Saturday, 19 October 2019

Isles of Scilly & Cornwall 16th to 21st August, 2019


It had been quite a few years since I had been to Scilly in August, almost exactly 20 in fact, when I had gone for the solar eclipse. That year I had gone on a mini pelagic and seen one Wilson's Storm Petrel and a Great Shearwater. 

My trip began with a false start. I rang up my overnight lodgings in Penzance on the Thursday evening to advise of my arrival time and to request a packed breakfast. As I would be on a 7.15 Scillonian, I didn't expect them to be cooking at half past five, so thought they would throw together a couple of sandwiches and a drink, which is quite a usual thing when you have early starts for birding. 

From the moment the guy at the Bay Lodge picked up the phone, he seemed to want an argument. He didn't seem to know that the Scillonian sailed early on certain days and my request for a packed breakfast was met with bewilderment. Saying that, 'He would sort things out when I got there,' I left it that and assumed he was having a bad day. However, checking my emails, as I am wont to do before bed time, I was bemused to find that he had cancelled my booking - via booking.com, saying that '...we are unable to meet your requirements... so i suggest accepting your booking is not acceptable...'

So, I was in the position of having to find new accommodation at the last minute, and found a room at The Queens Hotel. There is no apostrophe in the name, so I assume that a lot of queens have stayed there.

I caught a mid morning train and after a seven hour train journey I arrived in Penzance in pouring rain. I checked in to the Queens, a rambling pile of an hotel, with old paintings and a large dining room with white table cloths and a majestic view out into the bay.

After a slap up dinner at Fraser's fish restaurant, down the road, I filmed the waves crashing against the sea wall and looked forward to a choppy crossing on the morrow.

I woke up early and was brought a continental breakfast to my room by the porter.


Not difficult, is it?


I checked out after my breakfast and headed to the quay, where I deposited my rucksack, which the kind people at the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company would deliver to my guest house on St. Mary's.

Boarding the boat, I see a fellow birder (Gary), who points out a juvenile Mediterranean Gull, which is floating off the starboard. I got a few shots in what is pretty rubbish light, and the bird took flight and I rattled off a few as it headed east.


Juvenile Mediterranean Gull



As we set sail, the swell of the sea becomes quickly quite pronounced. After less than 10 minutes the ship begins to pitch and roll in the strong breeze, which has only eased a little overnight. Gary's wife is not a good sailor, and so it seems neither are many other of our fellow passengers. As Gary and I begin picking up Manx Shearwaters heading south, lots of people are throwing up. I feel sorry for one particular woman, who has two small children. While they're happily listening to Peppa Pig or whatever, their Mum is puking over the side. 

I'm curious as to why sea sickness affects some people and not others. I'm assuming it's hereditary. I like to think I have Viking genes or something.

Anyway, just as the Scillonian has run out of sick bags, we arrive in St. Mary's and I disembarked. After saying hello to my hosts at the Wingletang, I headed off birding around St. Mary's with the idea of getting lunch at Juliet's Garden.

Town Beach was awash with day trippers, so I moved on to Porthmellon, which was deserted apart from a couple of Black Swans, wading in the ebbing tide.


Black Swan


As I approach the birds, rather than coming for bread, they wade out into the deeper water. It was nice to see them in this setting rather than a plastic duck pond.

Continuing to Porthloo beach, which is also deserted, there are a number of Oystercatchers, a couple of Curlew and a Sandwich Tern, which is diving for fish close off sure. As I'm snapping the tern, one of the Curlews takes flight and gives really close views along the shore line.



 Sandwich Tern



Curlew

Now properly peckish, I continue north to Juliet's garden and order a smoked cheese and rocket flat bread. A few sparrows are lurking hopefully by the table edge, but my attempt at generosity is rewarded by being swamped by the birds, which appear from everywhere and I'm soon in a Mary Poppins situation with 30 birds clambering over my crockery to mop up any tit bits.

Juliet's Sparrows

After lunch, I headed off for a bit of a hike, via Carn Morval, Telegraph and along Pungies Lane and around the east of the island, and thence through Higher Moors and Porth Hellick. There are singularly few passerines around, with the exception of Song Thrush and Barn Swallows. On the way back to Hugh Town, I found a family party of Reed Warblers in Lower Moors, and one perches up in the open. It's not quite sharp, but not a bad photo.

Reed Warbler

I had an early(ish) night, with a pelagic booked for the next morning. I settled down after buying some tins of Amstel, pitta bread, dips and olives from the local Co-op, which somehow has only a 4 rating for food hygiene. I thought that was reserved for eateries. Not sure where they're going wrong?

I awoke the next morning, with a stiff breeze rattling the sky light and moving the palm trees outside the Wingletang. It was going to be a bouncy voyage. Three other birders, Nigel, Chris and Richard were also on the trip and we headed out with a packed breakfast!!! 

