Monday, May 29, 2017

Isle of Mull and Iona

Boarding the ferry at Oban to Craignure for the last sailing of the day.  The culmination of a 10 hour journey from a hotel in Newbury where we stayed after the Cricket match.

The weather was fantastic so standing at the bow of the ferry watching the Isle of Mull come closer into view was the best seat in the house.

Was really desperate to get my first sighting of Sea Otter, so to have prolonged views of these two spritely individuals was a real privilage.

Oystercatcher are common around the island.  This bird was nesting on the pebbled beach.  A really lovely bird.

One of the most stunning male Whinchat I had seen.  The light was fading, so finding this was a real bonus.  Later realised there was a nest site very close by.

The female was picked up a couple of days later.

Common Gull were by far the most 'common gull' on the island. Predominantly a winter visitor to the south of the country, these adults looked pristine as they settled in for the breeding season.

Tobermory - the main town on the island and the inspiration for the children's programme Balmory.  The techni-coloured facades to the houses lit up a gloomy day. 

There were a few Otter sightings over our stay but were extremely wary and were adept at disappearing in the blink of an eye.

Was really fortunate to have captured these two on video.

Listening to Curlew on territory always such an evocative sound of the uplands and outer isles.

This was the view at sunset from the Argyll Arms pub in Bunessen.  Not a bad place to indulge in a local single malt whisky. 

The scenic route towards Salen was really stunning with the single track road skirting Loch na Keal with mountains rising high on one side and the flat calm of the loch on the other.

A day trip to Iona was met with warm wall-to-wall sunshine.  The beaches looked immaculate and the rugged coastline of an island steeped in history 

Birds (highlights)

Great Northern Diver
two lingering summer plumaged individuals seen - one on Loch Scridain and the other on Loch na Keal.

regularly seen on the the lochs and on the crossing to and from Mull.

Greylag Goose
good numbers breeding around the lochs.

Common Eider
Small groups on Loch Scridian and on islands on the island crossing.

Red-breasted Merganser
seen occasionally on Loch Scridian.

White-tailed Eagle
Surprisingly difficult to locate.  Only two sightings, one of an adult bird close to the Eagle meeting point being harassed by a Common Buzzard.  The other seen well but distantly as it soared over the top of the mountains.

Hen Harrier
A bird that lights up any evening.  Three males seen at different points during the stay including one reasonably close in hunting by the junction for Craignure and Salen.  A ringtail flew in front of the car across the road at the same location.  Appalling that the breeding population in England has been eradicated by barberous gamekeepers on our upland grouse moors.  A truly special bird.

Golden Eagle
Again, difficult to locate.  Just one sighting of an adult bird seen distantly over the Salen road.

Notoriously difficult to see but three males calling from Iris beds around ten minutes from the ferry port on Iona.

Great Skua
one bird seen soaring high over Iona.

Arctic Tern
groups of birds seen on the ferry crossing and on Loch Scridain.

Black Guillemot
single adult summer in Oban Harbour.

seen well on a few occasions close to the 'three lochs' viewpoint where a flighty pair were present by the roadside.

Short-eared Owl
two seen from the 'three lochs' viewpoint.

Breeding pair by the Salen/Craignure junction.

Northern Wheatear
Plenty of breeders both on Mull and Iona.

Willow Warbler
plenty of singers throughout the island.

calling from the pines on the Ardmore Shore Walk.


Green Tiger Beetle
one scuttling across a path on the Ardmore Shore Walk.

Speckled Yellow Moth
one seen on the Ardmore Shore Walk.

Sea Otter
five sightings of these enigmatic creatures.

Grey Seal
one sighting on Loch na Keal.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


This is the beautiful game.  As we approached the ground at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, the atmosphere appeared muted for an England international match, no tribalism no aggression, just well-ordered and palpably soporific.  I liked it.

The weather was cool and overcast, a stark contrast to the hot humid weather of the day before.  Maybe winning the toss and bowling would be the obvious decision.  Which is what South Africa did.

The ground took a while to fill-up.  Spectators tucking into their hampers early doors, stag-doers fancifully dressed to celebrate impending nuptials and the start of summer.  We were all urging the sun to peak through the low leaden grey clouds as they passed low over the ground.  Any glimpse of sunlight was greeted with rapturous applause.  It was surprising to feel so much part of it.   Cricket still maintains a connection with their cultured fans.   Accessibility in sport is such a rare thing nowadays.  It's all very esoteric; line and length, corridors of uncertainty, deep extra cover and fine leg.  With TMS plugged into my ear, it felt perfect.

And then there was the game.  Seated a few rows from the front close to the long-off fielding position, the view from the boundary was immaculate.

South Africa bowled first, but England batted well, despite the early loss of the out-of-form Jason Roy, the innings included half centuries from Hales, Root, and Morgan, and a battling ton from the irrepressible Ben Stokes who hardly got out of second gear having been dropped off his first two deliveries.

A total of 330 is about average in today's 50 over form of the game, the versatility of shots coupled with powerful enterprising batsmen who now bring a real vigour to the game.

