Thursday 30 November 2023

New England - May 2023 - Day 1 - Quebec to Maine

My flight to Montreal was totally uneventful and very boring, but it's not a long trip particularly. I never really even watch films on planes, so I just got the map up and read my field guide and the research materials I had printed off. I also listened to a few calls from the Audubon App. It was late by the time I picked up my car, a nice red Chevrolet Blazer, which in the UK would count as a large SUV but in America is merely small. I made it one piece about an hour or so east to the small town of Granby where my motel room key was waiting for me in their post box as arranged due to my late arrival. By staying up all the way (UK equivalent time of 3am or so) I would avoid jetlag which is always my first priority when arriving somewhere. 

I had a good sleep and at 6am local time the following morning I was at my first birding site, Lac Boivin, part of the Yamaska NP. It was great to be back birding in the US again, my first visit since the previous September, which now that I write that isn't actually that long ago. I was the only person there, and dosed up with insect repellent I headed off through the woods towards the lake shore. I was a little rusty for sure, but it wasn't long before I'd worked out Great Crested Flycatcher and Red-winged Blackbird again. Birds came thick and fast, with an excellent spell of ten minutes where a mixed group of Warblers bounced through some low trees by the water - Magnolia, Blackpoll, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Tennessee, Common Yellowthroat and a bonus Baltimore Oriole. Out along a boardwalk section the boggy margins held Swamp Sparrow, and a Least Bittern was calling from an area I simply couldn't see into for ages before it finally showed itself on one edge. The lake itself was rather disappointing - only a handful of Canada Geese and Wood Duck, and a single Double-crested Cormorant, so I returned to the trees and walked a circular route back to the still-closed visitor centre. Veery, Hermit Thrush and Rose-breasted Grosbeak were all seen, and a noisy flock of Common Grackle were in a field over which Tree Swallow were flying. Yep, I was back in the saddle again. Nothing special so far, but the list was up and running.

My next stop was further east at another section of the Yamaska called "entre les deux digues", basically the next lake along. I walked west through a campsite to a dam. Red-eyed Vireos and American Redstart were everywhere, along with my first Least Flycatcher and Eastern Phoebe. As it was quite damp in this section of forest it was also good habitat for Northern Waterthrush, and I also found Black-and-White Warbler, several Ovenbird, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. The dam had a couple of Killdeer on a small pool at the bottom, and a Great Northern Diver was bobbing about in front of it.

Back west at the Parc Daniel-Johnson Saturday morning was in full swing, lots of people out and about, but the highlight here were two Warbling Vireos and on the lake a Caspian Tern. I would have liked to have continued birding in Canada but I needed to get going, I had something like five hours of driving ahead of me and was only six miles away from where I had stayed the night. Let's get on the road, America is calling!

Welcome to Vermont! This is not what Bernie Sanders would want.

I crossed into Vermont at Stanstead just before after midday and made steady progress in a south-easterly direction along the 111 and 105 to Moose Bog. The target here was Black-backed Woodpecker but it turns out it was an early morning bird. Damn it! Visiting birders who had been there since first light showed me the trees it liked, where it had flown in from, where it had then gone etc, but despite sticking it out for an hour and a half there was no sign. The habitat did look excellent though, loads of dead trees in boggy habitat. Despite this first disappointment all was not lost. Both Kinglets were present as well as Blackburnian Warbler, and best of all a trio of rather tame Canada Jays came to visit me on the viewing platform at the end of a very short boardwalk, clearly expecting peanuts or something! Given how hard I had worked for these at Sax Zim in Minnesota in the depths of winter it felt like cheating! On the mammal front there was very appropriately a large Moose on the far side of the water and a couple of Otters were gliding around. And on the insect front.... well, the less said about the ravenous mosquitos the better. It was kind of tolerable at the water's edge but in the forest it was insane and if you stopped walking you were toast.