Robert Flood, who organises the pelagics decided to head north. It's not too long before we headed into choppy seas and there's a bunch of Manxies and Gannets feeding. Then Robert spots a Sooty Shearwater sitting on the sea. Unfortunately, the bird doesn't hang around long enough for a photo despite Joe Pender expertly manoeuvring the boat, but I got decent views in the bins. 

A few minutes later, as I'm scanning the sea, I got on to a skua and shout it out as it heads straight towards us. It's a cracking pale headed juv and after a bit of a run around, the bird shows beautifully. It's a real pearler and Robert declares it to be the bird of the season so far. Seeing the bird is one thing, but taking a photograph of it, when you're struggling to stand up, is another, and in that context, I'm pleased with my images. 



Long-tailed Skua

It's not long after the excitement of the skua is still buzzing around the boat that a Great Shearwater approaches the boat from the portside, but unfortunately just carries on and I only get brief views in the bins.

Robert then decides to drift as some old bits of mackerel and fish oil are emptied over the side. The smell is far less pungent than the chum I've encountered before and it reminds me of the cod liver oil that my Mum gave me as a little child.

We manage to attract a few European Storm Petrels, and a few Northern Fulmars and Manx Shearwaters in two hours. It's certainly the best views I've ever had of stormies and manxies, and I get what is certainly my best ever photo of a Fulmar.


 European Storm Petrel



 Manx Shearwater


Northern Fulmar


Joe started up the anchor and we steamed back south. There were two shouts for Wilson's Petrel, one which was distant and another which tanked past, and I got unsatisfactory views of the bird as it was lost between the waves. I wouldn't have ticked it, had I needed it for my British list. There was another Great Shearwater, but this was more distant than the first one and also bombed past.

After disembarking from the Sapphire, I dropped my bags at the Wingletang and walked around the corner, to catch up with my friends Melanie and Alan at the Lyonnesse, a placed I had stayed 15 times between the late 80s into the current century. Melanie's walnut, banana and honey loaf was showing very well and washed down nicely with a pot of tea, as Alan and I discussed the vicissitudes of English cricket.

In the evening, I did a walk around the Garrison Walls and took some photos in the perfect light before going for scampi and chips upstairs in the Mermaid.

Woolpack Point


 Morning Point



 The Garrison



Town Bay viewed from the Garrison


The next morning, the wind had dropped and I planned to visit Tresco Abbey Garden, as much to look for hoverflies as anything, my secondary passion after birds.

However, the garden has so many non-native species that there's little hoverflies of interest apart from a few of the commoner species. I do see a very nice Painted Lady, and it's quite a bold one and not one of these faded jobs that seem to be everywhere, this year.




Tresco Abbey Gardens


Painted Lady


Song Thrush


In the afternoon I returned to St. Mary's and noticed that a few Turnstones were feeding on the tide rack behind the Atlantic Hotel. 


Turnstone


and bumped into a birder, who told me that a Ruff was showing very well from the Sussex hide at Porth Hellick. I thought this was as good a plan as any, so hot footed it via Parting Carn and after 20 minutes I was sitting in the hide with the bird to myself, just a few feet away.




 Ruff

In the evening, I joined another pelagic, where we headed south. It was less bouncy than the previous day, but alas nothing of note was picked up, but we did get good views of the common species.


Eurasian Shag



Northern Gannet

I did a bit of light birding the following day, and returned to Penzance on the afternoon ferry. I was a flatter crossing than the outward trip, with 900 Manx Shearwaters, three Common Dolphins and a Long-finned Pilot Whale. Good stuff!

I was up early on the Wednesday and caught a train to Hayle. I had happy memories here from the heady days of the 1980s when I saw my first Ring-billed Gull at Copperhouse Creek.

Curlew


Rock Pipit


Sunday, 15 September 2019

Dodging the rain in Northumberland 7th June.


Visiting Northumberland in the summer had now become something of a pilgrimage and so it was at the crack of dawn on 7th June that I caught the first train to Chesterfield and thence to York for the third leg to Berwick-upon-Tweed. All was going well until I left York. After ordering the full English, which is complimentary in first class, we had probably been going for 15 minutes, when the train ground to a halt.

A train went past after five minutes and I assumed we were at a junction, but another five minutes and still no movement. In the absence of an announcement, I asked the stewardess, who said she didn't know what the problem was, and that the conductor was in communication with the driver. Another 10 minutes passed and then there was an announcement, stating that there was a technical fault and the driver was investigating what a red light meant on his console.  Thinking back to my recent delay free journeys in Europe, I had a sinking feeling that my trip would be kyboshed before it had begun, with my change over time in Berwick now looking very tight.

A further announcement some time later - I had by now lost track of time - stated that there was a severe technical fault and that the train would now return to York but at half speed. This was the worst news possible. Faced with a grim weather forecast, I considered jacking it in and heading home.

