Sunday, July 05, 2009

SHETLAND & ORKNEY, 21 – 30 June 2009

A Speyside Wildlife holiday with Steve Dudley and Craig Round.

Guests: Grainne, Margaret, Chris & Rob, Moira, Emily & Peter, Mick, Gordon, Annabelle, Lyn & Dave.

Day 1, Sunday 21 June - travel day

Craig and Steve meet the group at Inverness airport and we are soon airborne and on our way north. After a brief stop at Kirkwall we arrive shortly afterwards at Sumbrugh at the southern end of Shetland. Luggage collected we collect the minibuses and were off north and within the hour we’re checking-in to the Herrislea House Hotel, our home for the week. We meet up for dinner and enjoy the first of the week’s sumptuous home-cooked meals before retiring to our rooms, many of us gazing out of our windows until late eager to enjoy our first simmer dim at this high latitude.


Day 2, Monday 22 June - South Shetland Mainland

After our first hearty Shetland breakfast we head off into a murky, drizzly day. We head south and our first stop is at Easter Quarff where we immediately locate a Little Egret stood on a shoreline rock. We’re all familiar with Little Egret in England as its gotten commoner over the years, but on Shetland it’s still a real rarity. We stay by the little bay and start adding species after species to the trip list. Along the shoreline are Oystercatcher, Redshank and Ringed Plover and a lone male Teal which is already showing signs of turning into its eclipse plumage. Bonxies patrol offshore and sweep overhead as they head inshore on the look out for easy pickings. A Common Tern hovers close by over the bay whilst a party of Artic Terns bounce behind over the open sea. Up to three Red-throated Divers are offshore and the first of our Shetland races, Shetland Starling, is seen quickly followed by a Shetland Wren which flies off across the bay. The Starling is strikingly different to our Starling being plainer with few spots. A couple of Rock Doves wing by flashing their white underwings and rump and a single dark phase Arctic Skua sweeps over the sheep fields before being seen off by a noisy Oystercatcher. A Curlew alights on the beach briefly and three more Teal make a quick splash down in the bay before springing back off. All the while the Little Egret has been sat on a nearby rock. As we retreat to allow the Little Egret back in to the bay to feed, a single Dunlin lands on the shore.

We continue south and arrive at Loch of Spiggie as the cloud begins to lift and the drizzle ceases. Three Mute Swans are feeding near the car park and Craig immediately proclaims that there is eight Red-throated Divers on the loch! Scopes are soon set up and divers, Bonxies, Great Black-baked Gulls and three Whooper Swans are all enjoyed. There is a constant stream of birds coming and going from the nearby sea to bathe in the freshwater loch. Arctic Terns, Herring and Common Gulls, Kittiwakes – all pop in for a quick wash. We find another Common Tern before Craig spies a ‘white-winged’ gull stood on a nearby rock. Its tail end on to us and appears an odd bird. It has grey upperparts but the pale bill with dark tip like a first winter bird. It eventually flies off and its size and structure give it away as an Iceland Gull. Just before we leave, the three Whooper Swans are disturbed form the far shore by fisherman and they give us an excellent fly-by.

We head off around the loch spying a Snipe on a fen post and a couple more Whooper Swans, before arriving at Loch of Hillwell. First scan of the loch reveals some Coot and a Little Grebe before Steve spots a duck in the corner. ‘Wood Duck!’ he shouts just as the bird disappears into the reed edge. For the next half and hour it gives us the run around. Detected movement turns into a Moorhen. Then another movement turns out to be a Mallard. Questions are asked. Did Steve see a Wood Duck? ‘There it is!’ proclaims Mike. But we all miss it. A couple of Ravens appear and start hanging around nearby. ‘Here it is!’ shouts Dave. Bingo! Most of us get on to it at last. Although widely kept in captivity, this bird might just be a genuine vagrant and will at some point be considered as such by the British Ornithologists’ Records Committee who maintain the British List and which Steve runs!

We continue south to our lunch stop at Grutness. Here the busy Arctic Tern colony keeps us entertained whilst we refuel. Any gulls approaching too close are immediately attacked by a constant line of birds until there is a frenzy screaming terns around it. One lucky gull breaks through and snatches a young tern. Ah well, the terns can’t always win. Even the rabbits grazing nearby are soon chased off if they stray beyond the colony lines! A female Eider and three young are found along the shore and there is a procession of Gannets heading south, presumably from the major colony on Noss to their feeding areas.

After lunch we head up to Sumburgh head. A look in one of the quarries strikes lucky with good views of Wheatear, Shetland Wren and a four Twite which are are bouncing around calling their nasal ‘tweeze’ and showing off their forked tails. We park at the bottom of the heard and start to walk up to the lighthouse. We don’t get too far before Puffins, Puffins and some more Puffins stop us in our tracks! They’re everywhere! Sat along the cliff tops, popping in and out of burrows, whizzing past on blurred wings – even sat on walls! Every now and then we look at other things – Shags, Guillemots, Razorbills, Bonxies and Arctic Skuas patrolling the skies – but we always end up returning to the Puffins! Alarmingly though, we don’t see a single Puffin coming in with food. We spend a couple of hours enjoying all the bustle of a seabird colony before heading off back to the hotel via Lerwick for a few provisions.

We all have a relax before dinner and are joined by Albert a local Shetland birder and Speyside regular.


Day 3, Tues 23 June - Fetlar and Mousa

We wake to a fine, sunny day and after breakfast head north. We take the ferry across to Yell and in no time we are on board our second ferry to Fetlar. The 40 minute crossing sails by as we are occupied with Black Guillemots, Fulmars, Gannets, Puffins, Shags and several flocks of Greylag Goose. ‘There’s a fin!’ shouts Chris. Eyes search the see behind the ferry and eventually the distinctive shape of a Harbour Porpoise appears as it breaks the surface.

There’s plenty of visitors heading over to Fetlar today, so once on the island we stop at the ferry terminal to allow all the others to get on their way. We search the surrounding shoreline for Otters and the sea for divers when another porpoise is spotted. Directions are confused but it soon becomes apparent we have two pairs of porpoises in different parts of the sound. Two animals in particular are close and log on the surface for us all to enjoy.

We head off in to the island, but no sooner we are on our way when Craig spots a diver offshore. We climb out of the vans to find a non-breeding plumage Great Northern Diver. A great find. Scopes are soon out and we are enjoying good views when Steve spots a second bird! Wow!

We head off again and again are soon stopping to enjoy some Arctic Skuas cruising around over the moorland chasing one another. One of them is a fabulous pale phase bird, our first, which comes right overhead. Fantastic!

We turn on to the airstrip road and straight away come across a couple of splendid Golden Plover. They stand tall on their tussock mound look-outs showing off their black bellies calling mournfully. Nearby an Arctic Skua sits on it’s own look-out, watching us closely. We head on up to the end of the track where we are met by a pair of Whimbrel right by the vans! They are really close, but don’t mind us and call their delightful seven whistles between bouts of feeding. We get unbelievable views, the best Craig and Steve themselves have ever had! We spend a fabulous hour watching Whimbrel on the moor and Arctic Skuas wheeling around the skies around us. Some of us enjoy some alpine flowers including Alpine Squill, Alpine Speedwell and Thyme-leaved Speedwell.

We follow the main road into the main island village of Houbie when Steve grabs his radio to tell Craig about another Great Northern Diver! This one is much closer than the other two feeding in the little harbour just offshore. We are again out of the vans, but no need for a scope this time as we watch the bird feeding at super close range.

We arrive at Loch Funzie (pronounced Finnie!) and have lunch in the lay-by right by the loch. A Red-throated Diver sits on the water whilst there is a constant procession of terns and gulls coming to the loch to bathe. Occasionally a Snipe jumps up in to the sky to drum as it descends back to earth. Craig spots a female Red-necked Phalarope on the edge of the loch. It’s a scope job but it flies off before everyone can enjoy it. Continually searching the shoreline we find three summer plumaged Dunlin which give excellent views. The occasional Bonxie comes in to bathe in the shallows nearby when a Whimbrel flies past and follows suite.

We move to the other side of the loch in a hope of finding a phalarope. The diver is great from here with the light just right for us to see the delicate black and white lines down the back of its head and its triangle red on the throat. A second diver comes in wailing and lands right in front of us. The first bird wants none of it and dives and aims straight for the intruder which is soon running along the surface and taking to the air to escape the aggressor. Great action!

Several of the group walk down to the hide when Dave spots a phalarope from the road down on the mires in front of the hide. It’s another scope job but at least the light is good and we are able to get fairly good views of a single female. The Mires also hold Teal and Mallard. We then notice that there are a couple of phalaropes on the loch! We walk back to the vans and get fabulous views of two female and a single male phalarope. The male has one of the females in close attendance, intent on mating and to leave him sat on her clutch of eggs. We watch the phalaropes for a further half an hour before heading back to the ferry.

At the ferry terminal we spend half an hour or so watching the sea and shoreline. Another porpoise is seen briefly before Craig spies a stunning summer plumaged Great Northern Diver. Mick’s offering comes in the form of a large pink sea urchin atop a large boulder. Nice.

We arrive back on Yell and with time in hand we stop at West Sandwick. A Red-throated Diver is in the voe and Steve spots a female Red-breasted Merganser. Peter than spots the main attraction, a big dog otter on the beach on the opposite shore. It’s mobbed by angry Arctic Terns as it slips in to the water. It starts to hunt instantly, and in its first dive comes up with a juicy butterfish which it soon scoffs and is back down under the water. We watch for about 20 minutes as it catches butterfish after butterfish, occasionally rolling on its back to handle a larger fish in its paws as it chomps with sharp teeth. Just as we are packing up to leave, it comes back ashore to eat a larger fish. It lies down among the rocks and is busy for only a minute and then it slips effortlessly back into the water. Its time to head for home.

We arrive back at the hotel for a freshen up before another excellent dinner. At 10.30pm we assemble in the car park for our night-time excursion – a trip over to Mousa for Storm-petrels. The sea is calm and there is barely a cloud in the sky. The crossing is straight forward with the usual auks, Fulmar and Gannet seen. We arrive on Mousa and begin our 20 minute walk across the island to the broch. In the first bay we find a family party of Eider and Craig finds a Fulmar skull by the path which is almost certainly left-over from a Bonxie kill. It takes a little while before we hear our first Storm-petrel but one is now singing from one of the dry stall wall. Its churring is interrupted with regular hiccups. We continue to the broch. The boulder beach by the broch is alive with churring Stormies. We go into the broch and sit for a while and soak in the Iron Age essence of this fabulous building. There are several Stormie flying around inside and as we exit one lands at Steve’s feet. Gordon scoops up the bird and hands it to Steve and when outside we gather and Steve shows us all the features of this tiny little seabird.

Its 00.30am and its still bright. Stormies are only now beginning to come in in numbers. Birds are wheeling around broch and over the sea countless birds are streaming in. The light is easily bright enough to use binoculars to watch the Stormies arriving back with food for their single chick.

Its approaching 1.00am and time to head back. The walk is punctuated with shapes flying by and drumming Snipe. Just short of the quay we find an Eider chick right on the path! Its probably part of the Eider brood we saw earlier, but as it is its only going to be a Bonxie snack sat there!

We climb back aboard the Solan and head back to Sandwick where we have a quick look at Jupiter and its moons before heading back to the hotel for some much needed sleep!


Day 4, Weds 24 June - Noss boat trip

We again wake to bright sunshine and little wind. After breakfast we split up and Grainne, Mick, Margaret, Moira, Chris and Rob head off with Craig for a boat trip around Bressay and Noss. Annabelle, Gordon, Emily, Peter, Lynn and Dave head off with Steve down to the Loch of Tingwall. There they learn that Tingwall originates from the old Norse word Ping-Völler which means ‘field of parliament’ and we overlook the small headland running into the loch which held the parliament. The field behind has been cut and the grass is being turned. There are hundreds of gulls and Rooks feeding behind the tractor including several Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We head on further down and see four Whooper Swans on the loch but little else. So we decide to head in to Lerwick for a spot of retail therapy, a coffee and cake! Yum!

We meet up for lunch south of Lerwick at Scarfa Ferry overlooking Brei Wick were we have great views of four Turnstone on the small freshwater pool. We split up again and Craig’s group do the Lerwick and Tingwall route and Steve takes his group on the Bressay and Noss boat trip.

From Lerwick we first head over to Bressay harbour to drop off one of the boat crew! There is a small colony of Arctic terns by the harbour which is busy with birds coming and going. We head off south round the lighthouse enjoying good views of divers, Black Guillemots, Puffins, Guillemots, Fulmars and Bonxies. We stop briefly in a little bay where there are several Common Seals hauled out and a single Roman-nosed Grey Seal bobbing in the sea. We next head in to a little cave where we hold up and the crew send a small submersible camera down in to the depths. The undersea world appears on monitors aboard the boat and we get fabulous views of all sorts of sea vegetation and animals including sea urchin, crabs, coral and things with unpronounceable scientific names!