Blue Jay

Canada Jay

A Moose in Moose Bog, Vermont

I carried on to my final birding destination of the day, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in New Hampshire. I didn't reach it until after 5pm so not this was not ideal for birding, but I had always known that today would likely pan out like this. I power-marched into the forest, determined to get to some predetermined spot from my research. The paperwork I had is long gone so I cannot now remember what I was looking for but I didn't find it! It might have been Yellow-bellied Flycatcher now that I think about it, but I did get my first ever Alder Flycatcher on US soil, after a bird on Blakeney Point in Norfolk as long ago as 2010! An annoying and embarrassing gap filled! I picked it up on call as well, having learned it on the plane on the way over, most pleasing. Black-throated Green Warbler and Northern Parula were both new for the trip along this long track - 2.4 miles each way, the return leg in increasingly heavy rain as darkness fell. 

It was a further 3 hours and 130 miles onwards to my accomodation near Damariscotta in Maine, and it rained and rained for the whole journey with the final hour being incredibly treacherous. Given how shattered I was I took it really slowly, and I did also have a short power nap just after the halfway point. But nonetheless my next eBird list starts at 6.34am the next day - this is what I call a 'holiday'!

Tuesday 28 November 2023

New England - May 2023 - Logistics and Itinerary


  • A five day trip in the third week of May leaving after work on a Friday evening, returning overnight on the following Wednesday and going straight back to work. I used air miles to upgrade to a flat bed on the return - this is how I max out on holiday and avoid jetlag.
  • Flights: British Airways from Heathrow to Montreal and booked with a car to turn it into a holiday and thus defer payment until a few weeks before departure. You also get a slightly better deal than when booking the two separately.
  • Car: I had a very nice Chevrolet Blazer in bright red and with all mod cons. There are no issues taking Canadian cars over the border into the USA.
  • Accomodation: first three days booked in advance via, somewhere different each night. I mostly planned my itinerary in advance and crossed my fingers on the weather which mostly worked apart from my scheduled boat trip to a seabird colony off the Maine coast which was cancelled.
  • My aims for the trip were threefold. 1) to add to my ABA list; 2) to increase my eBird and general coverage of US States and Canada; and 3) to enjoy some spring songbird migration.
  • Literature/Resources: I used eBird for up-front planning and on-the fly birding (using the "explore" functionality in the App). For literature I used the Sibley East Coast field guide. I also used Merlin (a vocalisation ID tool) sparingly - I have some rules for this which I will expand upon later. As a supplement to visual birding it can work really well. The Audbon App was used when I wasn't carrying my book, and was useful for calls and songs.
  • Food - well there is a lot of it in America. I tended to eat on the go, and try and have something more substantial in the evening. One night in New Hampshire there was nothing open but I survived on fat reserves...
  • Insects - Jesus H Christ! The boggy woodlands of New England are a mosquito paradise. Even worse they are a deer tick and Lyme Disease epicentre. I was amazingly careful but I only just got away with it. Beware!

I actually drove 2509km with various little detours.


  • Day 0 - Evening flight departed London just after 6pm, landing in Montreal at 8pm local time. I drove about an hour east and stayed in a bare bones motel that was close to some birding spots for the following morning.
  • Day 1 - The morning spent birding in Quebec around Lac-Boivin and Yamaska NP before crossing the US border into Vermont and heading to Moose Bog about an hour south-east where I dipped Black-backed Woodpecker. Late afternoon at Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in New Hampshire, another site chosen in advance for species diversity. Overnight in coastal Maine north-east of Portland, a further three hours drive. Quite a long day.
  • Day 2 - Planned day trip to the migrant hotspot of Monhagen Island cancelled due to rough seas so instead birded around Pemaquid and Boothbay all morning before driving south (as per original plan) to Biddeford. Dusk at Kennebunk Plains for Eastern Whip-poor-will. Overnight on NH / Massachusetts border.
  • Day 3 - All morning on the migrant hotspot of Plum Island in MA, part of the Parker River NWR, before driving down to Revere beach in Boston for some bizarrely regular Manx Shearwater. Somewhat stubbornly continued down to Rhode Island for a State tick and birded coastal areas before an early evening walk in some woods just over the border in Connecticut for another new State. Then drove all the way back to NH to be in position for the replacement ME boat trip the following afternoon. A crazy day but very satisfying.
  • Day 4 - Early start at a site in NH for Upland Sandpiper before birding back up the coast to New Harbor in ME for the rescheduled 'Puffin Cruise' boat trip which was a massive disappointment. Birded in ME for the rest of the day before a long drive west via Augusta and into NH to be in position at Moose Bog.
  • Day 5 - Various NH sites at first light as I made my way to Moose Bog in VT for another attempt at the B-b Woodpecker, this time successfully. Then birded slowly west through VT with the afternoon spent around Missisquoi NWR before crossing back into Quebec for a late evening flight back to London.