Breakfast arrived as we chugged back to York and this was at least some comfort. Checking the onward northern connections, it looked like if I got the next train to Berwick, I could get a taxi to Seahouses and catch my boat to Inner Farne by the skin of my teeth. Expensive, but with a promise from LNER of a full refund, I would be in pocket.

And so, I did a quick change in York and hastily organised a taxi from Berwick station. The cost of £35 for the 22 miles journey seemed quite reasonable and I was in Seahouses with 10 minutes to spare. En route, I passed Monk's House Pool where two days earlier there had been a Baillon's Crake - a bird I still needed for my low British list of 423.

The sun was shining as I boarded St. Cuthbert's II for Inner Farne.  There was the usual tour of the different islands and the story of Grace Darling, which this time included a little more interesting nautical detail relating to the Forfarshire before foundering on the rocks.  At last we arrived on Inner Farne. It doesn't matter how many times I go, there is always a thrill accompanied with running the gauntlet of the Arctic Terns. Getting to see these birds at such close quarters is a privilege along with the Puffins, other auks and Shags.  

Remarkably, there are still people going on their without any headgear and those Artic Terns draw blood!

Also, two things I noticed in contrast to last year. The numbers of gulls on the island appear to have increased. There were gangs of Black-headed Gulls whose raison d'etre seemed to be to mug Puffins as they came back with bills full of fish. Secondly, I couldn't see any Sandwich Terns nesting, although there were plenty loafing around off shore.


Lesser Black-backed Gull


Black-headed Gull



Arctic Tern



Common Guillemot







Puffin



Shag


You get an hour on the island, which is just about enough and I was back at Seahouses for 3pm, where I had managed to blag a lift from a local who was going to Newcastle. 

I was dropped off at Amble, which is the Skegness of Northumberland. If it weren't for the Roseate Terns, I wouldn't go to Amble. It is singularly lacking in character in comparison to its neighbours, especially Warkworth, which has an amazing castle. Apart from the birds, it has one redeeming feature, which is the chippy by the harbour (The Quayside Cafe.) It's fish and chips are truly stupendous!

I had booked on the 16.16 sailing, which sails to Coquet Island, which is managed by the RSPB. One isn't allowed to land here, but the boat goes as close as it can to the island. Because there was a neap tide, we wouldn't be able to get that close, but there you go.

The trips run by Puffin Cruises, have a somewhat more cosy feel to them.  They have got a more intimate feel to them than the trips to Inner Farne. Boarding the boat, the woman immediately lost count of the number of people, after four participants. I did wonder if this was for comic effect.

Dave Gray, the Skipper walked to the stern, as we arrived at Coquet Island. There were Common Terns and Sandwich Terns very close to the boat, although it was now getting very cloudy and so my photos weren't the best.

Common Tern


Sandwich Tern



Roseate Tern



Sunday, 26 May 2019

France and Texel May 7th - 12th, 2019



It had been about seven years since I had been birding in the south of France and having done the Camargue and other areas in Provence, I was tempted by an alternative location. My available dates, given work and family commitments were a little constrained. I also wanted to pull in a quick visit to Texel for the Dutch Birding Festival, and as a non-driver/non-flyer, this would require quite a fiddly route on public transport.

I left Nottingham on the bank holiday Monday 6th May and had an overnight stay in King’s Cross, in order to catch the first Eurostar on the following day.

Check in was smooth and the train on time, and with at seat refreshments in standard premium, the two or so hours to Paris seemed to pass quickly, although listening to several week’s podcasts of Gardener’s Question Time, helped in that regard. I also find wearing headphones deters any would-be unwanted conversations from fellow travellers.

My connection time in Paris was fairly tight. I had walked to Gare de Lyon in the past, but there certainly wasn’t time for that, so took a taxi, thinking this was an easy option. With hindsight, I should have taken the Metro, which would have been a five-minute ride. In the end, the taxi took nearly 30 minutes to cover three miles, owing to road works and the apparently inevitably clogged up roads of Paris. I caught my connecting TGV with five minutes to spare. 

The super-fast French trains (by British standards) - I think they hit 200mph, make the 500 mile journey a very tolerable four hours. Also, there’s some very pleasant countryside from about two hours in. After around 3 hours it is especially good as the line hugs the coast and slows down in places (or it did on my journey) allowing a little birding from the train. Being double decker trains; from the top deck, you can get a really good view of the wetlands by the coast. 

It was a few minutes after leaving Montpellier, that the birding started, with a Short-toed Eagle hovering very close to the train. Among the various marshes I could also see lots of both Little Egrets and Great White Egrets. Then near Frontignan, I had four Gull-billed Terns on a bit of salt marsh close to the sea wall.  I expected these to be nailed on, but as it turned out, these were the only ones on the trip. Afterwards the line headed in land but I did get a few Black Kites and Common Kestrels but nothing any more exciting.

