Lakenheath and beyond, 26 May 2013

At this time of year Belinda indulges me for my birthday and agrees to come birding for a day with me. This year we were a day late but the destination was a bit of a no-brainer - it had to be Lakenheath Fen.

The morning didn't start too well because as we arrived we found the carpark full and had to park out on the road and walk in. Hordes of people around the reserve wasn't what we'd wanted but hey ho, that's a bank holiday Sunday for you!

Needless to say the long-staying adult male Red-footed Falcon showed impeccably over New Fen, between the woods being joined by up to 5 Hobbies. Despite the crowds it was a magic moment. We did the whole circuit of the reserve clocking up Grasshopper Warbler, Garden Warbler, 2 Cuckoos, Marsh Harriers, 2 booming Bitterns as well as numerous Sedge and Reed Warblers. Hairy Dragonflies were out in small numbers and we also managed Four-spotted Chaser and Large Red Damselfly, my 1st odonata of the year.

Red-footed Falcon

Red-footed Falcon



Reed Bunting
Hairy Dragonfly, female

Our next stop was Foulden Common, a site I've not visited for a few years but always liked. It didn't disappoint as both the butterfly specialities of the site were seen within 20 minutes - Grizzled Skipper and Dingy Skipper. We only saw 2 of each but it's pleasing to note they're still here after the demise of Narborough Railway Line. Brimstones were out in the largest numbers I've ever seen and we also saw Small Copper and 2 Common Buzzards nearby.
Grizzled Skippers

Grizzled Skippers

Dingy Skipper

Our last aim of the day was to see a rare sight indeed - a Norfolk pair of breeding Common Redstarts! The female was sitting on eggs out of view but the male showed very nicely after a short wait although the crappy photo I got of it really doesn't do it justice!
Common Redstart

Garden Butterflies, 25 May 2013

After a couple of hectic weeks working we had a day chilling today. Well, I am allowed to on my birthday! With the sun out at last there were a few butterflies in the garden. As well as those I photographed (all with my iPhone) there were also Small White, Green-veined White and Large White.

Holly Blue

Speckled Wood

Orange Tip female

Local bit and bobs, 10 May 2013

A quick check at Weybread GPs predictably added Swift to my Patchwork Challenge list with good numbers over the main pit. Less expected were a pair of Reed Warblers in rank vegetation along the path and a scan over the water revealed A pair of feral Barnacle Geese with 3 goslings! A pair of Common Terns hawked over the water whilst the 2 pairs of Oystercatcher were very active and noisy as usual. There now appears to be a Lesser Black-backed Gull nest on the island too. Along the lanes 2 pairs of Linnets were also additions to the list which now stands at 84 species.

After that I called in at my nearby orchid site and having never been quite this early in the year was pleasantly surprised to see a really good display of Green-winged Orchids.

Green-winged Orchid, undisclosed site, Suffolk

Georgia, Day 6, 6 May 2013 - Ananuri and Lake Lisi

Today was essentially a traveling day back to Tbilisi but we had negotiated a couple of stops en route.

Our surly driver turned up late but we finally got going at about 11.30. Our first stop was some woods by the reservoir at Ananuri in the hope that a Green Warbler or two might have arrived. Sadly there was nothing doing. Even in this warm spring they don’t arrive this early so I have to treat with a little scepticism some claims of birds much earlier than this. All we had was Blackcap and Willow Warbler.
Our driver then nearly killed us all by missing a cow in the road by inches (if I hadn’t looked up at just that second and shouted at him we’d all have been history!)

A stop at Lake Lisi on the western outskirts of Tbilisi wasn’t a whole lot better – the place was heaving on a sunnt bank holiday Monday which seriously curtailed birding. The only things of note here were 10+ Great Crested Grebes, 1 Little Grebe, Marsh Harrier, Corn Bunting, 3 – 4 singing Great Reed Warblers and 3 European Bee-eaters. Just as we were leaving Jus also picked up our 2nd Red-necked Phalarope of the trip swimming in the centre of the lake.
Marsh Harrier, Lake Lisi
And that was just about it saving a 9 hour wait at Tbilisi airport followed by 4 more at Istanbul!

Georgia, Day 5, 5 May 2013 - Kobi Village, Krestovvy Pass, Sno Village & Kazbegi

Our last day up in the mountains. Having run out of options in Kazbegi we decided to use our taxi driver from yesterday to take us up to the Krestovvy Pass and then work our way back north to Kazbegi.

First stop was the village of Kobi again where we spent an hour checking for migrants. In one of the first gardens we looked at we found an acro which had us rather flummoxed. With the aid of my photos we eventually nailed it as a Marsh Warbler but without those we’d probably still be scratching our heads! Also around the village were Caucasian Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Red-backed Shrike, Ring Ouzel, 2 Common Crossbills and an addition to the triplist in the form of a Corn Bunting. 2 Red-billed Chough were obviously nesting in the largest abandoned building and House Martins were on the move with 40+ over.
Marsh Warbler, Kobi

Marsh Warbler, Kobi

Black Redstart, Kobi (the species is rather variable in the Caucasus, this one is approaching 'semirufus' in the extent of red on the belly)
 Red-backed Shrike, Kobi
Corn Bunting, Kobi 
Up at the Krestovvy Pass there was still loads of snow about and relatively few birds to boot. We couldn’t find either Snowfinch or Caucasian Black Grouse but Lammergeier, Honey Buzzard and 2 displaying Golden Eagles certainly livened proceedings. Around the small abandoned building a pair of Twite and a pair of Whinchats showed really nicely. Also seen were Raven, 2 Alpine Swifts, Red-billed Chough, numerous Water Pipits, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Northern Wheatears and a flock of c35 European Bee-eaters high north.