Unexpected and very very close Canada Jay in Vermont

Monday 27 November 2023

A cold morning

I am always conflicted with cold weather. One the one hand local birding can get more interesting, as was the case with the Whooper Swans. On the other my precious plants start to suffer, and in some cases, keel over and die. I am currently agonising over a now 14 foot tropical pine tree that in previous winters has just about scraped under the conservatory roof but this year is simply too tall. Online literature suggests it dies much below 3 degrees centigrade..... I could cut off the top 3 feet perhaps, but the symmetry of this and many other Araucaria is a large part of their beauty and once so lopped never returns. I am more inclined to see if it can somehow survive the occasional frost. This week was the first test, it got down to about -1c for a few hours... If it doesn't (and knowing this sad day would one day likely come) I bought a replacement tree of the same species about two years ago. Like its big brother it lives outside for most of the year, but it small enough that I can easily bring it in. This one has already doubled in height in the two years that I've had it and is now about 7 feet tall. I brought it in in about mid-October, neither too early nor too late. The chief issue here is that it might get too hot and too dry on sunny days. They're fickle things.

Chief tree in waiting

I was out on Wanstead Flats early on Sunday as well. It was if anything colder than Saturday, and I had high hopes of further cold weather action. These went unfulfilled but it was one of those great crisp days with clear skies. I suspect that the strong northerlies displaced the Swans on Friday, and Saturday was all about them getting their bearings. Other London sites also cashed in, including both Regent's Park and Hampstead Heath who both picked up Whoopers before we did, simultaneously observing nine birds, two adults and seven juveniles, which two hours later had presumably split up into a group of five or six on the river, five of which meandered our way briefly, with the other three unaccounted for. None were seen on Sunday that I'm aware of so they have probably resettled somewhere more suitable and have hopefully all found each other again. But even though it was colder on Sunday, it wasn't so cold that it would have provoked an exodus of Ducks and Waders from outside of London to head in to our relative warmth, that really only happens with extreme events. The kind of events that will definitely kill my tree...

Saturday 25 November 2023

I should moan more often than I do, Ahem.

Well well. My last post essentially had me moaning about how the patch has been less than spectacular of late and how I was thinking about birding elsewhere. This morning - on the patch, like the decisive person I am - Tony and I were having much the same conversation. His fiftieth visit this year apparently, he'd seen very little and found nothing. What was the point, it's rubbish, next year he too was going to do something different as well, oh look clear skies again. Etc.

It was true, a promising morning had delivered nothing. We had walked about four miles and the best bird had been a Stonechat. So much for the slightly colder weather, but at least it wasn't raining and it did feel a bit more like November. We went to get breakfast from Gregg's, usually the highlight of any morning round here and took it back to the VizMig Point? Where shall we stand to see nothing? How about here, it's as crap as anywhere else. Right. 

Restored, we had one last wander down Centre Path where we met Mary and continued moaning. Then a message popped up on Tony's phone from some kind of London Rare Bird Whatsapp group that I'm not part of. Whooper Swans flying north west over Woolwich. I casually looked at the map.... Hmmm, that's interesting. Depending on where in Woolwich that would potentially have them flying somewhere towards Canary Wharf and perhaps over Stratford. Could they follow the Lea Valley? How high might they be? High enough or not? We can only see the top third of the tower, I thought about dashing home to my balcony but it was too far. We started scanning towards the south west.

Birds have a funny habit of not always flying in straight lines and it was with this in mind I also scanned to the east from time to time. Remarkably on one of these scans I picked up five Swans over Alex, quite high and flying with some purpose in a north-north westerly direction. Too far to conclusively identify through binoculars but surely two plus two equals four in situations like this? Or rather five. Where was my damn camera?! Oh, at home gathering dust as usual. Excellent. Quick, Tony, take photos I implored! It doesn't matter how far they are, get something and maybe we'll be able to eliminate Mute Swan on head shape! This he proceeded to do until the Swans had disappeared over the horizon, seemingly continuing on their NNW heading.

