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Saturday, 15 August 2015

A Canadian Visitation - Pt.1 - 23rd to 27th July, 2015

Firstly, my apologies to my friends in Bloggerland for totally neglecting your posts for the past four weeks. We've had friends David and Miriam from Canada visiting us between 23rd September and 10th August. Prior to their visit I was busy sorting things out ready for their arrival. Subsequent to their visit I've been starting to catch up on things that didn't get done whilst they were here, plus beginning to process the nearly five thousand images that I shot during their visit! The first five days worth are now sorted as much as they will be, so here goes!

David is a time-served birdwatcher with more than 60 years of birdwatching under his belt. He is very well travelled as a birder, and extremely knowledgeable on the subject. Miriam (I hope she will not mind me saying this!) is not quite the enthusiast that David is, but her visual and audible observational skills (as I soon found out!) are remarkable, and a great asset!

This first post on their visit covers the first three days based at our home in Ashby de la Zouch, followed by a couple of days in Northumberland, prior to a week in Scotland.

Thursday, 23rd July

I set off early for Manchester Airport. David and Miriam were flying via Paris (sorry, David - a 'senior moment'), and Lindsay was at home, monitoring their flight which was scheduled to land at 11h20. I'd built in some slack time but this was eaten up when Lindsay said that they were now expected to land at 11h00. I parked the car at Terminal 3 and had just found the exit from Baggage Reclaim when, less than 5 seconds later, Miriam emerged, closely followed by David!

We were soon on our way back to Ashby, with only minor hold-ups on the return journey.

Lindsay had prepared lunch, and this was followed by a spell in our conservatory, chatting, and watching the birds in our garden. I quickly realised that, in some ways, my task of keeping David and Miriam amused bird-wise was going to be easy as they were enthusing about many of our common garden birds, but I also bore in mind that David had a number of 'life birds' that he was targeting this trip.

Later in the afternoon, I took them out to some local spots for a chance of finding Little Owl, and viewing some other birds. A short walk at Calke Park was followed by a visit to Staunton Harold Round Car Park and then to Staunton Harold itself., We ended up with a few birds added to David's year list, but no 'lifer'. This was clearly an unsatisfactory start, so we made a brief visit to my local patch where Miriam stayed in the car and David had a brief glimpse of a departing Little Owl - a lifer for David at last!

The only photos I took that day were of a tiny toadlet (approx. 1cm long) at Staunton Harold.

Common Toad (Bufo bufo) (juvenile) - Staunton Harold
That night I introduced David and Miriam to the delights of 'le Colonel' - lemon sorbet, drowned in vodka!

Friday, 24th July

Clearly needing to up my game, I had a look at Birdguides to see what had been reported lately. I was immediately grabbed by a Red-footed Falcon that was being seen around 50 miles (80km) from my home. David confirmed that he'd love to see this as another lifer. And so we set off. I'd been lucky enough to photograph a 1st summer female in May, 2008 only about 7 miles (10km) from my home, so this 1st summer male was an equally exciting prospect for me too.

We had absolutely no problem in locating this stunning bird, with a few birders already watching it. If the light had been better we'd have had some great images, but it was dull grey, and threatening rain. Here's a few - well, quite a lot really, as this is probably the last time I'll ever photograph this species!

Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus) (1st summer male) - Chatterley Whitfield Colliery
Amazingly, a hundred metres up the road, there was a Black Redstart. In normal circumstances I'd have spent a lot of time getting images of such a bird, but the presence of the falcon overshadowed it. By the time we'd had our fill of the falcon and turned our attention to the Black Redstart, the weather had deteriorated further, and the rain was getting heavier. We didn't stay long.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) (juvenile) - Chatterley Whitfield Colliery
Our journey home was marred by traffic hold-ups, and so we diverted to Willington Gravel Pits for a visit in the rain. No photos were taken but it was an enjoyable visit.

We headed home with David having his second 'lifer' in the bag.

Saturday, 25th July

David had been particularly keen to see some of the Little Owls that I monitor, so our objective for the day was a visit to Rutland Water, visiting LO sites on the way. The weather was relatively dull and windy, so I wasn't over-hopeful on the LO front.

We'd stopped to check my LO Site No.44, and I was scanning the usual places for the owls, when Miriam said she'd spotted one - it wasn't in a usual place!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.44
Another LO was spotted on the barn at Site No.23, where we'd not seen an owl recently.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.23
Another LO was seen at Site No.34, but no photos taken, but just down the road there was an owl at Site No.43 - again where we'd not seen an owl lately.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.43
Another owl was seen at my Site No.42 (no photos) so we were now up to 5 sightings - better than I've done for a while! We continued to the Lyndon Reserve at Rutland Water.

