The Weekend Report
This is a favourite weekend chosen by two of the guests who have become regulars mainly because of Annie's food but also perhaps because we seem to have been able to get them 2/3 ticks every time they've been! Because it is a prime time of year this was, at four full days, a longer break than the usual weekend or long weekend. However it turned out well worth it. We regard this as our prime warbler and summer migrant weekend.
The guests arrived on the Thursday evening when plans were made and supper eaten. Sometimes quests arrive in time for us to go out before dinner on the arrival afternoon but not on this occasion. However we did start the list by hearing Tawny Owl in the garden. We used the evening constructively and spent some time studying the songs of the main species on the CD Rom on the computer and looked up birds seen on the same weekend the previous year.
In the morning after a good breakfast, with packed lunch on board ( if we have time to eat it! ), we drove along the Kent Estuary picking up Skylark, Linnet, and Reed Bunting before heading off to Haweswater for Golden Eagle. Superb views were had of the Eagles but there was quite a supporting cast as well with Ring Ouzel, Raven, Peregrine, Goosander, Sparrowhawk, Wheatear. We managed to pick up Tree Pipit on song to compare with the ubiquitous Meadow Pipits. In the nearby woods, we worked on splitting the songs of Blackcap and Garden Warbler but in the end seeing both well.
News that there were Dotterel on Pendle Hill took us down to Blackburn and up the hill where superb views were had along with Red Grouse.
We took the 'scenic' route back over the moors and were rewarded with a magnificent male Hen Harrier, before stopping at a well known dam where there were known to be a number of Whimbrel on passage.
Day 2 we stayed more local and started by checking the gravel pits where we saw Common Sandpiper and our first Swift of the year. A stop at a small quarry yielded the expected Peregrine giving wonderful views; it then proceeded to dive bomb a Raven cowering among the rocks. A walk up above the crag itself duly enabled us to get to grips with the scratchy song of the Whitethroat before we lunched in the woods at Woodwell where we were successful with our target birds of Marsh Tit and Hawfinch, the latter being generally more difficult in summer than winter. Also good views of Garden Warbler were obtained.
A quick visit to the wader pools produced all the usual wildfowl including Pintail but also a visiting Spoonbill along with some nice Black tailed Godwits.
The rest of the day was spent peacefully at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve where we were able to see and hear Sedge and Reed Warblers before watching Bearded Tits going backwards and forwards to the nest. The Marsh Harriers were on good form and unusually a migrant Whinchat was also seen along with an Osprey devouring a fish.
Day 3 saw us take another day across the Lake District. First stop was Aira Force where we made sure we arrived well ahead of the tourists. Unfortunately this year no Red Squirrels but we had wonderful views of our main target species of Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher, both located on song, along with a good selection of other woodland birds including Redpoll. After this we headed west to the coastal cliffs at St Bee's. The walk to the lighthouse produced the Greenland race of Wheatear, Tree Sparrow, Whinchat, Stonechat and Raven. The cliffs themselves have thousands of Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill but the test is to find one of the two pairs of Puffins or ten pairs of Black Guillemot. We found both eventually along with Common Scoters and Gannets flying past but this time no Shearwaters.
We finished the day with a visit to the Ternery at Hodbarrow where we saw Sandwich and Little Terns. An unexpected bonus was a 1st Summer Mediterranean Gull.
The final day saw half the team on the 'dawn patrol' to try for Grasshopper Warbler while the other half relaxed before breakfast. Everything is voluntary! They were able to birdwatch round the large garden with its own bird list of 75 species. However the early risers scored as wonderful scope views of this skulking bird were had as it sang away. A Roe Deer was seen on the way back.
After breakfast a lovely walk in Levens Park by the river yielded Dipper and Grey wagtail as expected with Raven and Nuthatch as well.
We then took a trip to Freeman's Wood, Lancaster to a favourite spot for Lesser Whitethroat which duly obliged and we felt we had managed to sort out all the so called 'common' Warblers. Again we needed to track it down by its rattling song. We then headed inland to a lovely wood in the dales alongside a river where we had beautiful views of Redstart, round about the only passerine migrant to have eluded us, along with Whinchat and Tree Pipit.
The day ended with a relaxing hour an Leighton Moss counting our successes as much as looking for new birds though both male and female Marsh Harriers were in the air throughout. We never dash around just trying for the longest list but to 'get' 129 in four days marks a wonderful weekend of spring birding. Even then we ran out of time to go for the Pomarine Skua passage on the Solway as last year but then there is never time to do everything!