREAT NORTHERN DIVER on the open water.
Our next destination was a nesting site for GOLDEN EAGLE which we soon found with an adult sitting on. There was no sign of the male until the female took off and there was the male displaying above the nest, giving fab views until he drifted off. Soon the female returned to perch in a tree before dropping back onto the nest to incubate the eggs.
Moving round the bay proved fortuitous with a single summer plumage HORNED GREBE bobbing around in the sheltered corner plus two pairs of COMMON MERGANSER (GOOSANDER) and RED-THROATED DIVER thrown in for good measure.
Views across the hills were amazing and with this in mind, we took the coast road which rose to give even better views than before. It was then time for a tea break and we visited a new place that had only opened five days before and the cakes went down well, especially with Richard and Graham.
It was also a good place to see NORTHERN LAPWING as one was spotted when some of the group headed behind the gorse bush in the front garden!
A few stops were made to enjoy the scenery and the famous Eas Fors waterfall which was flowing quite well.
Down in the bay we parked and could hear a high pitched cry, we turned to see a COMMON BUZZARD mobbing an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE sitting in a tree. Eventually it flew right over and to the far shore before being mobbed once again and it returned back to the original tree.
With a rain front approaching we headed back to the van just before the heavens opened. The drive back was rather quiet until we reached the southern side of Mull. Caroline found a perched SHORT-EARED OWL on a rock which looked fantastic in the early evening sunshine. It hunted several times but unfortunately didn’t come close.
A few miles further down the glen, Richard spotted a beautiful male HEN HARRIER drifting over a grassy hillside, it spent several minutes hunting before disappearing from view.
By now we were behind schedule so we headed straight back, still with plenty of time before meeting for dinner.
Our last evening meal was again of the highest quality and with a beautiful sunset to conclude the day, it was sad to be leaving the following day.
Sunday 29th April 2018
After breakfast we said our goodbyes to the staff and after loading up the van, spent the morning birding the nearby valleys which was rather productive. Our first male HEN HARRIER of the day was spotted gliding over the hillside before dropping into a small pine plantation.
Further along we parked near a Golden Eagle nest and although the nest was out of sight, there was no sign of any adult birds coming in for a nest changeover.
With a limited amount of time we stopped again, this time connecting with an immature WHITE-TAILED EAGLE perched at the edge of a Loch. In the distance two RED-THROATED DIVERS were seen and another male HEN HARRIER flew across the hillside. Nearby an adult WHOOPER SWAN fed at the edge of a small lochan.
A few kilometres further on we came to an abrupt stop to see a male HEN HARRIER ‘skydancing’ over the hills. It was fantastic to watch him displaying and a few minutes later, he was joined by another male bird.
Looking at our watches it was time to head for the ferry terminal and we had only driven a little way when a SHORT-EARED OWL was spotted hunting over a field. Then lo and behold, our first female HEN HARRIER of the tour circled over the fields to our left. This year the females were already on eggs, hence the scarcity of sightings.
We arrived at Craignure in time for a coffee before boarding our ferry for the crossing back to Oban. With hardly a ripple on the water the conditions were superb, which made birding and looking for wildlife much easier.
A WHITE-TAILED EAGLE was seen on a nest as we sailed past the eastern side of Mull and out on the water to see the usual GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS, BLACK GUILLEMOTS, COMMON MURRE and occasional ATLANTIC GREY SEAL.
A male NORTHERN PINTAIL was a surprise find as it sat on the sea, no doubt taking a break from its migration northwards.
Once in Oban we began the long drive south and once clear of Glasgow, the journey was quiet. As we drove through the southern part of Dumfries and Galloway, a single WESTERN OSPREY flew over the M74 which was a little unexpected.
Arriving at our base for the night, we checked in and headed pretty much straight for dinner after a long day travelling.
Monday 30th April 2018
Meeting for a 7.00am breakfast, we wished Richard a very happy birthday and the staff brought out a breakfast muffin with a candle in!
We drove the short distance to Leighton Moss RSPB reserve where we spent time on the reserve before driving back to Essex. Due to bad weather forecast in the southeast, we decided to leave early in case of traffic problems so we wandered around the centre garden getting fantastic views of male EURASIAN BULLFINCH plus MARSH TIT, EUROPEAN NUTHATCH and EURASIAN TREECREEPER.
The sky view platform overlooked the vast reed-beds and it was great to watch WESTERN MARSH HARRIERS quartering the reeds where they gave good views.
Birding from the hides provided us with sightings of TUFTED DUCK, NORTHERN SHOVELER, GADWALL and EURASIAN WIGEON plus LITTLE EGRET, GREYLAG GOOSE and a group of COMMON SWIFTS, our first sightings this year.
SEDGE and REED WARBLERS uttered their scratchy songs from the reeds whilst WILLOW WARBLER and EURASIAN BLACKCAP were present in the willows.
After tea and cake in the café we began our drive back home to arrive back in East Anglia in good time. 11 RED KITES, COMMON KESTRELS and COMMON BUZZARDS kept us entertained during the journey in windy, cold conditions.
We dropped everyone off after what had simply been a fantastic tour and we counted our blessings with how lucky we had been with the weather. We’d had many brilliant wildlife experiences, all shared with a superb group whose humour and happiness made it a pleasure to lead!
Monday 23rd – Monday 30th April 2018
Monday 23rd April 2018