I arrived in Narbonne in the early afternoon. I found my hotel, checked in, dumped my gear and headed straight back to the station and caught a train to Port la Nouvelle.  I had spoken to Phillipa Benson of Birding Languedoc, who had arranged my guide for the following three days and it seemed like this was a reasonable option with someone without a car.

From the station, I headed for the coast, which is a ten minute walk. There is a small harbour here, where a fishing boat had just arrived and was being mobbed by hundreds of Yellow-legged Gulls. This seems to be the standard sea gull here, although unlike our Herring Gulls are totally uninterested in coming to bread, or at least that’s true in Port la Nouvelle. I followed the coast road towards the headland, where a light house sits on a half mile long pier.

Scanning the sea, I was immediately drawn to a raft of dark brown birds some way off, and with the bins alone I was unable to assign the birds to any order, never mind species. Setting up my scope, I was delighted to see that the birds were shearwaters. My impression was that they were rather bigger than Manx but certainly not Corys’s. Being a muddy brown above, I am assuming that these were Balearic Shearwaters purely from the location. However, having contacted Robert Flood, he thinks they could as easily have been Yelkouan. There were 92 birds in total and in the hour and a half I was there, the birds never took flight.  Despite this encouraging start, I added little else, except for two 2nd cy Gannets and several Common Terns and Sandwich Terns.


The Lighthouse at Port la Nouvelle



Common Tern

In the evening I ate around the corner from the hotel at restaurant Moli Mouli.  I had the baked cod followed by Tarte Tatin. The main course was good, but not remarkable by French standards. However the dessert was spectacularly good. The staff spoke little French, though were very helpful and accommodating, as I speak poor, schoolboy French. I get the impression that the language thing is a big deal for the French. They speak more English often than they let on, but if you don't make an effort to speak their language they won't meet you half way. I know this from feedback from tourists who know no French and have found the language barrier an issue.


Morue en papillote

The morning of 8th May was dry but the whole area was bathed in a dense low cloud. I was joined by two American birders Randal Hall (no relation) and his wife Connie Clarke and we were picked up at 7am by Dominique Clement, who lives locally and is a professional birder and conservationist. 

Dominique's English is probably about on a par with my French, but he knows enough. Also, he doesn't know every bird name in English, but as we both know the scientific names, I was able to let Randy and Connie know what to expect before each site.

We headed east to the Pissevaches area just south east of Fleury. On the coast are two lagoons, one small one and a huge one. Our arrival coincided with some drizzle but this produced a nice movement of Pallid Swift along with dozens of Common Swifts. There was relatively little on the coast but on the drive back to the main road we had a male Whinchat and two Stonechats, plus a few parties of Greater Flamingo on another lagoon. The nearby water treatment works, where I believe you can partly explore on foot were very rewarding.  Dominique has a key to the gate that leads to one of the better pools.  The rain had now stopped but it was still very dull. However, the birding wasn’t.  We had two Black Terns and two Little Gulls and in the reedbed was an extremely close Great Reed Warbler, along with a Moustached Warbler and several family parties of Bearded Tits. Working our way around the perimeter, we discovered three Collared Pratincole (Dominique suspected that there was a bird sitting nearby.) 

After taking a few record shots of the pratincoles, my battery went flat and I quickly inserted a new one. I switched on my camera, and as I looked through the view finder, a male Little Bittern flew through and I managed to rattle off a few record shots as it entered the reed bed! 

Back out onto the entrance track we paused to look for migrants and found one Spotted Flycatcher and a single Tawny Pipit.




Greater Flamingo


Collared Pratincole




Little Bittern







Little Gull



From Pissevaches we drove to the village at Fleury. On the way, a very forlorn and somewhat damp Short-toed Eagle sat a top a tree, fairly close to the road. On any other day, I would have got a fantastic photo, but with my bridge camera, the thick cloud was a killer and I was left with a record shot. In the village itself, we stopped for coffee, while watching Lesser Kestrels fly overhead. This was also only one of two places where I saw Black Redstart. It was a public holiday in France, celebrating victory by the allies in Europe and the local police and several villages were doing a little march down the road. 

When it comes to Bank Holidays, we are the poor man of Europe with just 8 in the year, compared with 11 in France, 12 in Spain and 14 in Finland. I think 11 is about the average in the EU. Why can't St. George's Day, which is also Shakespeare's Birthday be a public holiday?!  Okay, rant over.

Short-toed Eagle

Following the refreshment stop, we drove along the plane of the river Aude, which is bordered by a network of fields and hedgerows along the south bank of the river. Dominique parked by a field with a number of bee hives and we had around 20 European Bee-eaters, which were gorging themselves on the insects. Other species here included Golden Oriole, which happily perched in the open, as well as Melodious Warbler, Woodchat Shrike and our first Roller of the day. It’s also worth noting the density of Nightingales, which is incredible! A 100 metre stretch of trees and bushes held around 10 singing males, which was typical of many areas we visited. 