Little exciting was seen at Rutland Water from my point of view, but David and Miriam seemed to be quite impressed by the place. It was great to see a Water Vole make an appearance. It showed well for the naked eye, but the reeds intruded too much for a good image to be obtained. The juvenile Ospreys were starting to get adventurous.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Rutland Lyndon
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Rutland Lyndon
Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius) - Rutland Lyndon
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) (juvenile) - Rutland Lyndon
On the way home we found a juvenile Little Owl sitting out on a barn door at my Site No.42 and, whilst I was photographing it, an adult emerged, putting our numbers up to six for the day - and we weren't finished yet!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my Site No.42
Little Owl (Athene noctua) (adult + juvenile) - my Site No.42
There were further LO sightings at Sites Nos. 36, 34 (juvenile) and 41, with a final bird at No.46, bringing the total for the day to 10 Little Owls - not a bad result! David remarked that there was nothing to this Little Owl business!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.46
Sunday, 26th July

We had a relatively gentle start to the day before the three of us set off for Northumberland - as this was to be an intensive bird-watching trip, Lindsay stayed behind. We stopped for lunch at one of my favourite places - the Deli Caffé in Boston Spa. We arrived at the Beadnell Towers hotel in Beadnell in good time and risked the weather for a long walk on Beadnell beach before dinner. The main attraction for birders here is the Tern colony by the Long Nanny (a river which flows into the sea here).

As we approached the Long Nanny we found a number of jellyfish beached on the sand. I am not sure what species these were as they don't look quite like anything that I can find illustrated or described. They were probably around 10 to 15 cm across. Please let me know if you can help with the ID.

Jellyfish sp. - Beadnell Beach
As we approached the Long Nanny, there were a few gulls around - Herring, Lesser Black-backed, and Great Black-backed.

Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) (immature) - Beadnell Beach
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) - Beadnell Beach
Most of the terns by Long Nanny are Arctic Terns. There were plenty of youngsters around and there was a constant procession of adults bringing in Sand Eels. I tried for flight shots, but this was difficult with the low light levels.

Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) - by the Long Nanny
There were several Little Tern away from the nesting area which was behind fencing with 'keep out' notices. I was pleased to see that there was an observation post up on the dunes with an observer keeping an eye on the area to guard against human intrusion into the sensitive areas. I saw one person who looked as if they were sorely tempted to cross the line! David and Miriam kept to a respectable distance as can be seen below!

David and Miriam (Homo sapiens) - by the Long Nanny

Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) - by the Long Nanny
Just before we headed back to the car, a small group of Sanderling appeared. I usually only see these in winter plumage!

Sanderling (Calidris alba) - by the Long Nanny
The weather was breaking as we returned to the car to return to our hotel for a very enjoyable dinner. I seem to remember, however, that I didn't sleep very well that night.

Monday, 27th July

After a good breakfast I checked with Billy Shiels as I suspected that our booked trip to the Farne Islands would not be going, due to the bad weather. I was not wrong - there were no sailings that day due to high winds and rough seas. I quickly thought out a 'Plan B'.

Our first call was at Low Newton, where we parked the car at the top of the hill and walked down into the village. It took a while as there were plenty of birds to be seen from the road. Having reached the village, we took the footpath behind the houses which goes to the two lakes, the second of which has a hide.

As we joined the footpath there was a Pied Wagtail on the fence and what I took at first to be a juvenile Pied Wagtail but I now believe to be a young Yellow Wagtail - please correct me if I'm wrong.

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) (immature) - Low Newton
Further on, in the distance on the first (largest) piece of water, were several waders and water fowl. For me, the most interesting was the Black-tailed Godwit in summer plumage. I've since been told that this was a Bar-wit, and have edited accordingly - thank you Pete!

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) - Low Newton
It had been spitting with rain, but the heavens really opened as we approached the hide. A quick dash had us safely installed before we got too wet. It was probably Miriam who spotted the nearby Snipe first! It was probably one of the best views I've ever had of a Snipe. However I was obviously not wearing my photographers head that day. I can partly blame the bad light, but when I examined my images that evening I found that I'd been working with totally inappropriate settings - too low an ISO and too slow to freeze the movement. Perhaps my tiredness was partly to blame. These are the best of a bad bunch - there's been some work done on them!

Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Low Newton
 I did a little better when a Heron waded across in front of us.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Low Newton
It had been my intention that we visited Holy Island after our trip to the Farnes. We were able to bring our proposed visit forward a bit, but not too much because of the tides. After Low Newton we headed to Seahouses and soon saw that sea conditions were not pleasant and that nothing was leaving the shelter of the harbour. We looked for Purple Sandpiper but didn't find one. We then continued past the magnificent Bamburgh Castle to Budle Bay. The tide was right in and no birds were seen.

The next stop was at Fenham le Moor where there is a hide that looks over the water towards Holy Island. We spent some time here, mainly watching a Curlew and a Whimbrel.

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) - Fenham le Moor
Whilst there, we could see the queue of vehicles waiting for the tide to go out sufficiently to allow a traverse of the causeway to Holy Island. When this started moving, we prepared to depart the hide. As we were about to leave, a local birder came in and said that the action was just about to start as when the tide went out, the birds came through in large numbers. However, the draw of Holy Island was too strong and we departed.

Crossing the causeway we saw little but a small flock of Dunlin. The gentleman at Fenham le Moor had told us of a good spot on Holy Island, accessed via the monastery gardens. This proved to be a great tip off. Not much was seen at first but, as the tide went out, the bird numbers and species increased.
What I think was a Black-tailed Godwit, but I'm not sure as the rufous colouration on the underside seems to extend too far back, was soon followed by a small flock of Bar-tailed Godwit. Again, my thanks to Pete Woodruff for alerting me to my mistake - all Bar-wits!

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) - Holy Island
A small group of Goosander drifted past.

Goosander (Mergus merganser) - Holy Island
I was trying to remember to watch behind me as well as keeping an eye on the scene that was unfolding in front on the water's edge. I did grab a shot of what I think is an immature Linnet on the bank behind the foreshore.

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) - Holy Island
Suddenly it seemed as if birds were flying in from everywhere. On a distant bar uncovered by the falling tide, there were Oystercatchers, Curlew, Whimbrel, a good flock of Golden Plover, large numbers of Godwit, and probably several other species which we didn't identify or notice because of the distance.

Curlew (Numenius arquata) and Bart-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) - Holy IslandAdd caption
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Holy Island
Look how well the Golden Plover is hidden in the next image!

mixed waders - Holy Island
Redshank (Tringa totanus) - Holy Island
We'd been standing out in the cold for too long - yes, it was ridiculously cold for the time of year, and continued to be so for the rest of the trip - and decided that it was time to return to the car to warm up.

On the way back to our hotel in Beadnell we stopped again at Budle Bay. This time the tide was out a fair way, and there were shorebirds everywhere! Fairly near to us was a solitary Whimbrel. We got out to take photos and I wasn't doing too badly when a Curlew flew in and decided to see off the Whimbrel. It was time to find fish and chips in Seahouses, which we did before heading back to our hotel.

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) -Budle Bay

Curlew (Numenius arquata) -Budle Bay
By the time we got back, I was ready for bed, but there was a long delay whilst we settled our bill that night as we wanted an early departure in the morning.

The second part of this account will cover the Scottish part of our travels. I just have to process the photos before I can write it!

In the meantime, I hope to be catching up with what I've missed in Bloggerland.

Thank you for dropping by.


  1. I don't think David, Miriam, or anyone else could possibly be other than impressed by this little lot Richard, an excellent illustrated account, and all Bar-tailed Godwits by the way Richard.

    1. Thank you, Pete. Have ammended the post accordingly - I had my suspicions about the Bar-wits.

  2. Hi Richard, Welcome back to Bloggerland :-) Your pictures of the Red-footed falcon was interesting, in May this year there was a young female Red-footed falcon (first summer) in Wareham, it's on the website Rare Bird Alert. Male and female, is it possible this bird could one day be a regular and breed in this country? Your jellyfish looks like the Compass Jellyfish, they have been seen here in the South, some washed up on the beach. Wonderful images Richard including your Snipe :-) Look forward to your next post.

    1. Thank you, Linda.

      It seems that the Red-footed Falcons seen in UK are almost invariably first summer birds that have lost their way. It would be interesting to know if they eventually find their way 'home' again, or just perish in UK. I'm not sure whether climate change could improve the chances of them eventually breeding here. Currently they are so scarce in UK that the chances of a pair meeting up must be exceedingly slim!

      My first reaction on the jellyfish was also 'Compass' but the radiating marks didn't look well-enough defined, the lobes weren't very evident, and no tentacles were visible. Perhaps these were one that had reached an advanced state of decay? They're said to be mainly found on the south and west coasts of UK - perhaps these were another sign of climate change !?