Undersea exploration brought to a close we head off round the south-eastern corner of Bressay where we get our first view of Noss and the amazing steep headland of the Noup. We charge across the sound and within minutes we’re under the southern seacliffs of Noss which are covered in breeding auks and Gannets. As we move slowly north the density of birds increases and the smell of the guano fills out nostrils. Arriving under the main seabird cliffs which rise up to the Noup, the ledges are thick with birds and the sky like an aerial soup. Every seabird is here! All four species of auk are dotted over the sea with ledges crammed with Guillemots amidst the white-washed rocks of the Gannet rookeries. Adults adorn the breeding ledges whilst young birds congregate at the foot of the cliffs on the rock flats, some even practicing building nests! Between several sections of cliff steep grassy slopes peppered with Puffins cut into the rocks. Kittiwakes call their endless onomatopoeic calls as they to and fro form their ledges in the clefts between cliff faces. Above us the air is thick with giant shapes. Thousands of Gannets fill the air as the stream if birds coming and going from the breeding ledges is seemingly endless. Amidst them the occasional Great Black-baked Gull or Bonxie soars around on the look out for easy pickings – unattended eggs or young! On one of the Gannet flats we find a Bonxie which has been successful in picking out a chick and sit offshore as it tears the little bird apart!

Reluctantly we tear ourselves away from the seabird cliffs and head north around Noss and back down the northern side of Bressay. Here we find a small party of male Eiders before sitting of a small island which was glowing pinky-red as it was covered in Red Campion. We continue around Bressay and find another group of Common Seals hauled up and a single jet black pup in the water. Approaching Lerwick we pass the Shetland Catch which is covered in gulls and Ravens. Suddenly the boat is besieged by Grey Seals, the bulls coming right alongside and almost jumping out of the water hoping for free food to be thrown overboard! Unfortunately for them we aren’t a fishing boat and have no scraps for them so we enjoy their performance for free!

We arrive back in Lerwick and bid the crew thank you and farewell and head back to the hotel for another anticipated dinner and full nights sleep!


Day 5, Thurs 25 June - Unst

After an early breakfast we set off into another fine day. We’re heading north to the most northern habitat island in Britain – Unst.

After two ferry crossings we arrive on Unst and our first port of call is a tiny wooded area at Hannigarth. There is no sign of the reported Crossbills, but Dave finds a Woodpigeon and Lynn spots a female Sparrowhawk rising out of the wood and it circles over our heads giving great views. We move on up the road to Ungirsta and park alongside a couple of fabulous hat meadows. The surrounding damp grassland is chocked with calling Redshank, whickering Snipe and bubbling Curlew. After a little while we hear what we came to hear – the distinctive ‘whet-whet-whet’ of a Quail. Its distant to start with, or facing away from us, but it gets a little louder and several prolonged blasts and everyone gets to hear it well. The local farmer comes down to have a chat and tells us this is the second time he’s had Quail breeding in these meadows and last year he had a Spotted Crake calling by the farmhouse!

We drive up to Hermaness Visitor Centre overlooking the vast Burra Firth. Here a quick search of the ‘gardens’ and Grainne finds a family party of Wrens and a female Eider sat on her downy nest under a thick fern. After some refreshment and a look in the centre, we head off on our moorland trek north across Burn of Winnaswarta Dale to Toolie. The moorland walk is made a whole lot easier by the very recent installation of a new boardwalk made with ‘plastic wood’. The new boardwalk takes us halfway and we follow the old worn moor path through the piles of pre-assembled boardwalk sections. The walk isn’t without birds either. Meadow Pipits are simply everywhere, seep-seeping as they bounce around. Wheatears are dotted about and the odd Snipe and Dunlin rise from the moor to display. But this is the land of the Bonxie. This headland has the highest density of Bonxies anywhere in the world. They sit within meters of the path, watching us menacingly as we walk by. They are completely unconcerned by our presence, but should a rival Bonxie wander into their airspace then they rise to their feet and draw their huge wings out above them to flash their white wing patches whilst extending and lowering their necks. It really is impressive. If that doesn’t work they take to the air to pursue the intruder and escorted it forcibly away from its patch! Bonxies are quite simply everywhere you look. Dotted across the moor and the sky about them is heaving with them.

After an hour we arrive at the sea cliffs at Toolie where we look north to Muckle Flugga and The Stack – the most northerly point of the British Isles! Its wonderfully sunny with a perfect blue sky for us to lunch and spend an hour enjoying the fabulous view and the endless seabirds flying around. Some of us cant seem to get enough of the Puffins and there are plenty of birds around the lunch stop satisfy. Several hardy soles continue up to The Neap and look across to the Saito outcrop gannetery – wow!

We head of back across the moorland for more close encounters with Bonxies, Golden Plover and Snipe. Back at the vans we have a drink before heading back south. Leaving Burra Firth we see another two Woodpigeons then it’s a quick stop at the best-dressed bus shelter in Britain if not the world! The Unst Bus Shelter (ww.unstbusshelter.shetland.-co.uk/) theme this year is ‘pink’! The whole shelter is pink and in the cupboard Grainne and Chris find a pink police woman’s hat and a shocking pink feather boa!

The 'gang'. From left to right: Margaret (nice bag), Rob, Chris (dig the boa), Grainne (nice pink helmet Mrs), Lynn, Dave, Annabelle, Steve (pulling a face as usual!), Gordon, Peter, Emily (behind), Moira, Craig (where's his bins!?). Missing - the photographer, Mick © Mick MacMahon

Our journey home is enlivened when one of our ferries is held up by an advance notice that the police are heading for it and have a criminal in custody to transport to Lerwick! Once the police car is on board we set sail for Yell, and once on Yell the police car blasts past the line of traffic ahead of it with blues blazing and tunes blasting! Well, they can’t get much chance to use their toys on Shetland!

We arrive back at the hotel for another fulsome dinner and evening checklist. Tomorrow is our last day on Shetland.


Day 6, Fri 26 June - Shetland mid-Mainland

Well, we wondered if it could happen four days in a row and it did – waking up to fine, sunny skies! After a leisurely breakfast we bade farewell to the Herrislea House Hotel and headed north to Kergord – the islands largest wooded area. We had been at the first stand of trees for only minutes when a flock of 50+ Crossbills erupted from the treetops. They ‘jipped’ loudly as they bounced around and eventually off down the valley! We knew there had been a handful of birds seen this week, but this easily outnumbered all other flocks reported. We headed off to the main woodland area. In the open glades it was sunny, bright, hot and humid. The air was thick with woodland vegetation smells and flavours. The large Crossbill flock flew over us calling loudly. They didn’t settle but went over to a pine plantation up on the hillside and we could just see them through binoculars bouncing around the treetops. We continued into the wood when Lynn found a small group of Crossbills feeding on the outer pines. We huddled together to look between the trunks and branches as the birds fed, sometimes hanging upside down, before they too took flight and disappeared. We searched for more Crossbills with no joy, but a singing Blackcap and up to four Siskin were found.

We made a brief visit to the Weisdale Mill centre before heading off to South Nesting on the east side of Mainland. On route we chanced upon a pair of Whooper Swans with two small cygnets on one of the lochs. He adults heads were stained an orange-brown from feeding in the peaty waters. On the shore a half-grown Curlew chick walked ungainly around.

We arrived at South Nesting and found a suitable grassy headland to have our lunch and look over the voe and the rocky shorelines either side of us. The voe was full of Black Guillemots and the air busy with gulls and terns. Behind us a pair of Curlew repeatedly chased gulls away from their territory and the occasional wail of a Red-throated Diver drifted up from below us.

‘Otter!’ yelled Craig. Lunches were discarded and we all scrambled together to get instructions. There below us was a large Otter about 30m offshore heading for land. It was carrying a large fish and hauled itself out on a large rock and started to immediately tear at its prey. It sat out in the open eating the fish for several minutes before sliding off the rock and immediately resume feeding. It rose after its first dive with a butterfish, chomped and then submerged once more. It rose again with another fish. It was doing well. Craig and much of the group headed off towards the Otter when it was down, stopping in their tracks when it surfaced. After several dives they were as near as they could get and only 20m from the feeding animal! They all laid down, bums in air as they watched the animal just offshore. Peter approached a wee bit closer along the grassy bank commando-style crawling along on his belly! Steve and the others continued to watch with scopes from higher up. After some minutes the Otter started to swim along the shoreline, diving occasionally and nearly always rising with something to eat. Craig and co. followed on hands and knees. They got some more brief views but when the Otter clocked them it immediately headed for the rocks and out of view. Show over – but what a show! Leaving in the vans Craig spots his second Hedgehog of the week by the roadside, but like the first, its gone to ground by the time Steve’s van pulls up – missed it by minutes again!

We returned to our lunches and continued to watch out for the Otter. A lone Whimbrel flew past calling its distinctive seven-whistle call, and three Harbour Porpoises were seen briefly. But time was running away and we need to make a move and head towards Lerwick. A brief stop at the Loch of Benston for a hoped-for Lesser Scaup left us scaup-less but five Goldeneye were knew for the trip.

We made a brief stop at the hotel to drop off our flasks (and Steve eventually collected the long-expected and much-awaited proofs of his Lesvos book – it’s a long story!) before arriving at the ferry terminal to check-in for our trip down to Orkney. We waved farewell to Shetland as we steamed down its eastern side during the first hour of the journey. Said hello and goodbye to the lone Fair Isle as we passed close by, and after five or so hours many of us were on deck to witness out arrival at the Orkney Isles as we went first past North Ronaldsay and then slowly past the eastern islands. Our Orkney adventure begins in the morning!


Day 7, Sat 27 June - Orkney: Stenness, Skara Brae, Yesneby and Maeshowe

Our first morning on Orkney dawns overcast and breezy, but after our late breakfast following last night’s late arrival, the sky is brightening and the wind beginning to drop by the time we arrive at the Standing Stones of Stenness only a stones throw from the hotel. Erected around 5000 years ago we. The surviving stones form an impressive monument. It is sited on a promontory at the south bank of a stream that joins the southern ends of the sea loch, Loch of Stenness, and the freshwater loch, Loch of Harray. The name, pronounced stane-is, comes from Old Norse and means ‘stone headland’. The stream is now bridged, but at one time was crossed by a stepping stone causeway, leading to the Ring of Bodgar about 3/4 mile to the north-west, across the stream and near the tip of the isthmus formed between the two lochs. Maeshowe chambered cairn lies about 3/4 mile to the east.

The entrance faces towards the Barnhouse settlement which was built adjacent to the Loch of Harray. The Watch Stone stands outside the circle to the north-west and is 5.6 m (18 ft) high. Other smaller stones include a square stone setting in the centre of the circle platform where cremated bone, charcoal and pottery were found, and animal bones were found in the ditch. The pottery links the monument to Skara Brae and Maeshowe.

We walk over to the Barnhouse settlement. The base courses of at least 15 houses have been found. The houses have similarities to those at Skara Brae in that they have central hearths, bed stalls and stone dressers, but differ in that these houses seem to have been free-standing. Pottery of the grooved ware type was found linking it to both the adjacent Stones of Stenness and Skara Brae. Flint and stone tools were also found. The largest building had a room about 7m square with walls 3m thick and an entrance facing towards the north west so that the midsummer sunset shines along the passageway, with similarities to some chambered cairns.

Whilst we are here a Sedge Warbler performs on some nearby willows and Sand Martin is also seen. Arriving back at the vehicles Craig spots a Hobby which most of us just get on before it disappears into the distance.

We move on to The Loons. From the hide we see Little Grebe, a female Tufted Duck with young, a female Shoveler and a female Gadwall with young. The tall reeds now block much of the view from the hide so we relocate to a lay-by above the reserve and have lunch watching the area. From here we have a good vantage point, but the now clear sky and hot sun is causing considerable heat haze so we concentrate on nearer areas. There are loads of Curlew feeding below us and lots of Greylag Geese, some with young. Gordon spots a Hare feeding in one of the fields and one of the cut fields behind us is bustling with feeding Rooks, Jackdaws and Oystercatchers.

Next stop is the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae. Dating back nearly 5000 years, this pre-historic settlement pre-dates both the pyramids and Stone Henge. Brilliantly preserved forthousands of years due to being covered by sand dunes, now excavated we can see intimately how people lived around 3000 BC. The houses are impressively built, with the second phase of the settlement built into the midden of the first. The most amazing aspect o the site is the stone furniture preserved in each of the houses including sleeping stalls and ornate ‘dressers’ at the head of each house in line with the door and hearth. Hearths, quern stones, seats, sunken ‘boxes’ believed to be coolers for food or fish bait – they are all here 5000 years after the settlement was abandoned. We all end up in the café for tea/coffee and cake before departing this fabulous site.

We drive a little south to the coastal area of Yesneby. After looking distantly at the Old Man of Hoy we walk through the grassland area in the slim hope of finding Primula scotica. We are between the flowers two flowering periods but Steve and Craig have occasionally found the odd plant at this time. The first good plant we find is the Grass of Parnassus, when turning round we see a carpet of primroses! Steve has been here once before during the flowers second emergence, but he said it wasn’t half as good as it is today! Soon bums are in the air as many of us switch our cameras to macro and take frame-filling shots of this delicate little dolly-pink flower.

