Outside the Patch

I was up early this morning (6am) and headed out to the southern end of the National Trust's land-holdings at Wicken Fen. I arrived at the area known as Adventurer's Fen at around 7am and headed over to the new bridge that crosses the Reach Lode (one of the main waterways draining this part of the Fens). I was hoping to see a Black-winged Stilt that had been found a couple of days previously by James Hanlon, on Baker's Fen, and had since relocated to this spot. However, after an hour of scanning, I still hadn't seen it & had to head home to help with the school run.
On getting back home, I received news that the bird had re-appeared. Taking George & Zach (two of our minded children) with me, I headed back to Wicken.
This time, I arrived at around 10am and there was the bird, right in the area that I had been watching earlier!

Black-winged Stilt by James Hanlon
I stayed for around 45 minutes and watched the bird as it fed along the muddy margins of the shallow flood. Occasionally it was chased off by nesting lapwings (as in James's second picture), but for most of the time it kept it's own company.

As the bird has a jet-black back & wings, you can tell that it is an adult.  From the extensive amount of black on the back of the neck & head and the slight pink flush to the upper breast, you can say that it is a male.

This is the first stilt that I have seen in Cambridgeshire and my 222nd county tick.

Thank you to James Hanlon for letting me use his excellent photographs (taken when he found the bird on Baker's Fen earlier in the week).

After a very early start, up at 5am to drop Clarissa off at school to head off on her Iceland trip, we headed down to visit my Mum & sister in Sussex.
On the way, we stopped off at Wraysbury to give Jet a run out. It was lovely to be out in the early morning sunshine, as we walked around the National Trust's grounds at Runnymede.

Amazing mistletoe
 Feeding on the mistletoe were several Ring-necked Parakeets.

Ring-necked Parakeet enjoying the morning sunshine
We headed off to Sussex & I enjoyed opening my birthday cards & pressies whilst chomping on a bacon butty.
We then headed out to Ambersham Common. Jet enjoyed a run & found a ball that another dog must have lost. A small group of Crossbills were showing well whilst they fed at the top of some pine trees. It wasn't the best light for photography, however.

Female Crossbill
The bitterly cold wind kept everything else quiet, however, and we didn't manage to see the hoped for Dartford Warblers or Woodlarks. Further attempts at Lavington Common & Lord's Piece were equally unsuccessful, so we headed down to the coast.

Black-headed Gull
Carrion Crow
We searched along the beaches at Worthing and Lancing, but couldn't find any Sandwich Terns or Wheatears and, with the light failing, decided to call it a day for the birding.

Late afternoon at Lancing Beach
 Birthday dinner was at Worthing's Pizza Hut - yummy! We didn't arrive home until after 10pm - rather tired, but it was a great way to spend a day!

Another long haul trip started on the Tuesday night with a very long (574 miles) drive from Cambridgeshire to the northern end of Skye. Dawn arrived on Wednesday morning and so did the ferry - we were off to North Uist.

The ferry waits at Uig, Isle of Skye
The ferry, the Finlaggan, left ten minutes early and we had an excellent crossing, with Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Fulmar, Kittiwake and Gannet all easily seen. One luck observer even saw a porpoise.

The Finlaggan sails into Lochmaddy
We were still ten minutes early when we arrived at Lochmaddy, North Uist. The star bird of the crossing had been a distant White-tailed Eagle, which flew out from the cliffs as we passed and dropped, out of sight, on the shoreline.

Lochmaddy, North Uist
From driving off the ferry, it was only a short drive (around 30 minutes) to the RSPB Balranald reserve. We made good time and were met by Stuart, the RSPB's warden.

The RSPB Balranald visitor centre; closed for the winter
With Stuart's help, we wasted no time in setting off for the Holaisgeir rocks. In no time at all, the coastal machir turned to sand dunes then a wonderful curving bay - we had arrived.

Traigh Iar, North Uist
Fortunately, three birders were already present when we arrived and we were soon enjoying the bird that we had travelled all this way for - a splendid drake Harlequin Duck.

Can you see it?
An amazing bird in an amazing setting! Well worth the journey.
Including myself and my travelling companion, Dave Ellis, there were 13 people watching the duck.

The successful twitchers enjoying the Harlequin Duck
Whilst watching the duck, we were also able to enjoy Great Northern & Red-throated Divers, Purple Sandpipers and a cracking immature Glaucous Gull.

A Glaucous Gull flies past
When we had had our fill, we returned to the visitor centre for some more birding. First off, were the geese.

Greylag Geese - proper wild ones
Barnacle Geese
A Richardson's Canada Goose amongst the Barnacles
Snow Goose - one of two present
A second Glaucous Gull was present in the same area as the Snow Geese and on a nearby loch, a female Ring-necked Duck bobbed amongst the waves. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the reported Surf Scoter. We toured back along the northern part of the island and crossed over the causeway to Berneray until the sun dropped behind the hills.