The back of the camera images magnified through inverted binoculars looked decent, nice long triangular heads and long slender necks, but I remained worried that once seen on a computer I'd need to post an embarrassing retraction on the London news group. Even more so when some time later five Whooper Swans were reported at Rainham, i.e. in the opposite direction.... Oh dear. I nearly threw Tony off the patch! Go home! What are you waiting for?!

Whooper Swan over Wanstead, courtesy of Tony Brown.

Thankfully once home (painfully slowly I might add!) Tony's photos confirm our initial confidence. These are actually the first Whooper Swans for the patch that we know about. There are a handful of records of Bewick's Swan, two from the dawn of time and then a sighting from Nick about six years ago during cold weather, but no Whooper. We seem to have pulled off an amazing coup despite all our pessimism! We were expecting the next sighting to be in the Lea Valley somewhere, perhaps KGV, but presumably the birds flew in a gigantic circle and ended up back on the Thames at Rainham where they were seen about 45 minutes later. This takes my all-time patch total to 167, and this year to a slightly-above-average-for-November 112. Can't wait to get back out tomorrow!

Friday 24 November 2023

Closer to home

A short interlude while I gather my thoughts for the next installment of my travel adventures - this will be a summary of a short trip to New England in May. Lots of birds, lots of ticks, and also lots of Ticks, quite a few of them burrowing into me. Yuck, but I didn't catch anything nasty thankfully. I think if you find them and pull them off within a day you will generally get away with it.

But for now I'll give readers a break and return to all the birds I've seen in Wanstead. 


Right, so that's that then. I jest, it hasn't been that bad. Well, maybe it has but I've still enjoyed myself. As you can see from my annual patch list I've not added to my total since the Woodcock over a month ago, but I have been out quite a lot, mostly in the hour of daylight currently available before I have to go to work. There was the Woodpigeon extravaganza in early November but there has otherwise been little to put in the diary so to speak. Fieldfare and Redwing seem to have passed over. The latter I now seem to see only rarely on the patch but Fieldfare is a daily occurence at the moment with small groups flying between the copses. My guess is that these should now be classified as local birds and that they'll be here for the duration. Woodcock is being seen regularly in specific places, so perhaps my bird towards the end of October decided to stay? Regardless it is clear that we have at least one resident bird now and that it will be here all winter. There seems to have been a small build-up of Redpoll, quite faithful to the SSSI birches, but I think we are all waiting for a cold snap. Just one person has recorded Snipe (which I still need for the year) but other than this there has been no real change in the birds we are seeing. On the mornings I go out I am just seeing the same birds over and over, and whilst I appreciate the fresh air and getting a few steps in I do require a bit of variety. This perhaps explains why I've run away to Kent, Essex and Norfolk recently. If we saw a bit of change then I'd likely stay here.

In other news here is what's left of our Skylark fence from a few weeks ago. It is increasingly vandalised, a complete eye sore, and for this I actually think a fair portion of blame should fall on the Corporation of London. The signs (genally also vandalised, snapped in two mostly) say that it is for the summer period, and by not immediately taking it down and making the area available to the public once the Skylark breeding season is over they will just alienate the people they really need to get on side. Leaving it in place for months afterwards is very poor decision making and one is tempted to say that they reap what they sow. Of course a large part of the blame also lies with the ignorant and highly twattish dog owner with a pair of shears who has systematically walked around the perimiter slashing it to bits under the cover of darkness in an act of juvenile spite, but I think you get my drift. The shredded plastic was finally removed by the Corporation about three days ago.

Thursday 23 November 2023

Iceland - May 2023 - Day 3 - Sandgeroi and home

A lovely spring morning in Iceland. May 15th!

We awoke to a blizzard. Perfect, just perfect. With no reason to stay up here, and with a flight late morning, we put Hestaland behind us and headed south to Keflavik. There was just time to dip the Black-winged Stilt again and then scrape in some final birding at Sandgeroi to the west of the airport. This was actually quite successful, and had we had more time we would have likely come back - there is a fish processing plant here and as such the place is very birdy. Hundreds of Iceland Gulls, loads of Waders on the beach, a final Wheatear and rather unexpectedly a few Manx Shearwater out on the horizon. It had been a challenging trip but very enjoyable nonetheless. There is a list of species below, and further detail about exact sites can be found at this eBird link. So that's Iceland done, finally. Next up is New England a mere four days later. I am unstoppable.