We eventually head off and drive across to our finale – Maeshowe. After some retail therapy in the shop we head over to the chambered tomb itself where we are given an excellent talk by one of the guides. Like Skara Brae, this site is around 5000 years old and is believed to be the chambered tomb, the first of its type, for the settlement of Barnhouses only a short distance from here. The structure is immense with some slabs estimated to weigh over 40 tonnes! Nothing was found in the tomb as Norse graffiti tells us that the tomb was entered more than once so anything left in here by Neolithic man would have been plundered long ago, and long before any records of such things were kept. Still, the graffiti itself is very interesting, the equivalent of ‘I woz ‘ere’ in Nordic runes, and also includes several drawings of a dragon-like creature (the Maeshowe lion), an otter or seal and a couple of entwined snakes.


Day 8, Sun 28 June - Rousay and Ring of Brodgar

Breakfast turned out to be an extended affair this morning, but we eventually got away and headed for Tingwall for our ferry over to the isle of Rousay. Eynhallow Sound was full of auks and terns and reminded us very much of Shetland. Arriving at the pier there is a large flock of Greylag Geese on the sea.

After a visit to the Trumland Heritage Centre we head off around the eastern side of the island. We stop to view across to Egilsay and the impressive sight of St Magnus Kirk. We drive slowly north and turn into Ervedale to look over the shallow valley of Sourin. The sky is blue, the sun is shining and there is little breeze. Curlew bubble endless below us. Its simply fabulous. Craig picks up a raptor above the northern ridge and it begins to hover – Common Buzzard! That’s a real rarity still on Orkney. ‘Harrier!’ shouts Dave. We turn round and following Dave’s directions we find a fantastic male Hen Harrier floating over the moor. Its brilliant white with jet black wing tips in this strong sunlight, not the expected smoky grey shown in the books. Dave then picks out the ghostly shape of a Short-eared Owl across the valley. It can be seen with bins but scopes prove much better as it quarters the moor looking all white in the bright light. The owl continues to perform when Craig picks up a female Hen Harrier crossing the valley. When it reaches the far side it turns across the hillside and flies across the entire length of the hill in front of us, its clean white ring-tail occasionally standing out when it turns. Steve then picks up a second Short-eared Owl right in front of us and much closer than the first. We get stunning views of this bird when it decides to be a real poser and land on a fencepost! Through the scopes you can see its fierce bright yellow eyes! Last up is a Kestrel which has replaced the buzzard hovering over the ridge behind us.

We move off north again, and as we drop down into Wasbister Loch there are loads of Stonechats on the heather, fence posts and wires running through the moor. Some of the males are simply stunning, almost pie-bald with a hint of russet on the chest.

We spend an hour at Nousty Sand having a leisurely lunch in the sun and enjoying the peace and quiet of the place. The nearby abandoned farm is covered in rich yellow-orange lichen which gleams in the bright sun. It provides a great subject for the photographers. We spread out around the beach and rocks and take in this beautiful spot. Arctic Terns fish in the bay with the occasional Gannet causing a major splash as they dive from height after fish. Dozens of Painted Lady butterflies feed on the carpet of clover by the vehicles, and the now familiar gingery bumble bee buzzes noisily between the butterflies. Just offshore an Arctic Skua chases terns, trying to get them to disgorge their fish with frequent success. We move off south-west across the island for an afternoon of archaeology. Out first stop is at Midhowe, a two for one experience with the Neolithic stalled burial cairn and an Iron Age Broch.

Midhowe is a large Neolithic chambered cairn and lies on the shore of Eynhallow Sound separating Rousay from Mainland Orkney.

The tomb is a particularly well preserved ‘stalled’ cairn. Stalled cairns have a central passageway flanked by a series of paired upright stones that separate the sides into 12 compartments along a passageway over 20, long. The original roof is gone and the structure now lies within a modern hangar-like structure that protects the site. The nature of the original roof is unclear. It may have consisted of flat slabs or it may have been vaulted like Maeshowe to a height of as much as 5 metres (16 ft). The cairn appears to have been intentionally filled with debris after hundreds of years of usage beginning early in the third millenium BC and the size and complexity of the interior of the cairn must have exerted a powerful influence on those entering it. The cairn was originally protected by an oval barrow 33m long and 13m wide. Some of the stones in the walls are laid at angles to each other, forming decorative patterns that echo the incised rims found on some Unstan ware bowls, examples of which were found in the tomb. These patterns are clearly part of the architectural design of the walls, meant to be seen. Midhowe is distinguished from other tombs of its type by having a horned forecourt adjacent to the long axis of the barrow on the north side. Extension of the curvature of the surviving ‘horns’ of the structure suggests an original diameter of as much as 70m indicating a ceremonial space capable of holding hundreds of people.

Midhowe represents an excellent example of collective burial common to the Orkney tombs. The remains of at least 25 individuals were discovered in the tomb. The bodies were found in groups of two to four on six of the shelves (seven stalls have shelves). Several of the skeletons were in a crouched position on the shelves, with their backs to the side wall and heads resting against the supporting pillars. Other groups of bones had been heaped into the centers of the shelves or swept under them, suggesting that earlier burials had been moved to accommodate later ones. In a few cases only the skulls were present, in one instance the long bones had been piled together with the skull placed on top.

Bones from a variety of animals were found as well including ox, sheep, skua, cormorant, buzzard, eagle, gannet, and carrion-crow. Fish bones from bream and wrasse were also present. Bream are not found this far north today, evidence that the waters around Orkney during the Neolithic must have been several degrees warmer than today.

We take a walk around the Midhowe broch. Constructed and used some time between 200 BC and 200 AD, this is possible the most impressive of the Orkney brochs. Standing on a promontory formed by two geos, the broch is protected on one side by the sea and on the landward side by a stone rampart and ditch. This massive rampart is built in an arc between the two geos and effectively cuts off access from the land. Although there is no doubt that these outward defences would have looked impressive in their heyday, it may be that they were merely built for dramatic effect. The southern end of the rampart stops short of the geo and leaves a ledge on the rock face by which a "visitor" could easily gain access to the promontory. Like the Broch of Gurness (on the opposite shore of Eynhallow Sound), Midhowe is surrounded by a group of external buildings. These, however, are probably from a later date, a time when the need for defence was not as important. Coastal erosion, a problem for all shore sites such as Midhowe, has greatly damaged the remains of these outhouses. The remains of the broch’s circular wall stand to a height of approximately four metres and within the structure the general layout of the ground floor is remarkably well-preserved. Large slabs of local flagstone were used to divide the interior into two smaller, semi-circular rooms. These were then further divided into smaller cells, each with its own hearth and water-tank. Water was supplied from a spring that flowed up through a crack in the rocks and during the excavations, it was written that the main storage tank retained water which remained clear and drinkable all the years the work of excavation was going on.

The site isn’t without its wildlife interest. Offshore several Grey Seals bob up and down, an Eider family feed along the shoreline and an Arctic Skua patrols the bay. Just as we head back up the steep walk to the vehicles, Craig spots a young male Hen Harrier by the cairn. It comes low across the hay field giving us great views before it heads off in to the island.

We move on to the double-tier tomb of Tavistock Tuick. This is an unique tomb as the lowered stalled level has had at a later date a Maes Howe type chambered tomb placed on top. Also, among the human remains found here were some cremated remains which is unlike any other Orkney tomb.

We arrive back at the Rousay pier for the 5.30pm crossing which again comes with rafts of auks, Black Guillemots sat on buoys and the odd Red-throated Diver before heading back to the hotel.

After dinner most of us head off to the impressive Ring of Brodgar.

The Ring of Brodgar (or Brogar, or Ring o' Brodgar) is a Neolithic henge and stone circle. Most henges don’t contain stone circles, but Brodgar is a striking exception, ranking with Stonehenge among the greatest of such sites. The ring of stones stands on a small isthmus between the lochs of Stenness and Harray and are the northernmost examples of circle henges in Britain. Unlike similar structures elsewhere there are no (or thought never to have been) any obvious stones inside the circle. The site has so far resisted attempts at scientific dating and the monument’s age remains uncertain although a further excavation in 2008 is hoping to at last date the monument. However, it is generally thought to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC, and was, therefore, the last of the great Neolithic monuments built on the Ness.
The stone circle is 104m in diameter and is the third largest in the British Isles. The ring originally comprised 60 stones, of which only 27 now remain standing. However, preliminary results from the 2008 excavation suggest there were over 70 standing stones. The stones are set within a circular ditch up to 3m deep, 9m wide and 380m in circumference that was carved out of the solid sandstone bedrock by the ancient residents. Technically, this ditch does not constitute a true henge as there is no sign of an encircling bank of earth and rock.
Ring of Brodgar lies at the heart of an extraordinary concentration of Neolithic sites, making this both a significant settlement and ritual landscape. Within 2 square miles (5.2 km2) there are the two circle-henges, four chambered tombs, groups of standing stones, single stones, barrows, cairns and mounds.

There is now increased speculation about the monument, with the new thought being that it was the building of the stone circle and not the use of it that was important. This is based on the lack of artefacts found in and around the site.

We spend an hour around this incredible site before returning back to the hotel.


Day 9, Mon 29 June - Burray and South Ronaldsay

Some of the group ventured out around the hotel and loch before breakfast. After breakfast we headed south cutting through the wide open moorland valley of Tuskerbister. We hadn’t long been in the valley when Steve spotted a Short-eared Owl up ahead. We pulled up alongside the field. Craig instantly started squeaking and he owl immediately headed for us, coming within meters looking right at the source of the squeaking before deciding it was not potential prey! We continued watching the owl for around 20 minutes as it continually quarters the rough grass field. We move on only when the owl itself decides to take refuge in the long grass once it’s caught itself a big, fat Orkney Vole. We’re just climbing back into our vehicles when Dave spots a ring-tail Hen Harrier coming up right behind us. We get fabulous views s it speeds past. We follow in the vehicles, but it is constantly moving away from us at an angle.

We stop at Scapa Flow and learn about the sinking of the Royal Oak and view out across the bay to the marker buoy of the wreck. We also manage to add House Martin to the trip list.

We head off further south, across the first of the Churchill Barriers and pay a visit to the Italian Chapel. The chapel was built by Italian Prisoners of War who were imprisoned here in order to build the barriers. We walk down to the bay a little and have lunch by the beach, and more importantly, next to the new Orkney Wine shop! A few bottles were bought, but many more ice creams were enjoyed - some of us had two!

We moved on after lunch to the south of South Ronaldsay to Liddle Farm at Isbister. This is home of the Simison family, and it was Ronnie Simison (now retired at 87) who discovered the Tomb of the Eagles in 1953 and excavated it himself in the 1970s. Kathleen, his daughter, gives us a fabulous introduction to the site and the tells us about excarnation, or sky burials, which were believed to have been used, and believed to the corpses believed to have been part-eaten by White-tailed Eagles. Kathleen also shows us artefacts from the tomb including skulls, tools and jewellery. Amazingly we get to handle some of these – 5000 year old items fashioned and used by Neolithic man! Eagle claws, pieces of Grooved Ware pottery and stone tools were all passed around for us to study up close. Unforgettable!

We then walk the mile down through the fields to the sea cliff and the tomb itself. We crawl through the 3m long entrance tunnel (some of us choose to use the trolley) and we are in the tomb were the remains of around 300 Neolithic people were found along with eagle claws, fish and animal bones. The tomb is a stalled and chambered tomb with the human remains found in the various chambers.

One the way back to the car park we look at a Bronze Age burnt mount before heading off back north before our final stop of the day at Furzebrook Pottery home of Andrew Appleby – the original Harray Potter! Andrew shows us the replica Neolithic kilns he has made out outside his studio and has began to commercially make pottery, using materials and techniques as close as possible to how Neolithic man would have done. He has a pot cooking on a small fire and shows us he is melting down animal fat how Neolithic man would have done to rub into the inner walls of the pots to seal and make them stronger and waterproof. It’s fabulous! Andrew shows us some of the larger vessels he has made this way, all decorated in the known Grooved Ware-style.

Inside, Andrew demonstrates the skills of a master potter throwing three pots and a lid for one of them in minutes! Andrew chats away to us genially and passionately about how he thinks Neolithic man did things. It’s a great experience. Several of us buy some pottery before heading back to the hotel for a rest and dinner.


Day 10, Tues 30 June

After breakfast we load up the vans and head into Kirkwall to see St Magnus Cathedral, the museum and shopping. We then relocate to Sheila Fleet’s studio at Tankerness before heading off to the Cleat of Taing for lunch. After lunch we head around to the airport and do our final checklist before heading back to Inverness. We perform the usual Speyside Wildlife end of trip ritual of declaring our personal species of the trip, place of the trip and magic moment. Species of the trip was tied with the South Nesting Otter and the Short-eared Owl at Terkerbister taking joint top billing, with votes also for Red-necked Phalarope, Storm-petrel and Puffin. Place of the trip goes to Mousa broch, with Noss, Sumbrugh Head, sunset at the Ring of Brodgar and the Loch of Stenness all getting vores. Magic moments are either a little more personal or one of those group moments. With so many to choose from its little wonder that the votes are spread and there is no clear winner. The Turkerbister Short-eared Owl, Storm-petrels coming in over the pebble beach on Mousa and the Primula Scotica all shared top spot with three votes each, with the Noss boat trip, the ever-present calls of the Curlew on both Shetland and Orkney, arriving at Hermaness, the Midhowe Hen Harrier and watching the South Nesting Otter swim under water all getting votes.