Sunset at Aird Ma-Ruibhe, Berneray
We drove back to Lochmaddy in the dark & checked into the Lochmaddy Hotel, along with Steve Smith.
We enjoyed excellent food and company, washed down by a few pints of Mc Ewan's 80 shilling and a nice glass of 12yr Bowmore!

Dawn rose over Lochmaddy.

Dawn at Lochmaddy, North Uist
After a wonderful cooked breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and set off in search of eagles.

Lochmaddy Hotel, Lochmaddy, North Uist
Along the way, we were lucky enough to get close to two Red Deer that were enjoying an early morning graze on the moorland.

Red Deer
On the hill at Cnoc Mor an t-Sagairt we spotted first one, then a second, Golden Eagles. They landed together on the hillside before one flew off over a nearby ridge.

Golden Eagle
We drove on to Bagh a Chaise (Cheesebay) and parked up overlooking the salmon farm.

Bagh a Chaise, North Uist
We had excellent views of a Golden Eagle (probably the one we had lost earlier), which landed briefly on the rocks in front of us before heading off being chased by Hooded Crows and Herring Gulls. Then, a large shape appeared crossing the water in front of us - a stunning White-tailed Eagle.

White-tailed Eagle
This bird, an immature, was carrying a satellite/radio transmitter on its back (you can just about make out the bump in the upper photograph).
It was time to make our way back. On the return leg, we stopped to photograph Hooded Crows.

Hooded Crow
In the distance, a fine male Hen Harrier hunted in the strong wind.

Hen Harrier
We had a quick tour of Lochmaddy, before heading round to the ferry terminal.

Fishing boats at Lochmaddy, North Uist
We caught the ferry at 12:00 & I managed to see Dave Mack heading off to see the duck before we boarded for our return journey. We waved goodbye to North Uist with the sight of two White-tailed Eagles circling the cliffs. The crossing was rough at first, but smoothed out as we entered the lee of the Isle of Skye. The first bird we saw on Skye was another White-tailed Eagle, flying in front of the cliffs at Rubha Bhatairnis (Waternish Point). In the harbour at Uig, Curlews and Oystercatchers fed along the shoreline.


It was time for the long drive home, but we stopped regularly to enjoy the stunning views as we drove back through Scotland.

Cruachan Beinn a Chearcaill, Skye

Eilean Donan castle, Kyle of Lochalsh

Glen Shiel

River Moriston at Bun Loyne
We arrived back at 01:15 in the morning!

I went a long way out of the patch, this time, flying to Shetland to twitch the 1st winter Pine Grosbeak at Housetter.
I rose at 04:15 & was picked up by Jim Lawrence at 05:00. We drove to Gamston Airport, near Retford in Nottinghamshire, where we met our travelling companions, Will Soar (who had organised the trip), John Pegden & Dave Mack, and Colin, our pilot.
It was snowing while we waited for Colin to de-ice the plane (a Piper Turbo Saratoga SP), but we were soon climbing on-board.

Colin with N88NA, a Piper Turbo Saratoga SP
Dawn rises over Gamston Airport, as we take off
 We took off at 07:48 and were soon heading northwards. The following series of photographs were all taken with my mobile phone, through the aircraft's side windows (with the time the photo was taken in brackets):

Soon after take-off, over the snowy Nottinghamshire countryside (07:56)

York (08:13)

We met the sea at Middlesborough (08:31)

Hartlepool headland (08:33)

Sunderland (08:40)

A ferry steams into Newcastle (08:42)

Coquet Island (08:52)

My old home - the outer group of the Farne Islands (09:01)

Bamburgh & Budle Bay (09:02)

Lindisfarne, or Holy Island (09:04)
 After following the coast all the way from Middlesborough to Berwick-upon-Tweed, we took a direct route out across the sea and came back to land just to the south of Stonehaven.

Thornyhive Bay (09:38)

Echt and the woods & moorlands south of the B9119 (09:45)

After passing over the land, we crossed the coast again at Cullen (10:02)
 This was followed by another sea crossing, until we skirted past the extreme north-easterly tip of the Scottish mainland and up the eastern side of the Orkneys.

Looking south over the Pentland Skerries, back towards John o' Groats (10:33)

Copinsay and Orkney Mainland (10:39)

Cloud formations over the North Sea (10:49)
 Unfortunately, the cloud was too thick to see Fair Isle, as we passed over, but we did manage to see our first birds of the day as we made our approach into Sumburgh Airport, with Gannets and Fulmars passing below us. We landed at 11:20; a distance of almost 600 miles covered in a flight-time of just over three and a half hours.