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Iceland - May 2023 - Day 2 - Snaefellsnes

We woke up to a Black-tailed Godwit on the lawn and an Arctic Skua flying past the kitchen window. Just your regular Icelandic garden birds. Our plan today was to drive some of our favourite roads to the north-west of Borgarnes, some long circular routes that leave the main road west-bound and then loop back to rejoin it further up. On previous trips these had been extremely productive, offering fabulous encounters with Skuas and Waders, some of my best photos of Icelandic birds come from this area. They were not improved upon....

A familiar shape. We did not get attacked this time.

The weather, oh the weather. It is just luck. You could go for a three week trip and not see the sun. Equally you could go for a weekend and enjoy wall to wall sunshine and blue skies. Luck of the draw. We lost. Another dreadful and dreary day. It was clear, at least initially, but when the light is dull so are the photographs - as you will see! All the birds we expected were there but there were no pleasing poses, no close fly-bys, no lovely posts and, well, no light. Mick and I are very exacting, he far more so than me. I pressed the trigger a few times but it was just miserable. And then the rain started. Excellent. 

We established however that there was not expected to be much rain on the Snaefellsnes Penisula, which is the large bit that sticks out westward about half way up. We decided to cut our losses and head up there as it was only about 90 minutes away. This turned out to be an excellent decision and as we approached we could even see blue sky. We spent the late morning and early afternoon birding our way westward until we reached the coastal bird colonies around Arnarstapi - Kittiwakes primarily, but also Fulmar and a few Auks. We probably spent more time visiting various landmarks along the coast, famous churches, and whilst neither of us are in any way accomplished landscape photographers we gave it a go.

Experimenting with HDR 

The Black Church of Budir

Half church, half shed

The landscapes in Iceland are immense and dramatic

After having really quite a nice time photographing birds in nice light we crossed the peninsula to the northern side and birded our way back east. There were Harlequins at Grundarfjordur, and lots of Glaucous Gulls, and we found our first White-tailed Eagle at Berserkjahraun. In a plantation to the south of Stykkisholmur we located Goldcrest and Redpoll in amongst loads of invisible Redwing, and from the hill that overlooks the harbour we found a distant Puffin bobbing about. It was all about the trip list at this point.


And that was our day, we had at least outrun the weather and finally had some OK bird photographs. It was a long drive back to our digs at Borgarnes but we made good time and had another filling meal at the N1.

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Iceland - May 2023 - Day 1 - Around Reykjavik

The flight touched down at around half ten local time and we were out and collecting the car pretty quickly as we had no luggage to retrieve. Nearly all my trips, no matter how far, are hand luggage only. I detest having to wait for suitcases and I am more nimble without one. Very occasionally I need to take one, for instance earlier this year I needed to import a very large quantity of Flamin' Hot Cheetos from the good ol' USA, but normally I take (and bring back) the bare minimum. 

We had left the terminal before the car guy could even sell us pumice insurance and were on our way. The weather was disappointingly grey and murky, even approaching the middle of the day. That's Iceland! With photography therefore unlikely to feature Mick and I reverted to plan B. Birding. And twitching actually. A few years ago we had done a similar trip and tried to find a White-winged Scoter near the capital. Long story short we didn't see it, but it had been seen that same morning per eBird and we went straight to the site which is on the west side of Reykjavik at Alftanes. I think the water body in question is called the Bessastadatjorn. You can only drive around one side of it because the President lives on the other side. We started on the south shore but it was pretty massive, and carpeted in Geese and Ducks - a good sign. Eider were the most common, with smaller numbers of Brent, Greylag, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Shoveler, Long-tailed Duck, Wigeon and Mallard. Large black American ducks? No. 