We arrive at Inverness and after collecting our bags we bid farewell and all head our separate ways.

Birds
Mute Swan
Whooper Swan
Greylag Goose
Shelduck
Teal
Gadwall
Mallard
Shoveler
Tufted Duck
(Wood Duck)
Eider
Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Great Northern Diver
Red-throated Diver
Little Grebe
Fulmar
Storm-petrel
Gannet
Cormorant
Shag
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Quail (heard only)
Pheasant
Common Buzzard
Sparrowhawk
Hen Harrier
Kestrel
Hobby
Moorhen
Coot
Oystercatcher
Ringed Plover
Golden Plover
Lapwing
Dunlin
Snipe
Whimbrel
Curlew
Common Sandpiper
Redshank
Turnstone
Red-necked Phalarope
Arctic Skua
Great Skua
Kittiwake
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Arctic Tern
Guillemot
Razorbill
Black Guillemot
Puffin
Rock Dove
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Short-eared Owl
Swift
Skylark
Sand Martin
Swallow
House Martin
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Pied Wagtail
Wren
Stonechat
Wheatear
Blackbird
Song Thrush
Sedge Warbler
Blackcap (heard only)
Chiffchaff (heard only)
Jackdaw
Rook
Hooded Crow
Raven
Starling
House Sparrow
Chaffinch
Greenfinch
Siskin
Linnet
Twite
Crossbill
Reed Bunting

92 species

Mammals
Otter
Common Seal
Grey Seal
Brown Hare
Rabbit
Brown Rat
Orkney Vole
Hedgehog

Butterflies and moths
Common Blue
Meadow Brown
Clouded Yellow
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
Green-veined White
Large White
Magpie moth
Silver Y

Other insects
Shetland Bumble-bee
White-tailed Bumble-bee

Plants
Water Aven
Northern Bedstraw
Slender Marsh Bedstraw
Amphibious Bistort
Bogbean
Bramble
Meadow Buttercup
Butterwort
Red Campion
Sea Campion
Chickweed
Marsh Cinquefoil
Cleavers
Red Clover
White Clover
Coltsfoot
Crosswort
Cuckoo Flower
Daisy
Oxeye Daisy
Dandelion
Red Dead-nettle
Common Dock
Ground Elder
Foxglove
Gorse
Grass-of-Parnassus
Groundsel
Hawkweed
Mouse-ear Hawkweed
Ling Heather
Bell Heather
Hogweed
Yellow Flag (Iris)
Marsh Marigold
Mayweed
Sea Mayweed
Meadowsweet
Black Medick
Mimulus
Nettle
Common Spotted Orchid
Heath Spotted Orchid
Northern Marsh Orchid
Pignut
Ribwort Plantain
Sea Plantain
Primula Scotica
Purslane - Pink
Ragwort
Ramsoms
Yellow Rattle
Scurvy-grass
Self-heal
Silverweed
Prickly Sow-thistle
Lesser Spearwort
Alpine Speedwell
Thyme-leaved Speedwell
Cown Spurrey
Alpine Squill
Slender St John’s Wort
Creeping Thistle
Marsh Thistle
Melancholy Thistle
Spear Thistle
Thrift
Thyme
Tormentil
Bird’s-foot Trefoil
Kidney Vetch
Tufted Vetch
Meadow Vetchling
Dwarf Willow
Broad-leaved Willowherb
Great Willowherb
Rose-bay Willowherb
Field Woodrush
Great Woodrush
Yarrow

Photos, unless stated, © Steve Dudley

Monday, March 23, 2009

Garden List

144. Bean Goose, 3/03/17
143. Grey Plover, 15/10/16
142. Great White Egret, 5/10/15
141. Raven, 11/01/15
140. Rough-legged Buzzard, 05/12/14
139. Hooded Crow, 11/03/14
138. Woodcock 28/01/14
137. Black-tailed Godwit 17/04/13
136. Yellow-legged Gull 29/09/12
135. Avocet 08/04/11
134. Waxwing 08/03/11
133. Ruff 06/11/10
132. Montagu's Harrier 15/05/10
131. Nuthatch 28/01/10
130 Jack Snipe 27/11/2009
129 Nightingale 26/08/2009
128 Common Crane 09/04/2009
127 Bewick's Swan 28/01/2009
126 Honey-buzzard 26/09/2008
125 Great Grey Shrike 05/04/2008
124 Hen Harrier 23/10/2007
123 Mandarin 23/04/2007
122 Wheatear 18/04/2007
121 Twite 18/10/2006
120 American Golden Plover 05/10/2006
119 Egyptian Goose 15/05/2006
118 Black Tern 05/05/2006
117 Whimbrel 04/04/2006
116 Siskin 21/03/2006
115 Goshawk 03/10/2005
114 Jay 03/10/2005
113 Tree Pipit 22/09/2005
112 Spotted Flycatcher 16/08/2005
111 Lesser Whitethroat 21/07/2005
110 Common Crossbill 17/07/2005
109 Shoveler 16/07/2005
108 Ring-necked Parakeet 12/07/2005
107 Coot 11/04/2005
106 Pochard 31/03/2005
105 Shelduck 26/02/2005
104 Mediterranean Gull 01/02/2005
103 Pink-footed Goose 07/11/2004
102 Reed Warbler 10/08/2004
101 Grey Wagtail 10/08/2004
100 Pied Flycatcher 09/08/2004
99 Red Kite 05/08/2004
98 Quail 13/06/2004
97 Little Grebe 13/04/2004
96 Oystercatcher 12/04/2004
95 Great Crested Grebe 17/03/2004
94 Curlew 05/03/2004
93 Little Egret 16/02/2004
92 Peregrine 19/11/2003
91 Blackcap 11/11/2003
90 Whooper Swan 09/11/2003
89 Redshank 30/10/2003
88 Short-eared Owl 30/10/2003
87 Common Buzzard 23/10/2003
86 Greylag Goose 10/10/2003
85 Hobby 04/09/2003
84 Green Woodpecker 20/08/2003
83 Greenshank 18/08/2003
82 Willow Warbler 06/08/2003
81 Marsh Harrier 01/08/2003
80 Common Sandpiper 30/07/2003
79 Sand Martin 18/07/2003
78 Canada Goose 08/06/2003
77 Moorhen 06/06/2003
76 Sedge Warbler 28/05/2003
75 Osprey 28/05/2003
74 Swift 18/05/2003
73 Cuckoo 15/05/2003
72 Whitethroat 08/05/2003
71 Tufted Duck 08/05/2003
70 House Martin 07/05/2003
69 Common Tern 07/05/2003
68 Turtle Dove 22/04/2003
67 Swallow 14/04/2003
66 Yellow Wagtail 07/04/2003
65 Bullfinch 22/03/2003
64 Barn Owl 19/03/2003
63 Grey Partridge 16/03/2003
62 Snipe 21/02/2003
61 Merlin 16/02/2003
60 European White-fronted Goose 15/02/2003
59 Tawny Owl 13/02/2003
58 Gadwall 12/02/2003
57 Brambling 08/02/2003
56 Goldeneye 07/02/2003
55 Reed Bunting 21/01/2003
54 Tree Sparrow 08/01/2003
53 Yellowhammer 06/01/2003
52 Chiffchaff 01/01/2003
51 Cormorant 01/01/2003
50 Little Owl 30/12/2002
49 Corn Bunting 24/12/2002
48 Green Sandpiper 24/12/2002
47 Mute Swan 24/12/2002
46 Linnet 09/12/2002
45 Goldcrest 09/12/2002
44 Stonechat 09/12/2002
43 Golden Plover 09/12/2002
42 Teal 09/12/2002
41 Grey Heron 09/12/2002
40 Great Spotted Woodpecker 05/12/2002
39 Goldfinch 02/12/2002
38 Herring Gull 02/12/2002
37 Feral Pigeon 30/11/2002
36 Sparrowhawk 30/11/2002
35 Wigeon 30/11/2002
34 Wren 30/11/2002
33 Meadow Pipit 30/11/2002
32 Great Black-backed Gull 30/11/2002
31 Rook 30/11/2002
30 Woodpigeon 30/11/2002
28 Redwing 23/11/2002
27 Dunnock 23/11/2002
27 Fieldfare 23/11/2002
26 Lapwing 23/11/2002
25 Mallard 23/11/2002
24 Long-tailed Tit 23/11/2002
23 Lesser-black Backed Gull 23/11/2002
22 Common Gull 23/11/2002
21 Black-headed Gull 23/11/2002
20 Red-legged Partridge 23/11/2002
19 Greenfinch 23/11/2002
18 Chaffinch 23/11/2002
17 House Sparrow 23/11/2002
16 Starling 23/11/2002
15 Carrion Crow 23/11/2002
14 Jackdaw 23/11/2002
13 Magpie 23/11/2002
12 Great Tit 23/11/2002
11 Blue Tit 23/11/2002
10 Mistle Thrush 23/11/2002
9 Song Thrush 23/11/2002
8 Blackbird 23/11/2002
7 Robin 23/11/2002
6 Pied Wagtail 23/11/2002
5 Skylark 23/11/2002
4 Collared Dove 23/11/2002
3 Stock Dove 23/11/2002
2 Pheasant 23/11/2002
1 Kestrel 23/11/2002

EXOTICS
Zebra Finch 09-16/08/2004
Sudan Golden Sparrow 15/10/2004, 09/08/2005
Canary 20/01/2006

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Garden List

125 Great Grey Shrike 05/04/2008
124 Hen Harrier 23/10/2007
123 Mandarin 23/04/2007
122 Wheatear 18/04/2007
121 Twite 18/10/2006
120 American Golden Plover 05/10/2006
119 Egyptian Goose 15/05/2006
118 Black Tern 05/05/2006
117 Whimbrel 04/04/2006
116 Siskin 21/03/2006
115 Goshawk 03/10/2005
114 Jay 03/10/2005
113 Tree Pipit 22/09/2005
112 Spotted Flycatcher 16/08/2005
111 Lesser Whitethroat 21/07/2005
110 Common Crossbill 17/07/2005
109 Shoveler 16/07/2005
108 Ring-necked Parakeet 12/07/2005
107 Coot 11/04/2005
106 Pochard 31/03/2005
105 Shelduck 26/02/2005
104 Mediterranean Gull 01/02/2005
103 Pink-footed Goose 07/11/2004
102 Reed Warbler 10/08/2004
101 Grey Wagtail 10/08/2004
100 Pied Flycatcher 09/08/2004
99 Red Kite 05/08/2004
98 Quail 13/06/2004
97 Little Grebe 13/04/2004
96 Oystercatcher 12/04/2004
95 Great Crested Grebe 17/03/2004
94 Curlew 05/03/2004
93 Little Egret 16/02/2004
92 Peregrine 19/11/2003
91 Blackcap 11/11/2003
90 Whooper Swan 09/11/2003
89 Redshank 30/10/2003
88 Short-eared Owl 30/10/2003
87 Common Buzzard 23/10/2003
86 Greylag Goose 10/10/2003
85 Hobby 04/09/2003
84 Green Woodpecker 20/08/2003
83 Greenshank 18/08/2003
82 Willow Warbler 06/08/2003
81 Marsh Harrier 01/08/2003
80 Common Sandpiper 30/07/2003
79 Sand Martin 18/07/2003
78 Canada Goose 08/06/2003
77 Moorhen 06/06/2003
76 Sedge Warbler 28/05/2003
75 Osprey 28/05/2003
74 Swift 18/05/2003
73 Cuckoo 15/05/2003
72 Whitethroat 08/05/2003
71 Tufted Duck 08/05/2003
70 House Martin 07/05/2003
69 Common Tern 07/05/2003
68 Turtle Dove 22/04/2003
67 Swallow 14/04/2003
66 Yellow Wagtail 07/04/2003
65 Bullfinch 22/03/2003
64 Barn Owl 19/03/2003
63 Grey Partridge 16/03/2003
62 Snipe 21/02/2003
61 Merlin 16/02/2003
60 European White-fronted Goose 15/02/2003
59 Tawny Owl 13/02/2003
58 Gadwall 12/02/2003
57 Brambling 08/02/2003
56 Goldeneye 07/02/2003
55 Reed Bunting 21/01/2003
54 Tree Sparrow 08/01/2003
53 Yellowhammer 06/01/2003
52 Chiffchaff 01/01/2003
51 Cormorant 01/01/2003
50 Little Owl 30/12/2002
49 Corn Bunting 24/12/2002
48 Green Sandpiper 24/12/2002
47 Mute Swan 24/12/2002
46 Linnet 09/12/2002
45 Goldcrest 09/12/2002
44 Stonechat 09/12/2002
43 Golden Plover 09/12/2002
42 Teal 09/12/2002
41 Grey Heron 09/12/2002
40 Great Spotted Woodpecker 05/12/2002
39 Goldfinch 02/12/2002
38 Herring Gull 02/12/2002
37 Feral Pigeon 30/11/2002
36 Sparrowhawk 30/11/2002
35 Wigeon 30/11/2002
34 Wren 30/11/2002
33 Meadow Pipit 30/11/2002
32 Great Black-backed Gull 30/11/2002
31 Rook 30/11/2002
30 Woodpigeon 30/11/2002
28 Redwing 23/11/2002
27 Dunnock 23/11/2002
27 Fieldfare 23/11/2002
26 Lapwing 23/11/2002
25 Mallard 23/11/2002
24 Long-tailed Tit 23/11/2002
23 Lesser-black Backed Gull 23/11/2002
22 Common Gull 23/11/2002
21 Black-headed Gull 23/11/2002
20 Red-legged Partridge 23/11/2002
19 Greenfinch 23/11/2002
18 Chaffinch 23/11/2002
17 House Sparrow 23/11/2002
16 Starling 23/11/2002
15 Carrion Crow 23/11/2002
14 Jackdaw 23/11/2002
13 Magpie 23/11/2002
12 Great Tit 23/11/2002
11 Blue Tit 23/11/2002
10 Mistle Thrush 23/11/2002
9 Song Thrush 23/11/2002
8 Blackbird 23/11/2002
7 Robin 23/11/2002
6 Pied Wagtail 23/11/2002
5 Skylark 23/11/2002
4 Collared Dove 23/11/2002
3 Stock Dove 23/11/2002
2 Pheasant 23/11/2002
1 Kestrel 23/11/2002