European Bee-eater




European Roller





Golden Oriole

Driving to the north bank of the river by a bridge, we surveyed a protected area and added the first Honey-buzzard of the trip, plus several Glossy Ibis, Great White Egret and a single Squacco Heron. 

We departed the Aude river and then drove a little way east, and explored the various wetlands around Vendre. Among the more interesting species in the area were Common Pochard, Common Shelduck, White Stork, Little Grebe, Hoopoe and a few Mediterranean Gull.

At the nearby filtration ponds at Vendre village we saw three Wood Sandpipers, plus a nice drake Red-crested Pochard, along with Reed Bunting and Willow Warbler.  Here. as is true of virtually every pool and pond in the area were several pairs of Black-winged Stilts and one flew in right next to the path, allowing me to get a nice photo. Peering down a culvert, our inquisitiveness was rewarded by a rather arresting Viperine Water Snake Natrix maura, which looked very snugly on his/her bit of concrete.



Black-winged Stilt



Viperine Water Snake


Working our way back to Narbonne, we paused by a flooded vineyard by the canal at La Matte, where we had super close views of two Whiskered Terns, another Wood Sandpiper, a Glossy Ibis and two Common Redshank. As we were departing, a total of nine Rollers flew past in succession, along with a single Great Spotted Cuckoo.

Whiskered Tern

We had spent very nearly nine hours in the field, and seen some really nice birds. I had enthused prior to the trip of taking advantage of the Mediterranean light; so it's a little disappointing that the light was so appalling that day, but you can't have it all!

We were dropped off at the hotel at just before 7pm. The establishment was the Hôtel La Résidence in a quiet part of Narbonne. This was recommended by Phillippa and was a good choice. The staff speak good English and the breakfast is quite a hearty buffet and will especially suit those with a sweet tooth, as custard tart and chocolate cake was on offer, in addition to scrambled eggs and bacon and more typical continental fayre.

Dinner that night was at a recommended pizza house just round the corner, tucked away in one of the many quaint little streets in Narbonne.  I have to say, the food was spot on - thin base just as I like it.  The beer, a local brew may or may not have had aphrodisiac qualities!




No comment



Almost as good as Italian

The 9th May was as different from the previous one as it's possible to be, with blue skies and a fresh breeze from the north west.  After breakfast, Dominique picked me up and we headed to the dry rolling countryside south east of Narbonne. We could hear the thrush-like warble of Western Orphean Warbler, but my attempts to photograph the ubiquitous Crested Lark were unsuccessful. This species seemed incredibly wary and was even spooked by the car, which is normally a good mobile hide. 

Although there was little else of note on the passerine front, we could see dozens of Honey-buzzards moving along the adjacent ridges and there was clearly a major movement in progress.  We headed south towards the watch point between the Etang L’Ayrolle and the coast.  I jumped out while Dominique parked the car, as Honey-buzzards were moving through, some of them flying really low.  It was a truly exhilarating experience!  We estimated that there were around 2,000 birds seen that morning, along with 500 Black Kites, single Osprey and Red-footed Falcon.


Honey-buzzard

We watched the Honey-buzzards until the main movement appeared to have reached a hiatus and I took the opportunity to photograph a Kentish Plover that was feeding on the shoreline. Unbeknown to me, Dominique snapped me snapping the plovers! I didn't realise my head was so shiny.

A walk along the etang produced several hundred Dunlins, along with dozens of Sanderling and smaller numbers of Ringed Plover and a single Little Stint. As we reached the dunes on foot, we added a ringtail Montagu’s Harrier in off the sea and an Icterine Warbler that was skulking in the low vegetation.

Returning to the car, we had a look at the marshes at Grazen, where there were several Whimbrel and one or two Little Terns feeding adjacent to the car.


Kentish Plover


Whimbrel



Little Tern


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

After lunch, we met up with Phillippa and spent the afternoon exploring the Narbonne commune, area, firstly around  Ile St-Martin, where we added three Rock Sparrows, Cirl Bunting and had excellent views of a Woodchat Shrike and eventually Sardinian Warbler, which are not so easy to see well, despite their ubiquity. A note should be made about the number of Corn Buntings in the area.  They're very common and the jangy song was a joy to hear as we birded the area. This is a species, which while decreasing is clearly doing very nicely thank you in the south of France. It's a Priority BAP species in the UK and it's not hard to see how our sterile countryside has decimated so many species.

Moving on to the paddy fields at Tournebelle, we saw several Whiskered Terns, two Cattle Egrets and a single 4th calendar year Caspian Gull.  At the adjacent marshes at Tournebelle le neuf, we had a Spoonbill, Reed Warbler and a nice male Pied Flycatcher.


Woodchat Shrike



Sardinian Warbler



Pied Flycatcher



Caspian Gull


The 10th May was another sunny day and the plan was to have half a day inland from Narbonne around the rolling, pastoral country around Abbaye de Fontcalvy. Before this though, we returned to Pissevaches, as things are always dropping in there. We saw a similar set of species as on the 8th with the addition of single Squacco Heron and Purple Heron, a flock of 40 Whiskered Terns and several Mediterranean Gull. 