Eventually we spied a car on the far side, a car that very much looked like a birders car, stopped, with the window down. Find the birder, find the bird, and sure enough once we had worked out how to get around to that side we discovered the drake WWS asleep on a small island. This was my second of this species in a week, the week before I'd been up in Fife and had seen one off Dumbarnie Links at the same time as the Stejneger's Scoter. Crazy times. We hadn't been watching it long when for some reason it popped into the water and then flew directly at and then past us, seemingly heading out to sea. We continued to bird the area, eventually totalling 34 species, which is pretty decent in Iceland. Waders encompassed Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Snipe, Redshank, Turnstone, Knot and Purple Sandpiper, the latter on the same tiny island that the Scoter had been on. The lake also had both Red-throated and Great Northern Diver. Interestingly there were quite a few Wheatear about, a reminder that we were much futher north - at home the bulk had gone through already. Despite their presence it not feel very spring-like at all, a rather penetrating wind and regular squals of cold rain. 

A short distance away we birded the Kasthusatjorn and the Bakkatjorn for more of the same - birds are plentiful but the diversity is prett low. We saw our first Glaucous Gulls here, huge ragged beasts that resonate pure evil. Maybe that's harsh, they are just gigantic and look unfriendly. If you died suddenly it wouldn't be long before they were gouging your eyeball out kind of vibes.

Next we tried for the long-staying Black-winged Stilt north of the town. Can you imagine it, a Black-winged Stilt in Iceland - talk about getting it wrong! Despite it having been seen earlier in the day it wasn't present at a rather unprepossessing site near some kind of dredging works and a rubbish dump. There were nine Red-necked Phalaropes doing 360s in a tiny pool of sludgey water that neither of us fancied getting down low for, and in any event we would have needed ISO 1 million as it was practically dark. We tried a few other spots we knew around Reykjavik, including a small lake we knew to have breeding Slavonian Grebe, but the weather was now foul, driving rain. We picked out six Grebes but it was the kind of rain that would soak you through in a matter of minutes so we gave up very quickly.

Trying to leave the rain behind we decided to head north, the direction we were staying in anyway, and spent the rest of the day birding our way up to Borgarnes. Lots of Ptarmigan by the roadside, small groups of Whooper Swan, and some Harlequin Duck on the sea. Around Hvanneyri we spent some time looking for wild Geese in the fields and were pleased to pick up both Pink-footed as well as White-fronted. We crossed over the low causeway into Borgarnes as dusk fell and had pizza at the huge N1 service station before heading the short distance to our accomodation and collapsing. A good day, but a little frustrating that the weather had been so poor.

Monday 20 November 2023

Iceland - May 2023 - Logistics and Itinerary

As I write this in November 2023 Iceland is in the headlines again due to volcanic activity. The whole village of Grindavik in the extreme south-west has been evactuated and huge rifts have appeared in the ground. Grindavik is on the same peninsula as Iceland's major airport, Keflavik. Who knows what will happen, these things are measured in centuries, but imagine if that area of the country simply became too dangerous. Hopefully not next year as I've already booked again. 

Mick and I visited last May for a weekend. Birding and photography, as is always the case. We faced frankly terrible weather, with one patch of clear sky out to the west one day. The rest of the time it remained incredibly murky, with rain, snow, wind and hail. Typical Icelandic weather in other words and you can't legislate for it. Ditto volcanic eruptions. Let's see.


  • A long weekend in mid May leaving early on Saturday morning and returning on Monday mid morning. This meant we had just a day and a half really, what could we see and where could we go.
  • Flights were on British Airways from Heathrow to Keflavik, bought during one of their frequent sales, and booked with a car to turn it into a holiday and thus defer payment until shortly before departure.
  • We had some kind of miniscule Dacia 4x4, and the BA holidays booking meant the insurance was fully comprehensive and we didn't get stung for lava insurance and all the other add-ons that are peculiar to iceland.
  • Accomodation was a basic but functional self-catering lodge akin to a self-service youth hostel near Borgarnes called Hestaland. Clean and warm.
  • We birded where the weather would allow us to, spending most of our time around Reykjavik on day one, and then on the Snaefellsnes Pensinula on day two as it was the only place where it wasn't raining.
  • There were a couple of rarities that kept us interested - one, a White-winged Scoter (Deglandii) we saw, the other, a Black-winged Stilt, we dipped repeatedly.
  • We basically ate junk food all weekend, but there was an excellent café called Hja Goou Folki on Route 54 as we drove towards the bird colonies around Arnarstapi and Hellnar, and the N1 service station at Borgarnes also helped keep us alive.