EXOTICS
Zebra Finch 09-16/08/2004
Sudan Golden Sparrow 09/08/2005 - 15/10/2004

Monday, May 14, 2007

Lesvos trip report 25 April - 2 May 2002

Lesbos trip report

25 April – 2 May 2002

A Speyside Wildlife holiday with Steve Dudley and Mark Newall

Sorry no photos - see here

Day 1. Mark and Steve meet the group off their 6.30am flight at Mytillini Airport. Everyone’s tired after their overnight lights and Mark and Steve have also been up since 4am in order to get last weeks group to the airport for 6am check-in. The 35km drive to Skalla Kallonis is quick and quiet as sleep catches up on most. Arriving at the hotel we have a quick breakfast before checking everyone into their rooms and a morning’s rest before meeting up again for lunch.

After lunch, we head down to the Kolloni II Pools. We get as far as the hotel gateway before stopping to check on the White Stork nest on a nearby rooftop. The huge structure is perched on one end of roof and looks just like a chimney. One bird is sat on the nest and another is seemingly asleep on a nearby telegraph pole. We walk down the road to the pools to the sound of singing Greenfinch and Corn Bunting. We hadn’t even got sight of water when a Little Bittern is seen flying in to a roadside tamarisk bush ahead of us. The bird typically vanishes. We reach the first wet patch. The mud right in front of us is alive with ‘yellow’ wagtails, Wood Sandpipers and Crested Larks. Its now that the only rule of the week is explained to everyone – the Brown Rule! If its brown and on the ground, it’s a Crested Lark. If its brown and on a wire, it’s a Corn Bunting. And if its brown and near water, it’s a Wood Sandpiper. After Sunday, Mark and Steve would refuse to identify Crested Lark, Corn Bunting and Wood Sands!

Looking over the pool in front of us its difficult to know where to start – there are birds everywhere! The brown Wood Sandpipers and Crested Larks are soon looked over for the brighter birds around us. The abundance of yellow wagtails come in all head colours and shades of yellow and green. The two commonest types found in Lesbos are looking up at us and are relatively easy to remember. Those with all black heads are Black-headed Wagtails and those with pastel blue heads and white ‘eyebrows’, Blue-headed Wagtails. The duller females are dismissed as all but the female Black-headed are virtually impossible to tell apart.

Looking to the patch of water beyond the wagtails, there are a group of Black-winged Stilts taking an afternoon doze. Sat amongst the stilts’ forest of bubble-gum legs are a couple of male Garganey – looking all resplendent with their gleaming white head stripes. ‘Little Bittern!’ Steve shouts as a female flies low across the marsh and lands in view midway up a bush. Scopes are soon put into action before it has chance to slope off in typical bittern fashion. But she decides it’s nice in the sun and sits out for us all to enjoy at our leisure. The sky above the pools is thick with hirundines like an aerial soup! A Common Snipe is found lurking in the back reed edge and the scopes are repositioned to study this often overlooked bird. Steve then spies a White-winged Black Tern coming in from the north. Everyone is able to get on to this stunning marsh tern as it lazily flies low over the pools and straight through. ‘That was wonderful’ comments Joy, ‘I’d like to see more of them’ she adds. Without catching our breath, three more terns are picked up flying along the southern side of the pool. ‘Gull-billed’ shouts Mark. Again everyone is able to get on to these larger terns, with heavy, short, black, gull-like bills and black caps, before they too head off. As Steve and Mark begin to show the group the two terns in the book, Mark looks up to see four Collared Pratincoles. Unfortunately they fly straight through and in to the sun, so only their unique shape can be seen with little plumage detail discernible. We look back over the pools to see a male Little Bittern doing a full fly-pass showing off his bold wing patches before disappearing into the reeds. A Balkan green lizard is seen running across the road and on to a low wall where it stops for us to enjoy its stripy green and yellow patterning. A Whiskered Tern is next to appear. Another of the marsh terns, this elegant sooty looking bird with gleaming white cheeks and dark cap, gives us a prolonged performance as it passes back and forth, occasionally swooping to pick prey off the surface of the water. Another male Little Bittern flies past followed by a female. A near adult Purple Heron then rises from the reeds before flapping off to the east. Its huge size, dark colour, bulging neck and tangle of toes are all clear to see. Then the first of three Squacco Heron’s is found on the edge of the near pool. This small golden-brown heron is a real delight, and no sooner as we all get on to it and it takes flight and the transformation from brown ground bird to a ghostly white flying bird is amazing. Wow! We are in heron heaven! Andjust to emphasise it, another couple of Little Bitterns are found perched up in a tamarisk bush! And another two are visible in the short reeds, and another two at the back of the pools. How many are there? With several more in flight, we have a minimum of nine (!) Little Bitterns. Wow!! A couple of male Shoveler are quickly lookedover, as are the pair of Teal (although the latter are a tick for a Speyside group on Lesbos!). A female Little Crake is then found creeping below the tamarisk bush with the Little Bitterns in it. This tiny crake performs brilliantly as we all get great views. A grass snake is then seen swimming across the bottom of the pool right next to us and Steve manages to spot one of the more vocal marsh frogs amongst the floating pool vegetation. Steve gets his scope on to it as it continues to croak, inflating and deflating its cheeks for all to enjoy. ‘ALB’ remarks Joy rather dismissively as yet ‘another Littler Bittern’ flies past. Mark then points skywards to another Collared Pratincole. This time we have the sun behind us, and we are able to clearly see the main features of white rump and trailing edges to the wings and the contrast in the wings. Like too many of the afternoons birds it continues straight over without landing. Steve then spies the Whiskered Tern sat amongst the Black-winged Stilts on the marsh. Scopes aimed at the bird, and we are able to take a real close look at this great looking marsh tern with its sturdy dark red bill. Another snake is spotted swimming through the pools and the week’s first Red-rumped Swallows appear in the myriad of hirundines over the pools. Little Bitterns continue to leap out in front of us from all directions and Sedge Warblers are zipping from reed to reed, rarely allowing us to get our bin on them.

Its taken us over two hours to walk the few hundred yards to the beach! Here we enjoy good views of Common Tern and distant views of Yellow-legged Gull and a single first-summer Sandwich Tern – quite a scarce spring record. Steve picks up six Avocets swimming distantly on the sea. We head off down towards West River and are greeted by the ever-present Cetti’s Warbler guarding the road junction. In the fields beyond, at least four Whinchat are dotted along the fence and a male Woodchat Shrike is found, to be joined by a female. This smart shrike brings a real Mediterranean flavour to the afternoon. On the saltmarsh opposite a couple of Little Ringed Plovers chase one another and our first Kentish Plovers is found. Steve explains that these smart little birds are called ‘KP Nuts’ as they like most plovers they have a tendency to go bananas when another plover trespasses into its patch. And true to form, our KP then goes nuts as another male lands close by, and it speeds off on its long legs like something out of a cartoon! A Common Buzzard is picked up distantly and soon forgotten about when Mark spots a Stone-curlew sat out on the marsh. Little Egberts (egrets) can be seen in every direction, and working our way through the army of Ruff, we pick out three Curlew Sandpipers, all in fine summer plumage (which is more that can be said for the Ruff!) and a handful of stints. Steve begins to scrutinise the stints. Little, Little, Little – ah – Temminck’s! The sun isn’t brilliant, but even so, the longer rear end, uniform colour including complete dark chest band, greenish legs and longish decurved bill are all visible. Ian then shouts harrier. Panning his scope right following Ian’s direction Steve hits on a Common Bittern just as it drops out of view! No one else managed to get on it. Looking in vain at where it disappeared, a female Marsh Harrier does drift across our view over the distant reeds.

Times getting on and we all wearily drag ourselves away from this bonanza of birds back to the hotel and for dinner. We’ve all seen so many birds its hard to believe that this is still only the first day!

Day 2. We wake to a cool, bright morning, but with no clouds, it is soon beginning to warm by the time we leave the hotel at 9am. Our first stop is the oddly named Derbyshire. We park and prepare to go for a walk along the track running below a scrubby hillside. No sooner than we have got our scopes out of the vans, when Rae spots a small warbler on the top of the hill. Steve swings his scope on to it. ‘Rüppell’s!’ he shouts. ‘It’s a bloody male Rüppell’s!’. Mark is soon on to it, and the group gather behind Steve’s and Mark’s scopes to get a view as it sits out in the open singing. The bird disappears and the other scopes are readied for its reappearance. Mark explains how unusual it is to find Rüppell’s Warbler here and the reason for Steve’s total surprise at being confronted with a singing male Rüppell’s here. The bird reappears briefly and all but two members of the group get good scope views before it vanishes and no further sign despite a lengthy wait. During the wait though a male Woodchat appears and the odd Spanish Sparrow is picked up amongst the House Sparrows on the hillside above us. Two Agama lizards vie for attention as they bask in the strong sun when a single Red-rumped Swallow appears briefly over us and a stunning male Masked Shrike makes a brief appearance on wires behind us before making off for the cover of the hillside. A couple of male Subalpine Warblers raise pulses as we search for the Rüppell’s, but neither hang around or give good views. ‘Black Stork!’ is shouted, and looking seawards a stunning adult flaps past only a couple of hundred yards away. The light is perfect, and the intensity of the glowing red bill and legs is unreal. Then a second bird lifts up from the right and we are treated to a repeat performance! An adult Purple Heron passes from the opoosite direction and this too looks stunning in this brilliant light. Whilst looking out to sea, a handful of Little Terns are picked up flying past and a Common Sandpiper is spotted on the nearby marsh when a first-summer male Marsh Harrier drifts past. There is a steady stream of Common Swifts heading north, and wave after wave Swallows and House Martins. A walk along the track produces Turtle Dove, Common Cuckoo, a few Whinchat, Blue and Great Tits and distant views of Short-toed Eagle and Common Buzzard. It’s impossible not to enjoy the array and colour of the wild flowers which included a large stand of heart-flowered serapias.

On to the Derbyshire Outcrop, and we are greeted by a several Ruddy Shelduck. Three birds in flight head off, flashing their vivid white wing patches, but two birds remain on the ground for us to enjoy. A single Great White Egret struts between the Little Egrets and five Mute Swans. It’s easy to appreciate the Great White’s greater size and yellow bill at such close range and how similar it looks in structure to the nearby Grey Heron. A couple of Kentish Plovers run around the beach pools and a small group of Linnets flyover before three Short-toed Larks fly in noisily, landing right in front of us. From our slightly elevated position, we get great views of what is too often dismissed as just another LBJ. These adults sport bright rufous crowns, gleaming eyebrows and their triangular neck patches. A superb male Black-headed Wagtail sits up on a dead stick and soon attracts our attention.

