Gervase and Ann Orton had met me on one of my Kirtland’s Warbler tours this past summer in Grayling, MI. We had hit it off nicely and they were privileged enough to hear the first Black-billed Cuckoo of the year at the site that morning in early June. They had generously extended an invitation to put me up and show me around in
I don’t know the names of most of the places we went so my account will be rather limited by that. Suffice it to say that we birded some outstanding areas in the course of the next three days. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to keep my eyes open as we got into the afternoon of the Monday as I’d been up for close to 48 hours with only about 4 hours worth of naps. So we weren’t able to bird as many areas as we could have conceivably been able to if I had been able to keep my eyes open a few more hours!
One of the highlights of Monday’s birding was an area on the coast where we were looking over these cliffs and had Northern Fulmars less than 30 feet away as they glided on the updrafts over the cliff where they were nesting. Looking down on the beach and the tidal flats held foraging parties of Bar-tailed Godwits, Eurasian Oystercatchers, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover, and Common Redshank. The stiff winds (30mph plus) prevented us from locating very much on the sea but the great looks at fulmar were really quite a treat. A stop by some sugar beet fields on our way to the bungalow yielded a resting flock of Pink-footed Geese (~1000+) along with 6 Whooper Swans. Some open country roads also yielded a good sized flock of Yellowhammers (a bright yellow bunting) with a few Corn Buntings also tagging along with the flock. My first European Golden Plovers flew over while we were here too. We lucked out with a nice Red Kite that flew over town not a mile from the Bungalow in Little Snoring – one of the rarer birds we saw during my three days in the area and probably our best self-found bird. A female Stonechat was seen near a flock of Fieldfare, both of these species are winterers and it was problematic whether we would be able to find these species or whether they would have already headed north. We saw a lot of other common species (like the Dunnock pictured to the left) before heading to the bungalow so I could take a short nap and we could head back out. That turned into an all afternoon nap and I was woken by Gervase at 6PM for supper as they said I was dead asleep at 3 when they tried to awake me. We had a great supper which included parsnip which is sort of a sweet legume. Unlike anything I’d tasted before and quite good. Turns out Ann is quite the cook and she either packed us nice sandwiches and pack lunches for our days out so we were never wanting for food or treats. Some sort of pudding with nutmeg and raisons was our desert and the next morning I had Crumpets – a sort of English muffin meets pancake – very difficult to describe but quite delicious. I also had the beloved
Tuesday we hit up several woodlands trying to target some of the songbirds that are found in
Wednesday was a rather gloomy looking day when we first got up (remarkably the first day I wasn’t seeing the sun – quite the feat in March in
We then went to Abbey Farm to look for a little owl that is supposed to be very reliable – haha. We spent over 2 hours waiting for the bird to stick its head out of a root bundle with no luck. We did finally catch up with Stock Dove here – the wild version of a Rock Pigeon basically – only rather tough to find when you actually go looking for them it seemed. Many Gadwall were present in this pond and we had nice looks at a lot of other species like Red-legged Partridge, Egyptian Goose, Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Eurasian Jay, and Northern Lapwing (pictured right), Eurasian Curlew that we had seen along the way but this gave us more opportunities to enjoy them. We finally left with about 45 minutes of light left to try for golden pheasant – a species we had tried for on Monday at midday with no luck. We arrived at the golden pheasant spot with about 35 minutes of daylight left and waited for most of it without seeing more than a couple of Goldcrests (the old-world equivalent of Golden-crowned Kinglet – which sound almost identical) when Gervase spotted a pheasant walk across the road behind us – a quick look in the fading light revealed that it was indeed a male Golden Pheasant – what a magnificent bird. About a 10 second look and it and disappeared into the brush on the other side of the road.
Thursday morning Ann took me to the Peterborough train station where she helped me negotiate the delays that were associated with the Scottish Signal Workers strike which nicely coincided with the one day in the year that I would be traveling via rail in Scotland… Due to the disruptions I was able to catch an earlier train that had been delayed over an hour and basically left when I was scheduled to out of Peterborough. The train trip was really rather nice as I had basically four seats to myself and they have a plug for the laptop and I’ve typed up my whole report thus far on the trip. We are about 30 minutes out from
Friday we headed for the Scottish highlands in search of some of the specialties like the highly sought after capercaille, the endemic Scottish crossbill, and crested tit. We started the day out quite well finding a distant Black Grouse out along the grassy edge of distant heather. A couple of Eurasian Siskins also flew over at this point, unfortunately they were the only one’s of the trip. Pheasant were abundant and we even saw a couple of Green Pheasant – a very striking looking subspecies of the more common Ring-necked Pheasant. Continuing on we moved up into higher elevation where there was more bare rock visible along with some snow cover. We began scanning for Ptarmigan (Rock Ptarmigan to those of us in the
Saturday was my last day of birding in the
The following morning Torcuil drove me down to Edinburgh airport and I caught a British Airways 757 down to Heathrow where I was able to connect to O’hare without issue. All in all an excellent trip and one where 123 different species bumped into me, 53 of which were lifers!
A photo of me scanning the North Sea for seabirds in coastal Scotland (taken by Torcuil).