Twite, Krestovvy Pass

Whinchat, Krestovvy Pass

Whinchat, Krestovvy Pass
Top of the Krestovvy Pass (2395m)

View from the Krestovvy Pass

To be a little bit pioneering we decided to explore the side valley and village of Sno next as it was on our route back. This nice little village with its tower perched on a rock gave us a few nice birds. Initially 3 Dippers and 3 Grey Wagtails were on the river where a single Rock Bunting also put in an appearance. A female Sparrowhawk flew through scattering Tree Pipits. A flooded pool beside the river held 2 Wood Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plover and 2 Mallard which boosted the trip list a fraction. Around the village itself Rock Buntings seemed particularly common, a Grey Wagtail sang from wires and a flock of c25 Red-fronted Serins showed well feeding in a tree. Whinchat, Red-backed Shrike, Ring Ouzel, Common Redstart, Common Whitethroat, Caucasian Chiffchaff, Black Redstart, Common Swift and c40 House Martins were also seen.
Sno Village
Red-fronted Serin, Sno

Red-fronted Serin, Sno

Grey Wagtail, Sno

Common Redstart, Sno

Rock Bunting, Sno 

Rock Bunting, Sno
On the way into the village Jus thought he’d seen a Lesser Grey Shrike from the car so we stopped at the same spot on the way out and hey presto, he’d not been going mad!

Back in Kazbegi a meandering amble back to the hotel yielded 3 Griffon Vultures, 2 Ravens, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Common Treeceeper, Caucasian Chiffchaff, Ehrenbergs Redstart, 2 Red-fronted Serins and finally a yellow/green escaped Budgerigar!

Georgia, Day 4, 4 May 2013 - Kobi and Kazbegi

Day 4 and by now we’d pretty much given up on the idea of seeing Guldenstadt’s Redstart. Nobody we spoken to had seen one all week and they were presumed to have dispersed to very high levels to breed. Today we decided to venture a little further so arranged a taxi to take us to the village of Kobi, about a 20 minute drive south of Kazbegi. On the way we saw our only Roller of the trip on roadside wires before we reached the ramshackle village. We worked the village thoroughly looking for a Wallcreeper the Irish boys had seen the day before but had no luck either in the village or on nearby crags. We had some good migrants here nonetheless. The pick of the bunch was a nice adult female Barred Warbler in low bushes in a garden whilst a pair of Red-backed Shrikes entertained,  2 Common Rosefinches flew over and then a male was heard singing and showed nicely. Also amongst the houses and rubble were Common Redstart, Caucasian Chiffchaff, Common Whitethroat, 2 Twite, Ring Ouzels, Mistle Thrush, 8 Common Swifts and loads of Black Redstarts.

Twite, Kobi

Common Rosefinch, Kobi

Caucasian Chiffchaff, Kobi

Caucasian Chiffchaff, Kobi

Ring Ouzel, Kobi

Red-backed Shrike, Kobi

Trying a small area of crags by the road added a nice pair of Rock Thrushes, Lesser Grey Shrike and fly through Black Kite and Sparrowhawk.
Lesser Grey Shrike, Kobi
Half a mile north a large crag overlooks the road so we got our taxi driver to stop here too. Again no Wallcreeper but c15 Crag Martins, 3 Alpine Swifts, 2 Steppe Buzzards, 2 Griffon Vultures, 4 Red-billed Chough, Wren and Grey Wagtail were seen.

Crag Martins, Kobi

Alpine Swift, Kobi

Red-billed Chough, Kobi
Kobi Crags

We were dropped off back in the centre of Kazbegi and after lunch opted to explore the riverside scrub and rocky slopes walking south on the west side of the river. A quick look at the wood just over the bridge proved a good idea with Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Cuckoos (including a lovely rufous hepatic individual) and several Common Treecreepers. Along the track heading south things seemed quiet with the only birds there seemingly good numbers of Red-backed Shrikes. Soon we were picking other things up – Rock Bunting, c8 Common Sandpiper, 3 Grey Wagtails and Griffon Vulture. Then a familiar call went up from the scrub by the river – the rasping of a Corncrake. Despite our best efforts we failed to chivvy it out though! Back down on the stony river bank Jus called a flying Dipper and as we moved in closer to where it had landed I walked almost up to a superb Red-necked Phalarope feeding in the shallows. It treated us to a real show down to about 3 meters! On the walk back we picked up Little Ringed Plover on a shingle island and another Rock Bunting which showed nicely on a low cliff.
Cuckoo, Kazbegi

'hepatic' Cuckoo, Kazbegi

'hepatic' Cuckoo, Kazbegi

 Red-backed Shrike, Kazbegi

Red-becked Phalarope, Kazbegi

Rock Bunting, Kazbegi
Back in the village we tried the town park for migrants. On approach a single European Bee-eater hawked overhead whilst the park itself held Spotted Flycatcher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Caucasian Chiffchaff and 2 Willow Warblers followed by 2 Griffon Vultures overhead through the trees.