We move on to Achladeri and arriving at the car park see that two other groups are already in the trees ahead of us. We take our time readying ourselves, and enjoy superb views of a singing Woodchat and our first Black-eared Wheatear – a stunning black-throated bird. We move in to the wood and gingerly make our way past the other two groups who have staked out a Krüper’s Nuthatch nest site. We walk on up through the wood to an open area. Within minutes a Krüper’s Nuthatch can be heard calling up to our right. Mark picks up a nuthatch feeding in a near pine. Most get on to it before it flits off. Krüper’s Nuthatch calls ring out from the slope in front of us, and it isn’t long before two birds appear in front of us, flitting tit-like from tree to tree. The next ten minutes are really frustrating as the birds bounce around in front of us giving only the briefest of glimpses and not settling. Mark manages to follow one bird as it disappears up the slope away from us and watches it disappear on the side of a tree. He’s found the nest! We position the scopes on the nest tree (we can’t quite make out the hole which looks as if it is on the side of the trunk ninety degree on to us). We take it in turns to stand at the scopes awaiting the two returning birds as they make regular visits to the nest with food and often leaving with a feacal sack to dispose of. Those of us with bins enjoy great views as the birds collect food from the trees immediately around us. Hunger gets the better of us and we reluctantly retreat back through the trees. We get no further than the stream when Steve stops us to enjoy cracking views of a XXX dragonfly sat on the bare stones ahead of us. Standing here two Hoopoes are spotted flying through the trees to our left and a few get a glimpse of a Jay. We get a few yards further on before being stopped by a family party Short-toed Treecreepers. The birds perform brilliantly as the adults stuff beakfuls of insects down hungry throats. On one tree three treecreepers form a procession as two hungry young chase after their parent.

Back at the car park, we tuck into our packed lunch with entertainment provided by the male Woodchat and Black-eared Wheatear. Only a couple of the group notice the Common Buzzard overhead. Sarah then finds a dung beetle which is rolling a perfectly round ball of dung. The group gathers, and after reversing one of the vans from its path, we enjoy a comical performance as the beetle rolls its dung ball across the stoney ground. Every time it met an obstacle, it would jump up on top of the dung ball to survey the path before jumping back down and expertly navigating its way around each of the offending obstacle.

Returning back past the Derbyshire Outcrop we stop briefly to enjoy super close views of a Black Stork. The iridescent green on the birds head, and the ‘painted’ red of the bill, face and legs are all marvelled at.

We arrive at the East River and our first close views of Yellow-legged Gull. The sun is behind us and the light is brilliant and five Glossy Ibis look stunning in their copper and green plumage. Mark picks up a small wader running around the mud under the Wood Sands. It’s a Temminck’s Stint, and much closer and in much better light than last nights bird. We quietly creep out of the vans to erect our tripods and enjoy his great little calidrid through the scopes. Looking around the many patches of mud we soon find another three Temminck’s, each being chased by Wood Sand! Don then turns our attention to a Great Reed Warbler bouncing around the tangle of dead trees in the middle of the trickling river. It looks enormous out in the open as it passes a Sedge Warbler. ‘Text book perfect’ remarks Joy with a beaming smile in appreciation of the stunning views of this monster of a warbler. A large stripe-necked terrapin is seen hauling itself out on to a mud bank as the liquid ‘prruutt’ calls of Bee-eaters are heard above us. Looking up Mark points out two birds circling among Common Swifts and frustratingly heading away from us. Next up is an Olivaceous Warbler singing from a tiny bush below us. Scopes soon target this rather featureless ‘hippo’ warbler, but with increased magnification, the structure and colour can be appreciated a little better (!) and Don’s shout of White Stork goes largely unnoticed as most enjoy great views of our first ‘Oli’. Neil picks up a cream a cream-crowned Marsh Harrier above the hill opposite and a Common Sandpiper is glimpsed bobbing around below the road bridge.

We move on and park the vans and head off further upstream on foot. Our first find is a distant Long-legged Buzzard, which Rae spotted distantly, but as we watch it begins to work the ridge opposite, heading towards. It eventually gives itself up to superb scope views as it hangs in the wind above the ridge. We can now see all its plumage and how big and eagle-like this large buzzard is. Steve comments how Red Kite-like in general colour it looks. Steve then picks up two falcons – ‘Red-foots!’ he shouts. Everyone looks across to the ridge opposite to see two falcons coming across the valley, and as they pass overhead, the blue-grey colour and red trousers can be seen. We search the rocky slope above us for passerines and Mark soon picks up a Rock Nuthatch. It is very active bobbing up and down and hopping from rock to rock. Everyone at least catches up with it with bins as it works across the slope. At one point it is seen to catch a large green cricket and hack at it in typical nuthatch fashion (well at least it must have been a quick death!). Steve meanwhile pre-empts the nuthatch and positions his scope on a nest he and Mark found earlier. Sure enough, the nuthatch appears at the nest and is joined by a second bird. Both birds then begin to too-and-fro from the nest and are actively repairing the entrance hole. Wow! A very tatty Peregrine drifts over the valley and a single Lesser Kestrel plays cat and mouse as it appears every now and then over the opposite ridge. Mark then finds a Cuckoo perched upon the opposite side of the valley which performs very well as it feeds and occasionally being mobbed by various passerines. Mark then spots a ring-tail Montagu’s Harrier over the opposite hillside and everyone is able to get good views as it works back and forth before heading off upstream. Two Red-rumped Swallows make a brief appearance over the river before we head back to the vans and driving out we pick up two Squacco Herons lurking in the bankside vegetation.

We end the day on the West River and all too typically brief views of a Fan-tailed Warbler (or Zitting Cisticola as some of us prefer – and as it is in the book!) as one flits from stem to stem before disappearing completely. We had already enjoyed great views of Black Stork earlier in the day, but these were blasted away as a full adult rose within a few yards of us and the whole group just stood in absolute awe as it flapped by us – absolutely crippling views! You could almost feel the whoosh of air with every wingbeat! Unbelievable! Not to be outdone, a stunning male Montagu’s Harrier then glided lazily by us on the opposite side. With such close views in brilliant light the barring on the upperwing and underwing were clearly visible. An adult Whiskered Tern tried hard to vie for attention, but lost out to a winter plumaged Red-throated Pipit that Mark found sat amongst ‘yellow’ wagtails on the nearby wire fence and three more birds flew directly overhead calling their distinctive high-pitched, drawn out ‘speee’ calls. We return to the hotel and for those not totally birded out, they have an hour or so to explore the Kalloni Pools before dinner.

Day3. No time for pre-breaky birding for most, as its an early start as we are off to the enjoy the delights of western Lesbos for the day. As we load up the vans, a Night Heron does a quick fly-by on its way to roost in nearby trees.

Our first stop is at Limonos where we stop with a view overlooking the fantastic monastery. A Subalpine Warbler song-flights right in front of us, but only gives tantalising views when it lands. A male Cretzschmar’s Bunting is much more obliging as it sings in full view in the sun from the top of a nearby bush. Steve then looks up to see two Bee-eaters high over the hillside behind us, but they disappear as sharply as they appeared. The hillside below us is alive with birds as Mark soon picks out a superb male Red-backed and another male and a female are soon located. The group also enjoy the ‘extra’ birds running around the monastery grounds (Peacock, Rhea, Ostrich and Chicken!).

We arrive at the Grand Canyon and Mark immediately locates a singing male Black-eared Wheatear on the rocks directly above us and just to the left of it is a male Subalpine Warbler singing from the overhead wires. Mark then spies a Wood Warbler in the valley just below us, and the bird performs really well feeding in an oak tree, occasionally hovering to pick insects from the outer leaves. ‘Woodpecker!’ someone shouts, and looking across the valley, a Middle-spotted Woodpecker disappears into a tree on the opposite side and can’t be relocated. A Long-legged Buzzard appears over the distant crags as Mark picks up a similarly distant Crag Martin which frustratingly proves impossible to get the group on to. Steve then picks up a Blue Rock Thrush on the crags but it promptly disappears before we could get the scopes on to it. Mark then finds something we can all enjoy! A superb Short-toed Eagle hanging over the opposite hill and drifts slowly along the ridge allowing everyone to get good scope views. Steve than drags the group back to look for the Blue Rock Thrush as two birds are courtship flighting off the crags. They frustrate everyone with brief flight sorties and occasional perched views and no one really gets a good look at them. A Rock Nuthatch makes a brief appearance on the main crag and is a welcome diversion from the increasingly frustrating views of Blue Rock Thrush. A male Cretzschmar’s Bunting then pops up on the wires above us gives us a grand performance of its rather short and monotonous song. Steve then picks up a Blue Rock Thrush right on the crag just above us. At last we get stunning views of a male perched as it starts song flighting. It launches itself off the rock-face and with wings and tail fully spread as swoops back to the jagged rocks whilst delivering its melodic song. A Crag Martin then gatecrashes proceedings and people don’t know what to look at – the Crag Martin floats between us and the rock-face and the song flighting Blue Rock Thrush! Incredible! Blue Rock Thrush wins the contest as scopes are again lined up to enjoy it’s iridescent blue plumage. The Blue Rock Thrush disappears and we look round for the Crag Martin. Its gone! ‘No its here’ shouts Mark, pointing up the valley, and we enjoy stunning views as it swoops around showing off its little tail spots and eventually gives itself totally and comes right overhead and flies around with the two Red-rumped Swallows that have been bombing about throughout. A Long-legged Buzzard is appears over the other side of the valley and lazily drifts along the ridge and then suddenly lands on a open rock. Scopes are grabbed and aimed at the raptor and we all enjoy good perched views of this eagle-like buzzard. The lush valley below is almost forgotten about, but our brief glimpses produce Long-tailed Tit, Pied Flycatcher and Jay. Golden Orioles can be heard singing downstream, and Steve glimpses three males disappearing into distant trees never to be seen again. We reluctantly drag ourselves away from this bird-filled valley and head off westwards.

An unscheduled stop is between the Erossos/Ipsilou junction and Ipsilou Monastery when Steve’s van picks up a male Isabelline Wheatear. Steve radios Mark who reverses back but the bird has gone, but we enjoy two male Northern Wheatears chasing each other round the boulder strewn hillside.

We arrive at Sigri and the seafront is unusually quiet. We head off down the road towards Fanoromeni Ford when we come across small field alive with birds. An adult Lesser Grey Shrike takes stop billing as it hunts from the top of a nearby fog tree, swooping down to ground to grab beetles and crickets. A Woodchat Shrike is hunting from the fenceline behind, and on the opposite side of the field, a male Red-backed Shrike is found feeding from the lower branches of another fig tree. Spotted and Pied Flycatchers feed from the same tree along with a lone Blackcap. A Long-legged Buzzard appears high overhead, followed by three superb Short-toed Eagles and a more distant Hobby. A Common Kestrel is feeding from the nearby telegraph poles and a second kestrel appears behind us – it’s a Lesser Kestrel! And its chasing a bat! A big bat at that, all black with really long broad wings, much bigger than the noctule bats of the UK – about starling sized. The Lesser Kestrel though is no match for the bat, and eventually gives up after countless twists and turns of the aerial combat. Continuing down the track, we pass a couple more Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes and a cream-crown Marsh Harrier before stopping by the pond when an unfamiliar song is being belted out from a nearby bush. We soon locate the culprit – a superb male Orphean Warbler. No sooner as we get onto him and he’s off back up the track and out of view. We jump out of the vans to relocate it and see more Short-toed Eagles overhead being mobbed by a Raven. Then Ian picks up two birds in the distance which Mark immediately identifies as pratincoles. They whirl around in the distance as we struggle to see all the features but eventually agree they are both Collared and not the hoped for Black-winged. Steve then finds a couple of Red-veined Darter dragonflies on the pond and goes through the ID features for those interested. The Orphean Warbler starts to sing again from a bush further up the track before flying off to a large tree on the other side of the field. It sits out in the open just long enough for us to get the scopes on to it at last. The same tree also holds adult male Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes. Mark then locates an adult female Montagu’s Harrier and we watch it cross two Short-toed Eagles and a Lesser Kestrel! A Little Egret looks out of place flying over this waterless area. Just as we are about to drive away, Mark beckons us to jump out again. John has seen a male Black-headed Bunting up ahead, and as we all pile out, two male Black-headed Buntings fly out of a nearby bush, do a superb fly-by before heading off up the track. As we lose sight of them, Bee-eater calls are heard overhead and looking up is a single bird, calling repeatedly, giving stunning views as it drifts slowly directly overhead, soon followed by two more birds, again calling, and again fly directly overhead giving superb views. Mark then shouts ‘Golden Oriole!’ as a male swoops down from the hillside to our right and down the track and lands briefly in a bush before flipping over the top and out of view. We make do with two Woodchat Shrikes hunting from the nearby wires before Mark shouts ‘Black-headed Bunting!’ and turning round we see a female leaving a fennel plant behind us. We leave this brilliant bird bonanza to the marsh frogs who continue to bang our their liquid croaks.

We arrive at Fanoromeni Ford, and even before we are park up Ian spots a female Little Crake right by the ford. Several of Steve’s van get on to it before it sneaks off, but looking downstream, Steve can see two Little Bitterns and a single Squacco Heron sat out in the open on the trickling riverbed. We park the vans a scopes are soon pointing downstream taking in the stunning views of male and female Little Bittern. A single Tree Pipit is wandering around the centre of the dried upriver section and settles down to a good bathe in one of the small pools, and Spotted and Pied Flycatchers are swooping down from the bankside bamboo stands. Searching through the bamboo and bushes we soon start picking out a few warblers – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Reed and Sedge Warblers. Hunger stops proceedings and everyone locates a comfy rock to perch on. A Nightingale is belting out from a nearby bush, and Mark soon locates the bird sat out in the open. Steve grabs his scope and superb full field views of Nightingale are being enjoyed over between mouthfuls of lunch! Two Masked Shrikes appear above us in a large tree before moving off to feed in adjacent field along with a couple of Whinchat. A feature of lunch are the groups of Turtle Doves flying around, with several groups seen flying overhead along with a good numbers of hirundines. A Great Reed Warbler them appears in the nearby bamboo, bouncing around the thick stems in typical monster fashion.