Sanderling


En route to Fontcalvay, we had excellent close views of a Roller, which unfortunately flew off before I could take a photo.  Around the main site, Corn Buntings, common everywhere as stated previously, were especially obliging and the one in the image, sat resolutely on his perch, singing away as I edged closer.


Corn Bunting

Our main target birds here, appeared on cue. Two Southern Grey Shrikes were seen, one perching briefly close to, before flying off. Two female Little Bustards were seen in flight and it appeared that they would fly right past us then banked and headed off away from us.  Great Spotted Cuckoo appeared to be quite abundant here too, with several birds seen. 

A singing Stone Curlew prompted us to search a known breeding area, but it remained consigned to the 'heard only' list. However, a male Little Bustard did eventually show and gave decent views in the scope.

We watched the bustard over lunch and as I ate on my sandwiches a Short-toed Eagle buzzed us at crazily low altitude affording some nice images before a Hobby zipped by, rounding off a nice morning's birding. 


Short-toed Eagle

As we were an hour from Narbonne and with me having a train to catch, we headed back and I bade farewell to Dominique.

In the three and a bit days I had in Languedoc, I believe I only scratched the surface and I think at least five days is required to do the area any justice.  However, it was a good trip and Dominique was a helpful and affable companion. Thank you to Phillippa Benson for arranging his services.  


The train journey back to Paris was as efficient as the one out, and I finished a bottle of red wine from the previous evening on the train with a tub of Pringles. Arriving in Paris in the mid evening, I asked a fellow passenger, which line went to Gare de Lyon. She was so impressed with my rubbish attempt at French, she not only answered in English, but pulled out a Metro ticket from her handbag!

It was raining when I checked into my hotel around the corner from the station and it was raining heavily when I awoke the next morning. After grabbing a couple of croissants, I boarded the Thalys international train to Amsterdam, which stops at Brussels and Rotterdam only and does the 315 mile trip in just under four hours. As a regular train traveller in the UK, I cannot resist a rant about our trains. We're so far behind Europe, it's pathetic. HS2 needs to be scrapped now, our trains re-nationalised and the money being wasted on HS2 ploughed into updating our currently decrepit system.

After a local train to Schagen and then a bus to Den Helder, I caught the 1pm ferry and was met by my good friend Ger Monterey on Texel. As ever, tourists enjoy through bread to the seagulls and this allowed me to get a few nice shots of birds hovering off the bow of the ship.

                             
Lesser Black-backed Gull



Herring Gull

As there was nothing major to go for, we meandered up the east coast, pausing on Ottersat, where a hundred godwits of both species were feeding in a field next to the road. It was a treat to see these birds together and in breeding plumage.

Along Stuifweg a Spoonbill was feeding right next to the car, along with a Greenshank that had decided to go for a swim.


Bar-tailed Godwit



Eurasian Spoonbill


Greenshank

After having a coffee with Ger and his partner Aafke, I said hello to Marc Plomp and Chris Galvin at the Bird Information Centre and then plonked myself on the tip of the old jetty that overlooks the Wadensee at the end of Kikkestraat. Here, more godwits were feeding quite close and with the super late afternoon light, I got some decent shots.



Bar-tailed Godwit




Black-tailed Godwit



Common Redshank


I had arranged to meet Wietze Janse at 6pm, who had booked a table at De Robbenjagger, so I made my way north, birding en route. Around the pool and marsh at Renvogelveldt I had nice views of a Meadow Pipit and a male Yellow Wagtail.


Meadow Pipit



Yellow Wagtail



At de Robbenjager, I had my favourite - hake and chips. Hake is an under-rated fish in my opinion. It was popular from memory in my childhood in the 70s, so I don't know why it's so hard to come across now in the UK. To follow, I had the 'walking chocolate cake' which is actually the literal translation of the Dutch for chocolate fondant. I suppose it's because, if done right, the chocolate sauce walks out of the sponge - kind of.

An awesome Dutch pudding.


After dinner, we headed south to Oorsprongweg, where a trip of Dotterel were reported to be showing well. This was no exaggeration, as a total of 17 birds, mainly females were coming to within 10 metres of the car. These northern birds, which breed on mountain tops are such good value and it was a rare treat to see them so well. At the same site, a male Kestrel sat oblivious to our presence as Wietze wound down the window and we had some nice shots against the bright mid evening sun.





Dotterel



 Kestrel


It had been a long day, so after sharing a Famous Grouse with Ger, I turned in, ready for birding the next day.

After breakfast, I was picked up by Wietze and we parked at the north end of the island and walked around the area known as de Tuintjes, which can be good for migrants, although there was little passerine migration going on. However, it was a nice walk with a few trip ticks added to the list, including Northern Wheatear and Bluethroat, while commoner species like Stonechat, Linnet and Common Whitethroat were present in good numbers.