The runway at Sumburgh
 We disembarked, waved goodbye to Colin, passed through the terminal building and out to a waiting minibus. The minibus took us around to the far side of the airport, where we were to collect our hire car. Whilst Jim was sorting out the paperwork, we took the opportunity to scan a nearby bay. A few Shags were bobbing around in the surf, and as we watched, a group of four Long-tailed Ducks flew in and landed on the rough water. In a field beside the airfield, a group of Oystercatchers were feeding and Ravens and Hooded Crows were in the air.
With the hire car (an automatic Kia cee'd) sorted and time pressing on (it was now almost midday), we headed off up the island. The scenery whizzed past as we raced north towards our destination - Housetter and our target bird.
After only one wrong turning, we arrived at 12:45. Fortunately, two local birders/photographers we already present and showed us to the bird - a stunning 1st winter PINE GROSBEAK!!!!!!!

Pine Grosbeak at Housetter, Mainland Shetland (this was the fourth photo that I took, only a couple of minutes after first seeing the bird)
The first thing that strikes you is the bright orange plumage. The second is the size - Pine Grosbeaks look superficially like a Crossbill, but are the same size as Starlings and Song Thrushes!

The bird was actively feeding in the pine trees
The rich orange colour and the black centres to the feathers on the upper part of the back (seen clearly in the above photograph) suggest that this is a male bird.

Pine Grosbeaks breed in the taiga forests of Scandinavia and northern Russia. In the winter, they head south through Finland and Sweden, sometimes reaching as far south as Denmark & occasionally Holland. This bird actually turned up in early November 2012, but was mis-identified as a Crossbill and was overlooked until it relocated to a different garden and was photographed. It was correctly identified when photographs of it appeared on the internet on 30/01/2013.
They feed mainly on pine seeds and berries, but in Scandinavia will also come to garden feeders, where they can be very approachable.

Although quite large birds, they are acrobatic feeders, even hanging upside down to get to their food (this pose is almost identical to the similarly aged bird in the Collins Bird Guide!)
Even the rump has a splash of colour!
Taking some time away from the Grosbeak, I scanned across the bay that Housetter overlooks.

 The inner bay held a nice drake Goldeneye, and out beyond the causeway were Red-breasted Mergansers, Black Guillemots and a winter-plumaged Slavonian Grebe. An all-too-brief Otter showed itself, but was gone almost as soon as it had appeared.
Turning back to the Grosbeak, I took as few more photographs before the weather turned nasty and we headed back for the car.

It was almost 14:30. We had an hour's drive back to the southern end of the island and we had to be back by 16:00, so there was time for a quick visit to another site. We decided on Scalloway, where several scarce gull species had been reported. On route, we saw Grey Seals, Whooper Swans and, scarcer in Shetland, Mute Swans.
At Scalloway, we drove slowly along the side of the East Voe (the top end of a coastal inlet). Almost straight-away, we saw an Iceland Gull flying over the water. It joined some other gulls around some farm buildings, so we drove on, crossed a bridge and parked up next to a group of birders. The Iceland Gull, a 1st winter, was showing well, but there was no sign of the reported Kumlien's or Ring-billed Gulls. Scanning across the water, we picked up more Red-breasted Mergansers and Black Guillemots and a nice group of Eiders.

A winter plumaged Black Guillemot (as this is a black, white & grey bird on a black, white & grey sea, I thought the picture looked better reproduced in black & white)
 It was almost 16:00 & time to return to the plane. We raced back, dropping off the hire car at the terminal building.
Colin was waiting for us and ushered us back onto the plane. We departed at 16:35.
We flew at a higher altitude on the way back, over the illuminated cities of Newcastle and Leeds and, thanks to a strong tailwind, we made very good time, landing at 19:10.
We said goodbye & thank you to Colin and parted company with the others. After a drive back down the A1 & A14, with Jim, I was back home by 20:45.
The Pine Grosbeak was my 394th British tick - I wonder what will be my 395th and will it live up to this?

We enjoyed a nice day out at Grafham Water, today.
Starting by the lagoons at Perry, we had soon seen Coal Tits and Siskins as we headed towards the dam. Two very distant small dark waders at the northern end of the dam turned out to be Turnstones, when we finally got the scope on them.
As we headed back to the car, we managed to catch up with the two sanderlings that have been favouring Gaynes Creek. Here's a couple of record shots.

Sanderlings at Grafham Water.
Lunch was taken at the Mander car park, but no new birds were seen from here.
After helping someone to jump start their car, we headed round to Hill Farm. We walked along the northern shore, as far as Savages Creek, & were lucky enough to pick out the 1st winter drake Scaup from amongst the many Tufted Ducks.
We left for home with one very muddy dog and an ever growing list!

Today, Wendy & I headed down to Wimpole Hall. Here are some photos of the adult female Hawfinch that we saw there.

At 15:45, she flew into this tall, bare tree.
But after a couple of minutes she flew down into this Holly bush.

And stayed there for the next hour!

Here are a selection of photos of the Waxwing flock that I visited this morning. Enjoy!

This is the way to watch them - stand under a tree & wait for them to fly in! (taken on Wendy's mobile)
It was a sizeable flock - 74 in total.
Close-up views were easy!
At one point they landed on the ground, only a few metres away from me, to feed on the scattered berries.

There were still a few berries left on the bush.

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