It was very even all the way through the match, the 50 over form of the game allowing innings to ebb and flow unlike the dirty swashbuckling 20 over format.

It all came down to the last over.  England were in the box seat until Miller and Morris turned the tide with a few quick flourishing boundaries in pursuit of the run-chase.  Ball and Wood however managed to seize back the initiative.

The last over, and South Africa required just seven from it, but a skillfully controlled over from Mark Wood under huge pressure limited the Proteas to just four handing England a two run victory.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Rainham Marshes RSPB

And so when the report came through of a Common Crane at Rainham Marshes, I made a hasty retreat down the A12 only to be balked by road closures that lost me an hour and a half.

But I made it, and the lanky fella was still present feeding distantly on Wennington.

The Crane is in the photo mate.

A Cuckoo also flew past.

Minsmere RSPB

Today was a celebration of great British wildlife and the woes of the lamentable British traffic.

Standing outside the Island Mere hide, there were birds everywhere with at least six Hobby voraciously feeding on insects around the marshes.  A Bittern boomed distantly across the mere with another alighting from the dense reeds and flying past the hide where it was being harangued by an intolerant corvid.

Bearded Tits pinged from pretty much everywhere and Marsh Harrier were performing beautifully in the intense sunlight with a food-pass observed between a faithful pair of adult birds.

A single Cuckoo called persistently with another male bird nervously flying past.

The Savi's Warbler finally broke silence, reeling intermittently somewhere out in the expanse of the reedbed.  It would have been impossible to locate - but at least he was out there.

The scrapes were full of bird life.  Boisterous Black-headed Gull and decent numbers of really smart Meditteranean Gull.  A few pairs of Little Tern and Kittwake were settled on the exposed mud as were around six Barnacle Goose.

Wader numbers were relatively low with spring passage now pretty much over.  A small group of eight Black-tailed Godwit were present on the South Scrape, with a lone Ringed Plover on East Scrape and Avocet now in full breeding mode.

Other highlights were a Grass Snake that slinked across the steps toward the East hide, and a Small Copper that settled on the path while walking back from Island Mere.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Rainham Marshes RSPB

Another great morning with the kids at the Wildlife Explorers group with one of the boys catching this beaut of a Smooth Newt from one of the pools by the MDZ.

These Common Redshank were keeping guard over their territories along the path towards MDZ.

Also on the reserve, a couple of vocal Cuckoo were seen agreeably close to the main paths.

The afternoon became a little breezy with a few showers moving through.  Standing on the 'serin' mound, three Hobby were sat on fenceposts on Wennington waiting for the rain to pass.

 Three Oystercatcher flew upriver.

I have to stop missing Ospreys though.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Lakenheath RSPB

A lovely day out with some wins and some losses.  It promised to be a lovely sunny day, so when a storm came pulsing through late morning, it took us all a bit by surprise.

The Glossy Ibis and two Black-winged Stilt were showing well on the Washland viewed from the river path.  The habitat looked prime for these southern wanderers.  In situ, Cuckoo and Hobby were passing by - and all of these sightings made within a five minute period - felt fabulously straight forward.

Having met Bob Whatley in the car-park, we decided to head over to Elveden for the White Stork to bide us some time while the rain passed through.  We drew a blank and later found out the bird had lifted off a short time before heading high and away.

Back at Lakenheath, a staggering group of Hobby numbering well over 40 individuals scudded over Joist Fen.  Rich pickings out there for sure.

A Bittern boomed from somewhere in the reeds and at least four Marsh Harrier were patrolling the area.

It was a shame to hear about the predated Stone Curlew nests at Weeting Heath, but a single bird on lookout for a sitting female was great to see at another location nearby.

Fen Drayton RSPB was the final stop, but unfortunately the female Red-footed Falcon was nowhere to be seen despite an hour-long search toward the end of the day.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Rainham Marshes RSPB

After a long drive back from Newcastle from an epic Maximo Park gig, I fancied a look over Aveley Bay which over the last few days has been highly productive.

I was tired, but a two hour wander round the bay and over the Landfill proved to be a good choice.  Despite missing out on the calling Quail that inconveniently decided to cower in silence on the slopes of the landfill, there was plenty of interest that included;

Three Bar-tailed Godwit including one spanking summer plumaged adult in the company of five Black-tailed Godwit were present on the bay, nine Grey Plover all of which were in various stages of plumage transition with two in fine summer plumage, a total of 15 Dunlin, most in summer plumage, three Whimbrel flew low onto Wennington, four Ringed Plover, two Oystercatcher, and at least ten Common Redshank.

Common Swift were conspicuous by their large numbers with over 500 wheeling over the reserve including a few Swallow and two Sand Martin.

A single Yellow Wagtail called as it flew through, and a Grasshopper Warbler reeled distantly toward the reserve.  A Lesser Whitethroat rattled within the scrub by the car park, and nearby, a male Stonechat flew to the top of a bush.  A pair of Northern Wheatear arrived by the car park.

A Hobby was seen actively pursuing prey on the west side of the landfill and another (or possible the same bird) flew low over Wennington.

A group of nine Common Tern flew downriver.