      Best wishes - - - - Richard

  3. Where I do start with that collection of images Richard? A huge variety of cracking species. The Red Footed Falcon has to be an obvious favourite both in terms of species and images and can imagine it staying in the memory banks for a long time. But the Little Terns are also a strong contender, did you see any juveniles? It's a terrible shame a bird has to have a 'lifeguard' due to humans it shouldn't be!

    1. Thank you, Doug.

      The roped-off tern breeding area looks a bit like a rubbish tip - there are so many shelters on the ground!! I was mainly looking for photo opportunities, and didn't see any juvenile Little Terns. I suspect that if I'd paid attention to what was going on in the breeding area I might have seen some, however, as this is a regular breeding ground for them.

      I suspect that the protection is mainly against intrusion by dogs and dog walkers, and 'joe public' who might want to take a closer look at what is going on here out of curiosity, rather than maliciously intentioned intruders. I guess the average non-birder would think that they're just looking at more 'seagulls'.

      Best wishes - - - - - Richard

  4. You have been busy. Good to see the birds and welcome back. I call those jellyfish with the brown radial spokes Compass Jellyfish but as usual I am probably wrong.

    1. I guess that 'busy' covers it, Adrian! I think that you're right about the jellyfish. I was worried that the markings were not so well defined as on the images that I found on t'interweb, but I now think that this is due to decay.

      Best regards - - - - Richard

  5. HI Richard Well what a wonderful post and a fantastic variety of gorgeous birds seen and photographed. Hard to pick only one but perhaps it would be the Snipe. Looking forward to the second part when you get it edited.

    1. Thank you, Margaret. I'm still working on the images for Pt. 2. Might be another few days yet before I'm ready to go! Currently not sure if it will run to three or four parts!

      Best wishes - - - - Richard

  6. Great job, Richard. My own trip report should be completed and posted today so people reading both of our blogs will have lots to compare! Your photography is going to beat mine hands down of course. David

    1. I'm relieved to see that our reports are not too much at odds with each other on the details of your visit, David! However, yours is the work of a true wordsmith whilst mine is the efforts of a would-be photographer!

      My very best wishes to you both - - - - Richard

  7. What a stunning collection Richard,loved the Red Footed Falcon,followed up with the Terns and Whimbrel,also superb Yellow Wagtail.
    Brilliant birds,some of which only come our way once in a life time,well done,above all, brilliant photography.

    1. Thank you for your very kind words, John. I certainly had a lot of pleasure taking these images, whilst in very enjoyable company!

      Best wishes to you both - - - - Richard

  8. Hi Richard, some superb images, very impressed with the Red Footed Falcon, David has just emailed with the link to his Blog so I am slowly but surely working my way through it. See you soon.

    1. Thank you, John. I look forward to our outing tomorrow - let's hope for some fine weather!

      Best wishes - - - - Richard

  9. With your expert photography and thrilling commentary, I felt I was right there with you! What a terrific experience! For me, the falcon would have been worth the whole trip. Stunning images, all, Richard!

    Hopefully, we shall both be able to return to a more regular schedule of birding and blogging soon!

    Enjoy the upcoming weekend, and keep processing images - we're excited to see the remainder of this trip!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Wally. Hopefully Pt. 2 of this series will be later today.

      I've still got a busy weekend ahead, starting with the International Birdfair this weekend - I'm on duty there tomorrow.

      Best wishes to you both - - - - - - Richard

  10. Hello Richard!
    It's real fun to see your great pictures after I had a look at David's post!
    Boy, did I follow this trip of yours closely, with David keeping me posted! Hahaha!
    They both were so thrilled I can't wait to reach end of September...!!!
    Lovely sightings, especially of this Red-footed falcon and the Whimbrel, both I have never seen...
    We were back home yesterday after our short escape to the Atlanctic ocean, but the migratory birds had not yet arrived although 2 snipes were seen on the last day.
    I have to sort the few pics I took of the local birds such as herons and egrets, interesting action scenes but nothing extra-ordinary.
    I am preparing a reply to your mail but I still need more info before I can be precise ;-)
    Keep well, hugs to Lindsay and enjoy you sunday.

    1. Thank you, Noushka. Sadly I'm not going to be able to show you Red-footed Falcon or Whimbrel when you visit - unless an absolute miracle happens!

      Really looking forward to meeting up with you both - - - Richard


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