We set off for a walk up the lane and get as far as the other side of the ford when there is a sudden increase in flycatcher activity. We have up to four Spotted, two Pied and a very elusive Collared Flycatcher which few of us manage to get on to. An adult Night Heron then flies low overhead downstream and lands in full view and immediately starts fishing for tadpoles. The river is teaming with tadpoles of all sizes, and two Little Bitterns creep out of bankside vegetation to resume their hunting within metres of us! Wow! A cream-crown Marsh drifts overhead heading downstream. Small birds head for cover, when it suddenly twists in mid-air and amazingly dives onto the feeding Night Heron! Wow! The harrier has the heron by the neck and both tumble to the floor, wings flailing, and the birds rolling a bundle of feathers. The heron seems to regain its momentum and fights back with snapping beak and tearing feet. The harrier hangs on but the heron is too strong and it eventually gives up its ambitious lunch plans! The harrier flaps casually away and the heron resumes its fishing stance. Closing your eyes and opening them to look back down the river and it’s hard to believe the encounter we’ve all just witnessed. Just as we catch our breath, Ian spots an adult male Red-footed Falcon over the ford before drifting off. We head off up the track, and as we reach an open gateway, Neil spies a male Golden Oriole sweep across a field and into a fig tree. Its landed right out in the open and tripods are hastily erected and scopes aimed at this vivid yellow bird. It sits motionless, the group lapping up our best views of this gorgeous bird as female joins in the fun. Over the next fifteen minutes we get fantastic views of these two birds, plus a second male, feeding in the trees and bamboo stands before both are flushed by a farm worker. A male Lesser Kestrel swooping down to gather a beetle right in front of us breaks our attention briefly from the orioles, the light is perfect and all the key features are easily seen including the blue-grey wing panel, light underwings, salmon body with obvious spotted and the elongated central tail feathers - stunning.

We move on up to an open area overlooking a scrubby hillside. A Golden Oriole flights past and a male Red-backed Shrike is feeding from the top of a fig tree. ‘Bee-eater’ shouts Duncan, and right in front of us appears a single Bee-eater. One turns two. Two to four. Four to eight. Eight to 18! Wow! Rainbow birds are swooping low over the field in front of us, their liquid calls soon ringing all around us as they seem to engulf us! No matter where you look there is a Bee-eater. They slowly drift off, but their calls can continue to be heard so Steve walks back down the track and finds at least nine birds sat on a wire out of view of the group. He beckons the group, but the ensuing rush and clatter of tripods flushes all but two of the birds, who thankfully stay put and give crippling views only several yards away for several minutes before eventually flying off after the others. A ring-tail harrier sweeps overhead but disappears before we are able to get views good enough to clinch the ID. With the sound of Bee-eaters ‘prruutting’ in the distance we resume of search of the area. Mark locates a Wood Warbler feeding in a nearby tree. Steve takes a number of the group up along the field edge to get a better angle to view the tree and we enjoy superb views of this bright warbler – its lemon yellow face and silky white underparts clearly visible in the shade of the tree.

Walking back down the track to the ford, we can again hear the Bee-eaters to our right. We stop in a gateway to see half a dozen or so Bee-eaters toing and froing from a fig tree. Mark then spots a male Collared Flycatcher in a small bush. Viewing is tight in this restricted gateway, and the flycatcher keeps low and largely behind the field boundary. We get only fleeting glimpses as it flits from perch to perch before suddenly making a beeline right for us. It lands in the bush right next to us. Too close for some to focus on! It then settles down to feeding in the trackside bushes. The group’s attention is divided, with half the group mesmerised by the stunning and super close views of the Collared Fly, and the other half enjoying the rainbow display of a dozen or so Bee-eaters. Its amazing how stunning a black and white bird can look and is just as good looking as the Bee-eaters but in a different way. Eventually we must drag ourselves away and everyone bar Helen is Bee-eatered out (and totally flycatchered as well!). Hirundines continued to move overhead, and at least four Red-rumped swallows were picked out amongst the mass of Barn Swallows and House Martins.

Taking the track down to the beach, Mark’s lead van flushes a female Common Redstart which Steve’s van fails to get on to. A little further on a recently cut hay meadow is teeming with ‘yellow’ wagtails. We pull up and start to sift through the countless Black-headed and Blue-headed Wags before Steve picks out a single male Grey-headed Wagtail. Ian than comments he has a pipit. Steve foolishly tells him to concentrate on the wagtails before coming across the back of a pipit which turns round to reveal a brick red face and throat! ‘Red-throated Pipit’ blurts Steve, swiftly followed by an apology to Ian who is muttering Steve’s request to concentrate on the wagtails! Humble pie swallowed, Steve directs the others on to the pipit and radios Mark. Mark begins reversing back as someone in his van then picks up a second Red-throated Pipit alongside their van. We enjoy great close views of the pipits and wagtails for 10 minutes or so before moving on to check the beach. We arrive at the beach hopeful that the two Collared Pratincoles seen earlier might have pitched down by the beach pool. The beach is strangely bird-free, so we turn straight round and head back along the track. The pipits and wagtails have moved fields, and with Steve’s van in the lead they manage to relocate the earlier missed female Common Redstart and a Common Whitethroat in an olive grove.

The drive back is rather uneventful and very quiet as weary eyes eventually succumb to sleep. Only a few hardy soles manage a visit to the Kalloni Pools before an eagerly awaited dinner.

Day 4. We awake to a rather overcast sky and a cool northerly wind, but by the time we leave the hotel at 9am, the sun is warming the land and the clouds scattering. We drive out to the Kalloni Saltpans and on arrival get straight stuck in to a large flock of waders on the first pan. Amongst the large flock of Ruff are quite a few Curlew Sandpipers, many of them in their brick red breeding dress. The Ruff in contrast were all still very much in winter plumage. Twelve Little Terns are roosting upon one of the nearest islands. An Olivaceous Warbler is found in the hedgerow immediately behind us and it performs well for a few minutes before disappearing into cover.

With the air temperature rising, the nearby hill soon starts to get busy with raptors. First up are three Common Buzzards with their distinctive rounded shape and wings held upwards as they circle on a thermal. The thermals soon attract a single Short-toed Eagle, a couple of Common Kestrels and at least three Red-footed Falcons. They seem to enjoying the morning sun as they dance on the thermals. The Red-foots begin to hunt over the hillside, combining hovering with perching on fence posts. Although distant, in the brilliant light we can easily see the silvery upperwings and red trousers of the males and the orangey underparts of the female.

In the middle of saltpans the Greater Flamingos form a pink line, rippling as they move too-and-fro. Suddenly they all rise and the subtle pink colour is transformed to vivid red and black as they swirl around against a backdrop of hills and mountains before they gradually descend back in to the middle of the pans. Stunning! A couple of Common Shelduck fly across the pans. We move further down the saltpans road and come across a group of five Red-footed Falcons hunting from the overhead wires parallel with the road. From the vans we get stunning views of several adult males, a first summer male and an adult female. Two Bee-eaters then appear to our right and one swoops down and lands on the mud only 20m away. Absolutely stunning! Looking across the fields a cream-crown Marsh Harrier crossed paths with a male Montagu’s Harrier, and a Black Stork lazily flaps across in the middle distance. We drive on to the end of the tarmaced road where we find at least 14 Bee-eaters feeding from wires, swooping low over the marsh catching insects. Scopes are soon on these stunning birds and for a second day we have rainbow birds swirling all around us. Two Cormorants fly over, the white thigh patch of one bird clearly visible. Several of the Red-footed Falcons have followed us down the road and appear on the nearby overhead wires giving terrific views. Our next stop is the sheep fields and no sooner have we entered them and Mark picks up a Tawny Pipit and summer plumaged Red-throated Pipit feeding out on the open grass. Scopes out and we soon start to pick up more and more Red-throats and increasing number of ‘yellow’ wags. The Red-throated Pipits are in a whole range of plumages from drab winter, to full blown glowing brick-red throats. We start to walk through the tussock grass and kick up even more pipits and wagtails when three Collared Pratincole rise from right in front of us. They whirl around in front of us on their long-pointed wings, showing off their gleaming white rumps and trailing wing edges before landing in the open not too far away. Scopes are soon in action and we enjoy superb views of these strange looking waders. The closest bird gets most attention, and the shrike-like bill with a red base, and the creamy throat bordered by the dark collar are all clear to see. The pool to our left holds a few Ruff and Little Stints, and a single Temminck’s Stint. Two Stone-curlew then fly low over our heads, giving fantastic views, before landing just out of view on the edge of the field. After a few minutes the heads of both birds are just visible beyond the ridge, and then both birds come out in to full view and begin courtship displaying. A Hoopoe explodes from long grass right next to us, but unfortunately lands distantly out of view. We push on past the pools the saltpans perimeter fence but the near pans are devoid of birds. We head back along the fence when a cloud of Short-toed Larks erupt from in front of us. They land amongst Spanish Sparrows on a sandy ridge and begin to dust bathe. A quick count – 36! Unbelievable. With so many birds they is an amazing variety of plumages from very dreary, pale, monotone sandy birds to some with bright rufous crowns and prominent neck patches. We spend a few minutes watching them before heading on and push up another flock of 26 larks a little further on. 62 Short-toed Larks! Wow! Three more Bee-eaters fly noisily overhead and two Stone-curlews take flight and fly right by us. Many of the group had never seen Stone-curlew in flight before and these views are stunning with the bold black and white wing markings contrasting with the more cryptic brown plumage.

Enjoying lunch in the warm sun, Don finds a Hoopoe feeding close to the vans. Many break from their lunch to enjoy good close views of this wacky looking bird feeding among the poppies before it eventually flies off.

We leave the sheep fields and stop in the vans to enjoy more close views of Bee-eaters when Mark spots a male Black-headed Bunting sand on the fence behind us. True to form, no sooner had we got on to it and it flew – high and off! We continue down the saltpans road and pass a stunning Black Stork sat in the moat just yards from the vans. The light is brilliant and again we can see the green sheen to the head and mantle feathers. A little further down we find a Kingfisher fishing from one of the pipe tunnels.

We head up Napi Valley and unfortunately the northerly wind getting up and is really quite chilly. We could heard several Golden Orioles and a Turtle Dove and had very brief views of Rock Nuthatch before it started to rain. We decided to move on up the valley to a sheltered woodland area. ON walking into the trees, five Golden Orioles fly out across the valley and land in distant trees. Several more oriole can be heard calling from the woodland above us and we eventually pick up two males sat up in the top of the trees. We staked out a woodpecker area centred on dead tree with lots of holes, but over the next 45 minutes there is no sign. On the ridge opposite, raptor activity starts to pick up with two Red-footed Falcons, three Lesser Kestrels and single Short-toed Eagle and Long-legged Buzzard. A Middle-spotted Woodpecker then started calling behind, and on turning round some of us glimpses a woodpecker flying through the wood and out of sight. Hanging around for it to reappear, Mark hears a Sombre Tit, to our left. We move down the track and we find two birds feeding along a dead section of hedge on the opposite side of the road. Both birds are extremely obliging and perform really well feeding in the open, occasionally calling. Still no activity around the woodpecker tree – no matter how hard we stared at it! ‘Goshawk’ shouted Mark. And flying away from us was large raptor with big, powerful wingbeats and ‘nappy’ effect of the undertail coverts wrapping up around the base of the tail. A female as it was clearly larger than the Hooded Crow mobbing. Brilliant!

We call it a day on the woodpeckers and head off back down the valley picking up more Rock Nuthatches and Mark’s lead van get brief views of a Blue Rock Thrush. It disappears and we all get great views of a male Black-eared Wheatear. We make our way back via the Kalloni oive groves but they are unusually quiet so we call it a day and head back to the hotel and an eagerly awaited dinner.

Day 5. It’s a lovely bright, warm and still morning. We get away from the hotel at 9am and stop off in Kalloni a supermarket stop. With everyone stocked up with various sweets and beverages, we head of westwards for Ipsilou Monastery. We stop just short of the monastery by the junction to Erossos. No sooner are we out of the vans and Mark picks up a male Isabelline Wheatear. This and another bird song flighting just above us both perform well. Right in front of a male Cretzschmar’s Bunting is singing from a rock. A couple of large Agama lizards are basking on the rocks below and Duncan sees yellow-headed grey bird fly past and down to the gully to our left. The hunt is on, and within a few minutes Mark picks up a pair of Cinereous Buntings flying in and they land just below us. Over the next 10 minutes we enjoy corking vies of these handsome buntings as they feed among the rocks on the slope below us. The Isabelline Wheatears and Cretzschmar’s Bunting are still performing well and we can hear Golden Orioles singing in the distance. Don then finds a first-summer male Black-headed Bunting perched up out on a rock and it gives us brilliant views sowing off its black head and brown mantle – easily the best views so far this week. Searching the slope below we also find Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes, Black-headed Wagtails and Whinchat and a couple of Alpine Swifts wheel around high overhead.