  • Day 1 - concentrated on the water bodies around Alftanes - in particular Breidoabolsstaotjorn. Bessastadatjorn and Bakkatjorn. We also spent time to the north-east of Reykjavik not seeing the Black-winged Stilt before driving up to our accomodation at Hestaland.
  • Day 2 - We birded some of our favourite roads to the west of Borganes, the 533 and the 540, both of which are extensive loops. The weather was rather against us however and these were significantly less productive than we had hoped. At around lunchtime we gave up, and looking at the local weather map determined that the only place we could realistically go was the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We spent most of the time simply admiring the landscape, but there were nonetheless birds, including some seabird colonies at the western end. We also visited some woodland near Stykkisholmur, as well as the headland there.
  • Day 3 - We left early to get closer to the airport, and birded to the west of the runway, mostly around Sandgeroi to top up the trip list, but surprised ourselves with Manx Shearwater before we had to leave.

Sunday 19 November 2023


Once upon a time I drove up to Suffolk to twitch a Lesser Kestrel. I had the whole of the school day yet I very nearly dipped it and was on my way back to London to pick up the children, disgusted with how my day had turned out, when it reappeared. I had not gone far so I did a U-turn on the A12 and snaffled it by the skin of my teeth, arriving back at school with seconds to spare. There had also been a Pallid Swift a little further up the road, where exactly escapes me all these years later but had I gone straight there I would have seen it immediately and still been able to stare at (nearly) Kestrel-less skies all day at Westleton.

My twitching career carried on without any hint of Pallid Swift for a few more years before drifting to a near complete standstill. There may have been loads of gettable ones between then and now, I've no idea, but for quite a few days now there has been a juvenile at Winterton in Norfolk, roosting every evening on the church tower. Twitching Hirundines and Swifts immediately makes me nervous, they could head up into the clear sky at any moment, driven by a weather front or passing birds, and that would be that. I'd probably arrive just a few minutes later to hear a variation on the immortal words "It was showing brilliantly five minutes ago...".

I should have gone straight there from last Sunday's Canvasback at Abberton but I don't think I knew about it until after I'd arrived home. I could have snuck it in yesterday morning but I had an afternoon social event and I didn't want to be limited by needing to leave Norfolk by midday. Yesterday evening I definitely wasn't going. Rain was forecast late morning, it was over two hours away, I was tired, the car had no petrol in it.....any old excuse basically. I woke up at 6am and had a change of heart, it had been there late afternoon yesterday and this might be one of my best chances ever. I got in the car. 

I needn't have worried, it showed about five minutes after I got there at around 9am, and then almost continually thereafter as it did wide circuits around the area. Initially quite distant, it eventually did some low passes over the village for astoundingly good views in lovely morning sunshine. Would that I had had my camera. Still, a great experience, and I'm very pleased to have finally seen Pallid Swift in this country. I expect it was one of my 'easiest' ticks, up there with Terek and Broad-billed Sandpipers. I might not do a massive amount of twitching these days but there is still definitely some thrill to be had and I definitely still enjoy it for that. I wonder what will be next?

Saturday 18 November 2023

California add-on

The flight from Oahu arrived at six in the morning, a nasty red-eye in a recliner seat. With the flight back to London not leaving until about three in the afternoon there was plenty of scope for further birding. With this in mind I'd hired a car cheaply and with no hold luggage and no immigration we were on our way very quickly. I've spent a fair bit of time hanging around LAX and had a good list of sites to visit that were not too far away given the awful traffic in LA. Still, I just love California, kind of my 'home' State, the only place I've ever lived in the US for any length of time. If I can ever get my arse in gear to register to vote it would be here, but as it is staunchly Democratic there seems little point at the moment.

Anyway, our first stop was the Playa del Rey which is at the end of the runway. It's always a good spot to start a California list. Looking out to see we counted about ten Surf Scoter, at least 350 Western Grebe, and uncountable numbers of Double-crested Cormorants and Brown Pelicans. On the beach itself a few Gulls were loafing, and a Heermann's flew south. Also present were three Marbled Godwit and two cups of much-needed coffee. We upped the number of Surf Scoter by changing position and looking from the Pacific Avenue Bridge, and also found a pair of Red-breasted Merganser. The sheer numbers of birds on the distant breakwaters was a sight to behold, but no way to grill them properly without a telescope. An Elegant Tern flew past close enough to see it properly. 