Linnet



Stonechat


Hearing that a Wood Warbler was still showing well in the south of the island, we headed to a wooded area on Tureluur Pad, only to find that the bird was nowhere to be seen or heard. 

However, a pleasant distraction was a Spotted Flycatcher, which was feeding next to the path and then Wietze had an alert for a Wryneck about 10 minutes walk into more open country with scattered bushes. There was another Northern Wheatear here and we were told that the Wryneck had just showed some way off in a clump of bushes about 70 metres away. After about 15 minutes the bird began to call and then perched out in the open, albeit more distantly.

We returned to the original spot where a Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-Moth Hemaris fuciformis, could be seen zipping around the Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi that lined a little stream. 

I left Wietze to get better shots of the insect with his superior camera, and went to check out the Wood Warbler, which had re-appeared in the area where it had been reported the previous day. I got some fantastic views of the bird, even with the naked eye, but alas, getting the bird to stay put when the camera comes out as ever, was a different story and I got one record shot. Also at this spot was Lesser Redpoll and Short-toed Treecreeper.

Wood Warbler



Broad-bordered Bee-Hawkmoth

I was re-joined by Wietze, and he decided he would call it a day, after getting coffee and cake at de Robbenjagger. I said cheerio to my friend and then spent a pleasant few hours walking around de Cocksdorp, before catching my train back to Hoek van Holland and the overnight ferry to Harwich.