The brilliant blue skies are slowly beginning to be slowly swallowed up by dark black rain clouds. The whole area is transformed. The light if anything is better, and the bird song all around is phenomenal with buntings, shrikes, wheatears, wagtails and larks in full song. Ipsilou Monastery looks menacing as it looks down on us from its distant mountain top perch. We head off up the road and stop only after a few hundred yards to watch a Rock Nuthatch close to the road. An adult bird is bobbing up and down on rock and in a crevice below we can just make out two recently fledged young. A second adult arrives and a third young is found. Then a fourth, then a fifth. There are young Rock Nuthatches seemingly popping up from under every rock! Some flutter down into a nearby gully where Mark gets on to them. ‘I’ve got three birds’ says Mark. ‘I’ve still got four’ says Steve. ‘No, I’ve got four’ says Mark. ‘I’ve still got four’ says Steve. ‘I’ve now got five’ remarks Mark. Steve still has four. Nine Rock Nuthatches! The young look wacky – all dumpy with dusky underparts and brilliant white cheeks below black caps and stubby little bills.

Arriving at Ipsilou Monastery, Mark immediately picks up a Rock Sparrow on a nearby rock. We are soon all pointing scopes at this rather scruffy and drab looking sparrow with its stripy plumage. The dark clouds are now right above, but the whole sky is filled with Alpine Swifts. The light is fantastic to watch these aerial masters, their large size, deep chocolate brown plumage and white bellies clearly visible. Its amazing how difficult it is too see the white throat even on really close birds. From our high vantage points, many of the Alpine Swifts are sweeping past us at either at eye level or even below us. It’s an absolutely awesome sight. A pair of Blue Rock Thrushes are then seen flying up to the Monastery building and perch on the top. Scopes are swung round on to them as they flit from rampart to rampart in full view. A Woodlark is singing below us but despite searching we can’t find it. There is also Black-eared Wheatear song flighting below us and at least Cretzschmar’s Buntings can be seen and heard singing from tree top perches.

We walk up to the monastery building when a harrier appears then disappears over us. Arriving at the monastery, some of the group climb to the top of the buildings to enjoy crippling views of the Blue Rock Thrushes. The rest of us marvel at the unbelievable spectacle of hundreds of Alpine Swifts thundering around the mountain, only feet above our heads, shouting out their stuttered flight calls – very different to the screams of Common Swifts. The dark clouds are still sat above us, but the light is perfect. The few Common Swifts are easy to pick out as their size, shape and black colour stands out amongst the much larger brown Alpines. Mark finds a Wood Warbler feeding in an oak directly below us along with both Spotted and Pied Flycatchers. A Peregrine is found feeding on a kill on a nearby crag. Steve then picks up on a smaller brown swift, but it is heading away from us. He follows it for what appears like an age as it flies off distantly before turning round and slowly working its way back towards the group. Even at a distance the bird can be identified as a Pallid Swift and it eventually comes right overhead. We slowly pick up on the key features of contrasting pale and dark in the wings and body, large pale throat and slightly blunt-winged shaped. We walk back down to the vans for lunch and in the valley to our left a huge passage of House Martins and Swallows is underway. In amongst them are the odd Sand Martin and Red-rumped Swallow. We arrive back at the vans and the skies are deadly quiet. Not a single swift, swallow or martin to be seen. It’s eerily quiet apart from a single Cretzschmar’s Bunting and the Woodlark singing below us.

During lunch a couple of Crag Martins are found flying around the crags immediately below the monastery building. There’s a steady build up of birds on the slopes below us – Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Wood Warbler and Common Redstart are all found. A handful of Alpine Swifts appear in the sky. Then half a dozen Red-rumped Swallows. The aerial migration is resumed as the sky steadily fills up with swifts and swallows. In among the Alpine Swifts Steve picks out another Pallid Swift. Then another, and another. Numbers are slowly increasing until there are Pallid Swifts dotted in among the Alpines in every direction. The Pallids are now performing brilliantly with staggering views – the pale fringes to the body feathers and wing coverts and the little dark mask and quite easy to see on some birds as they sweep past only feet away from us. As the group gathers to enjoy the swifts and flycatchers, Steve spots a Chukar sat up on a rock. Scopes are soon on this plump partridge and everyone is enjoying their first views of this Red-legged Partridge look-a-like before it drops off the rock and out of sight. All, that is, apart from Duncan, who appears from the monastery having gone up there to look for the Chukar seen by group member Mark earlier! Duncan however is able to enjoy the stunning views of a Short-toed Eagle which appears to our right and then does a phenomenal stoop on to a snake at the bottom of the valley. Although somewhat distant, through scopes we are able to watch it devour the snake before lazily flying off along the valley bottom below. This gives us the rare opportunity to view this large eagle from above, and everyone enjoys the brilliant views as it passes below us.

We go for a walk down the monastery approach road in the hope to locate the singing Woodlark. True to form, the Woodlark packs in just as we reach the slopes it was singing from! We search the trees for migrants and are soon watching Willow Warbler, Blackcaps, Lesser Whitethroats and Pied Flycatchers as well as more good views of Blue Rock Thrush and Black-eared Wheatear. A little further down the road we come across a superb male Cretzschmar’s Bunting singing from a tree top only yards from the road. You don’t even need a scope to see the feather detail of this stunning bunting with the sun perfectly behind us and full on to the bird. We drag ourselves away from this star performer when Mark hears our first Cirl Bunting of the week, and we soon locate this great looking bunting singing from a small tree. Everyone enjoys great scope views as it sings showing off its chestnut rump between drooped wings, and its striking black and yellow head pattern. Mark then hears a woodpecker calling further down and looking up he sees it disappearing in to an oak tree further down the track but despite searching, another woodpecker eludes us. An Orphean Warbler begins to sing loudly from a nearby tree, but flies up the slope to a more distant bush where some of us are able to get brief but good scope views. It then disappears into the dense canopy of an oak tree where it continues to belt outs its melodic, quite nightingale-like song, with a distinctive ‘giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up’ phrase. A second Cirl Bunting is found singing from wires behind us and below a pair of Stonechat are busy feeding from the roadside fence.

We head back up the road to the vans with some members of the group deciding on staying at the bottom of the track to be collected on the way back down.. Many of the group have gone up ahead when Duncan spots a large spur-thighed tortoise sat still in a nearby flower meadow. Mark and Steve note the position and head back to the group at the vans. They arrive at the top just as the group are watching a raptor pass by at eye level. ‘Honey Buzzard’ shout Mark and Steve. Only yards away from us is a stunning adult male Honey Buzzard, and in perfect light the light grey upperparts with two wing bars, dark trailing wing edge and barred tail, barred underparts and small grey head are all easily seen as the bird slowly heads away on slightly bowed wings. Fantastic! It’s a pity that some of the group are at the bottom of the mountain waiting for us to pick them up!

We jump in the vans and make our way down to the bottom to pick up the others. We stop by the flower meadow for the tortoise – it’s gone! We can see the imprint of where it was sat still, but no trail leading from it to follow. It’s well and truly vanished! The meadows are however incredible – absolutely stuffed with colour. We head off to the bottom and collect the others with tales of Honey Buzzard and missing tortoises – some aren’t too amused they chose not to undertake the climb back to the vans!

The drive back to the hotel was uneventful until we are nearly back at the hotel when Mark anchors on the brakes and radios through ‘woodpecker on the tree behind you!’. We stop, turn round in our seats and search the two trees in view. Nothing! But then a movement on the second tree - and there it is, clinging to the side of the trunk a Middle Spotted Woodpecker! Hooray! Everyone just manages to get on to it before it takes flight, across the field and over the olive trees. What a cracking finish to the day.

Day 6. We wake to another superbly warm and bright morning and a day that is to be full of surprises!

All but two of the group join Rae and Don for a walk into Skala Kallonis to look for the two Little Owl’s they had found the previous morning. And they were in luck as one bird was still in residence.

Surprise no. 1. Heading out of Kalloni we pull the vans in under a stand a eucalyptus trees. Mark and Steve jump out of the vans and quickly get their scopes out. The group don’t know what to expect and the first two put their eyes up to the scopes. ‘Scops Owl!’ they exclaim joyfully. The whole group is gripped by utter delight at even the thought of Scops Owl. Even those who have not yet seen it are beaming with anticipation. Mark and Steve give directions for the others to get their bins on to the roosting owl. ‘Wow! Its so close’ explains Helen. Mark and Steve explain their relief as this, along with other known sites, have been far from reliable this last week, and when they had last checked only a couple of days ago, they couldn’t find it.

We head north and arrive at Petra to look for Rüppell’s Warbler. On arrival there are many other birders at the site and they report Rüppell’s showing only minutes before our arrival. But they ain’t there now! Our first find is actually a Spotted Fritillary butterfly which lands on rocks within feet of us. Although only about 20ft away, Steve puts his scope on it and some of us enjoy incredible detailed views of this beautiful butterfly. Attention was soon focused on the scrubby hillside below us and the search for Rüppell’s Warbler. A couple of Orphean Warblers were chasing each other around and not staying put for long, before Mark locates a female Rüppell’s. A handful of the group get onto the bird briefly before it too dashes off. We hand around getting increasingly frustrated in the increasing temperatures. In the fields below are between 4-5 male Black-headed Buntings showing reasonably well. Offshore in the distance a small number of Striped Dolphins attract a handful of Yelkouan Shearwaters. A Peregrine appears above the cliff below us and lands on a rock out in the open and is joined by another bird. They are two immature birds (from last year) and scopes are soon on to them for brilliant views of this powerful falcon.

Mark and Steve begin to search further afield and Mark eventually locates a singing male Rüppell’s on the hillside above. We eventually get the group up the track to where the bird but as we arrive it disappears! We hang around hoping for it to return but we then find another male singing further up the hill. We eventually manage to get everyone good scope views of this cracking scrub warbler as it song flights right in front of us and sings from the tops of several bushes. Absolutely brilliant.

We continue along the northern coast road to Efthalou and make a brief stop to watch a large group of Yelkouan Shearwaters sat on the sea amongst Yellow-legged Gulls. After about 10 minutes they all get up and have a brief fly round, showing off their brown plumage and flight characters before settling back down on the sea. Very nice indeed!

We hit the track which forms the north coast road and make a handful of stops to search the gullies and find Masked Shrike, Black-eared Wheatear, Cretzschmar’s Bunting, Woodchat Shrike, Cuckoo, Orphean Warbler and Red-backed Shrike. Mark spots a Little Owl sat on a stone building so those of us who didn’t make the Little Owl walk in the morning are more than satisfied to see it! We continue along the coast road picking up more Red-backed and Masked Shrikes, a few Whinchat and loads of Yellow-legged Gulls on the sea which we check for Audouin’s Gull but without any joy. We arrive at our lunch stop where we have a pair of Red-backed Shrikes, purring Turtle Doves, singing Nightingale, Subalpine Warbler and even more stunning Cretzschmar’s Buntings to keep us entertained whilst snacking. There are lots of butterflies around including a small skipper on the road which we eventually identify as Orbed Red underwing Underwing Skipper. A singing male Cirl Bunting is located near the vans and six Bee-eaters drift noisily overhead.

Surprise no. 2. We move on to where the road runs right alongside the seafront and stop. The group are sceptical as Mark and Steve explain the hot rocks on the tideline are caused by hot underground springs. On seeing the steam rising from the water some of the group eventually brave it and take off their shoes and socks and have a paddle. Some invesitagte the springs just inland of the track. Mark joins in the shoreline fun by wading out to near knee depth. Fun and frolics commence those paddling begin to splash one another and some on the shore think it funny to see how wet they can get Mark by lobbing rocks at his feet! Everyone is very relaxed enjoying this very leisurely day along the north coast.

Surprise no. 3. ‘Audouin’s Gull!’ yells Steve. Steve points directly over Mark’s head, and somewhat dis-believingly people look beyond mark to see a pale gull with an all red bill. Amazingly the bird swoops down and settles on the water only yards out from Mark. It pecks at the water surface a couple of times and them takes flight and heads of east. Wow! What fantastic views of an adult Audoiun’s Gull.

Surprise no. 4. We continue on to Skala Sikimineas and stop in the village for ice creams! Lovely. A few of the group also take in a beverage or two as we relax in the mid-afternoon sun in this lovely fishing village with its tiny but colourful little harbour. The day just gets more relaxed and some are surprised to see Mark and Steve ‘appear’ to switch off from birding! We return to the vans and Lila spots a Little Owl on a building right next to us! Fantastic. A couple of Shags are fishing just offshore.

We head off back south via the Stipsi valley and the painfully narrow village roads which Mark and Steve have to breathe in for in order to get the vans through! The route was very picturesque and provided a totally new landscape for the week.

Sorry - no species list (lost in the bowells of time!)