The sea exhausted we headed just inland to Ballona Freshwater Marsh, no more than a two minute drive. When I was last here in January 2020 there had been a few people camping in their cars alongside the reserve. Now there is practically a village - beat-up campervans, wrecked cars, shacks, and predictably rubbish everywhere. Welcome to America in 2023, the California dream is not enjoyed by everyone and it was the same if not worse in San Diego. The birds don't seem to mind their human neighbours however, and we spent 90 minutes here racking up close to 50 species. There were lots of freshwater Ducks, including Cinnamon Teal, lot of waders including Wilson's Snipe, Long-billed Dowitcher and Western Sandpiper, whilst White-throated Swift carved through the sky overhead. Smaller birds in the bushes included Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped Warbler and California Towhee, and I was pleased to see Bushtit again which had been a new bird for me at this very site not that long ago.  

Allen's Hummingbird

Green Heron

Our final stop was Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park, a little further south near Torrance. I'd never been and had chosen it from recent eBird lists - it was excellent, with both Anna's and Allen's Hummingbird, and many more smaller birds than Ballona. The full list is here, and you can get a feel for what was where from the table below. Yellow-rumped Warblers were particularly prevalent, and we also had a Hooded Oriole and an Orange-crowned Warbler in some trees at the south of the main lake. We had to call it a wrap far too soon, but missing the flight would not have been much fun and in any event we wanted to clean up and have showers etc before we left. We packed up our gear, broke down the cameras for the last time, and headed back to the airport. In our few hours we had managed 65 species, almost all of them different to what we had seen in Hawaii. Always nice to break up what would otherwise be a really long trip back home. So long California, hope I see you again soon.

Friday 17 November 2023

Oahu - Trip List

Here are the 50 species we saw, of which over half are naturalised exotics. There is a list below, and for more detail about exact site please use this eBird link.

"Who? Me?"

"Yes, you"


Thursday 16 November 2023

Oahu - Day 4

What to do today, our final day on the island with a late evening departure to Los Angeles? Another tour of the island is what - when you have a Mustang convertible it would be rude not to, and you can't beat the wind rushing through your hair, or at least that's what Mick said. We had another look for ducks at Kahuku fish ponds (failed again), another look at the Bristle-thighed Curlew at the golf course (this time there were two birds), and then drove the Lyon Arboretum, lured by the possibility of Cockatoos that live wild there - White and Salmon-crested. We saw a few of these in trees distantly but were later told by the eBird reviewer that all the birds now present were hybrids between the two. Oh well. Standard Hawaii I suppose.

After an epic but slightly tricky snorkelling session at Electric Beach (advanced swimmers only, and you must have powerful fins!), where a power station warm water outflow attracts vast numbers of tropical fish and turtles it was time to think about leaving. We tried another seawatch down near the Japanese Fishing Shrine, but it was a shadow of what it had been previously as a result of different winds, so instead we went to a local park to concentrate on photography and to see if we could find any new birds for the list.

Yellow-fronted Canary

Ke'ehi Lagoon on the edge of Honolulu has Yellow-fronted Canary so that's where we went, and we managed to find a small group with ease near the bandstand. The list from this site is notable in that every single passerine species we saw was an introduction, with only the Turnstone and PGP lending any credibility to proceedings. Dear oh dear, but this is what it is. There was an article just this week declaring that yet another eight Hawaiian endemics have been declared extinct. It is fair to say that Hawaii is the extinction capital of the modern era. For many reasons, but part of me cannot help but think that the transposition of the American lifestyle onto Pacific islands has played a large part. I was looking at my list of native birds the other day and noted that despite four visits my list of Hawaiian native passerines stands at just 10, with 14 native birds in total - the others being a Duck, a Goose, a Coot, and a Hawk. Of the other 63 species the vast majority have been introduced by humans. Go while you still can! I'll leave you with a final selection of "Zoo"!

Red-billed Leiothrix

White-rumped Shama

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Panther (impact on Albatross colonies currently poorly understood).