Turnstone



Trip List

No.VernacularScientificNotes
1Brent GooseBranta bernicla
2Greylag GooseAnser anser
3Mute SwanCygnus olor
4Egyptian GooseAlopochen aegyptiaca
5Common ShelduckTadorna tadorna
6MallardAnas platyrhynchos
7Eurasian TealAnas creccaSeveral on Renvogelveldt, Texel, 11th May
8Red-crested PochardNetta rufina
9Common PochardAythya ferina
10Tufted DuckAythya fuligula
11Common EiderSomateria mollissima
12Red-legged PartridgeAlectoris rufa
13Common PheasantPhasianus colchicus
14Balearic ShearwaterPuffinus mauretanicus92 at Port la Nouvelle, 7th May
15Great Crested GrebePodiceps cristatus
16Greater FlamingoPhoenicopterus roseus
17White StorkCiconia ciconia
18Glossy IbisPlegadis falcinellus
19Eurasian SpoonbillPlatalea leucorodia
20Squacco HeronArdeola ralloides
21Western Cattle EgretBubulcus ibis
22Grey HeronArdea cinerea
23Purple HeronArdea purpurea
24Great EgretArdea alba
25Little EgretEgretta garzetta
26Northern GannetMorus bassanus2 at Port la Nouvelle, 7th May
27Great CormorantPhalacrocorax carbo
28Western OspreyPandion haliaetus1 through L’Ayrolle watch point, 9th May
29European Honey BuzzardPernis apivorus
30Short-toed EagleCircaetus gallicus
31Western Marsh HarrierCircus aeruginosus
32Montagu's HarrierCircus pygargus1 in off the sea at Etang de L'Ayrolle, 9th May
33Black KiteMilvus migrans
34Common BuzzardButeo buteo
35Little BustardTetrax tetraxThree at Abbaye de Fontcalvy, 10th May
36Water RailRallus aquaticusNoted at Pissevaches ponds
37Common MoorhenGallinula chloropus
38Eurasian CootFulica atra
39Eurasian Stone-curlewBurhinus oedicnemusOne heard at Abbaye de Fontcalvy, 10th May
40Eurasian OystercatcherHaematopus ostralegus
41Pied AvocetRecurvirostra avosetta
42Northern LapwingVanellus vanellus
43Grey PloverPluvialis squatarola
44Common Ringed PloverCharadrius hiaticula
45Kentish PloverCharadrius alexandrinus
46Eurasian DotterelCharadrius morinellus17 on Texel, 11th May
47WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus
48Bar-tailed GodwitLimosa lapponica
49Black-tailed GodwitLimosa limosa
50Ruddy TurnstoneArenaria interpres
51SanderlingCalidris alba
52DunlinCalidris alpina
53Little StintCalidris minuta1 Etang de L'Ayrolle, 9th May
54Common SandpiperActitis hypoleucos
55Common RedshankTringa totanus
56Wood SandpiperTringa glareola3 Vendre Village, 1 La Matte, 8th May
57Common GreenshankTringa nebularia
58Collared PratincoleGlareola pratincola3 Pissevaches ponds
59Slender-billed GullChroicocephalus genei1 L'Ayrolle watchpoint, 9th May
60Black-headed GullChroicocephalus ridibundus
61Little GullHydrocoloeus minutus
62Mediterranean GullIchthyaetus melanocephalus
63Common GullLarus canus
64European Herring GullLarus argentatus
65Caspian GullLarus cachinnans1 Tournebelle, 9th May
66Yellow-legged GullLarus michahellis
67Lesser Black-backed GullLarus fuscus
68Gull-billed TernGelochelidon nilotica4 near Frontignan, 7th May
69Sandwich TernThalasseus sandvicensis
70Little TernSternula albifrons
71Common TernSterna hirundo
72Whiskered TernChlidonias hybrida
73Black TernChlidonias niger
74Rock DoveColumba livia
75Stock DoveColumba oenas
76Common Wood PigeonColumba palumbus
77European Turtle DoveStreptopelia turtur2 near Abbaye de Fontcalvy, 10th May
78Eurasian Collared DoveStreptopelia decaocto
79Great Spotted CuckooClamator glandarius
80Common CuckooCuculus canorus
81Common SwiftApus apus
82Pallid SwiftApus pallidusSeveral at Pissevaches beach lagoons, 8th May
83European RollerCoracias garrulus
84European Bee-eaterMerops apiaster
85Eurasian HoopoeUpupa epops
86Eurasian WryneckJynx torquilla1 on Texel, 12th May
87Great Spotted WoodpeckerDendrocopos major1 on Texel, 12th May
88Lesser KestrelFalco naumanniSeveral around Fleury village, 8th May
89Common KestrelFalco tinnunculus
90Red-footed FalconFalco vespertinus1 at Ile St-Martin, 9th May
91Eurasian HobbyFalco subbuteo1 at Abbaye de Fontcalvy, 10th May
92Iberian Grey ShrikeLanius meridionalis2 at Abbaye de Fontcalvy, 10th May
93Woodchat ShrikeLanius senator
94Eurasian JayGarrulus glandarius
95Eurasian MagpiePica pica
96Western JackdawColoeus monedula
97Carrion CrowCorvus corone
98Coal TitPeriparus ater
99Blue TitCyanistes caeruleus
100Great TitParus major
101Bearded ReedlingPanurus biarmicus
102WoodlarkLullula arborea
103Eurasian SkylarkAlauda arvensis
104Crested LarkGalerida cristata
105Sand MartinRiparia riparia
106Barn SwallowHirundo rustica
107House MartinDelichon urbicum
108Cetti's WarblerCettia cetti
109Long-tailed TitAegithalos caudatusFamily party in Staatsbossen, Texel, 12th May
110Wood WarblerPhylloscopus sibilatrix1 on Plan Tureluur, Texel, 12th May
111Willow WarblerPhylloscopus trochilus
112Common ChiffchaffPhylloscopus collybita
113Great Reed WarblerAcrocephalus arundinaceusOne or two at Pissevaches ponds
114Moustached WarblerAcrocephalus melanopogonOne at Pissevaches ponds, 8th May
115Reed WarblerAcrocephalus scirpaceus
116Melodious WarblerHippolais polyglotta
117Zitting CisticolaCisticola juncidisVery common around Aude river plane
118Eurasian BlackcapSylvia atricapilla
119Western Orphean WarblerSylvia hortensis
120Common WhitethroatSylvia communis
121Sardinian WarblerSylvia melanocephala
122Eurasian WrenTroglodytes troglodytes
123Short-toed TreecreeperCerthia brachydactyla1 on Plan Tureluur, Texel, 12th May
124Common StarlingSturnus vulgaris
125Common BlackbirdTurdus merula
126Song ThrushTurdus philomelos
127Mistle ThrushTurdus viscivorus
128Spotted FlycatcherMuscicapa striata
129European RobinErithacus rubecula
130BluethroatLuscinia svecica
131Common NightingaleLuscinia megarhynchos
132Pied FlycatcherFicedula hypoleuca1 Tournebelle neuf, 9th May
133Black RedstartPhoenicurus ochruros1 Fleury Village, 8th May, 1 Narbonne, 9th May
134Common RedstartPhoenicurus phoenicurus1 on Plan Tureluur, Texel, 12th May
135WhinchatSaxicola rubetra2 Pissevaches, 8th May
136European StonechatSaxicola rubicola
137Northern WheatearOenanthe oenanthe
138House SparrowPasser domesticus
139Tree SparrowPasser montanus5 Fleury village, 8th May
140Rock SparrowPetronia petronia3 Ile St-Martin, 9th May
141DunnockPrunella modularis
142Yellow WagtailMotacilla flava
143White WagtailMotacilla alba
144Tawny PipitAnthus campestris
145Meadow PipitAnthus pratensis
146Common ChaffinchFringilla coelebs
147GreenfinchChloris chloris
148LinnetLinaria cannabina
149Lesser RedpollAcanthis cabaret
150European GoldfinchCarduelis carduelis
151European SerinSerinus serinus
152Corn BuntingEmberiza calandra
153Cirl BuntingEmberiza cirlus
154Reed BuntingEmberiza schoeniclus