BOC Trip to Lakenheath Fen (June 2011)

BOC Trip to Lakenheath Fen – 19th June, 2011

A copy of the text of this report is available to download here.

A dozen or so people turned out to visit this Suffolk reserve. The strange thing about leading a trip is that you set your sights high and feel a bit disappointed if things are less than perfect. In some ways that was how my day to Lakenheath felt when I returned home, quite tired after a long day out.

No, we didn?t see any Golden Orioles, in spite of hearing their rich fluting calls many times and sometimes close: the poplar foliage is dark and dense, the light was leaden and the birds are notoriously elusive. And no, we didn?t see the Cranes, in spite of hearing their bugling calls while we were separated from them by the aforesaid dark poplar wood. And no, we didn?t see Bearded Tits, because it was just too windy for them. And yes, we did get wet a couple of times ? that?s June for you!

But, hey! For some of our group the magical sounds of Orioles and Cranes were new experiences and the sounds still thrilled those who knew them. And surely no-one is going to mind seeing a few Bitterns, Hobbies, Marsh Harriers and Cuckoos while waiting for the ?top? birds to show. After all, when were they relegated to the Championship?

In fact I had rarely heard the bubbling calls of our female Cuckoo so well, or so frequently. Nor had I ever seen two male Marsh Harriers dive-bombing an escaped Harris Hawk perched in a bush in the middle of their marsh. That was an odd experience! I noted three good Bittern sightings during the day, and counted at least six Marsh Harriers on a single sweep of just one area ? they were everywhere! I missed the Montagu?s Harrier that Martin and a couple of others saw later, but we did share a distant view of a pretty-convincing female Garganey.

Throw in Common Terns, a lot of Swifts, and an assortment of warblers ? Reed, Sedge, Whitethroat, Garden, and Cetti?s – plus a good helping of Reed Buntings, then even that Blue Tit can be forgiven for raising my pulse-rate by pretending to be a Bearded Tit.

And we mustn?t forget the ex-Water Shrew, like a tiny white-bellied Mole, which we found on the path ? you don?t find those every day – and Ian took the trouble to point out the special skin filaments on the feet which enable it to swim. The Weasel which David saw at the car park apparently had a bit more life in it.

And the finale, brief but glorious, was a quick trip to a bit of Breckland to witness some Stone-Curlews being bullied by a Rabbit. And that?s a Premiership bird if ever there was one!

Perhaps, on reflection, our cup was considerably more than half-full after all!

Ray Reedman – June 2011


A trip to Northern Greece (May 2011)

A trip to Northern Greece, 16?-22 May 2011

A copy of the text of this report is available to download here

This brief report is the result of a leisurely week spent in the area by Carol and Francis Hicks, Doug Page and Renton Righelato. We flew Easyjet from Gatwick to Thessaloniki, about a 3 hour, early morning flight (£127 return). Car hire was straightforward with Hertz, who along with Avis and others have desks in the airport.

Basically we restricted ourselves to three areas: Lake Kerkini, the Evros Hills (centred on Dadia) and the Evros Delta. The excellent site guide, Bird-watching in Northern Greece, by Steve Mills, was indispensable and highly recommended, a benchmark for the genre. The whole area is served by ample hotels and tavernas and with a good road system it is easy to work. A week was a little short ? ten days or so would have given more time for these sites and the opportunity to visit others (eg Porto Lagos).

The timing of our visit was a little late for many of the migrants and some of the earlier breeders had stopped singing; however, it made certain that specialist breeding species such as Masked Shrike and Olivaceous Warbler had arrived in numbers. An earlier visit, in late April/early May would enable more migrants (eg Red-footed Falcon and arctic-breeding waders) to be seen.


16th May: Arrived Thessaloniki 11.00 local time (two hours ahead of UK) and arrived at Lake Kerkini early afternoon. Birded the rough track heading west about 3.5km south of Lithotopos. We stopped 2.9 km along the track from the main road. Highlights: Masked Shrikes, Hobby, Eastern Black-eared Wheatear.

17th May: Lake Kerkini area, including the above track, the hills to the west of the lake and the eastern embankment of the lake. Highlights: Olive-tree Warblers, Sombre Tit, Masked Shrike, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Honey Buzzard in the hills; Penduline Tit and the nest on the lake embankment. A short boat trip on the lake took us through an abundance of Pelicans (White and Dalmatian) and huge rafts of Cormorants. Pygmy Cormorants were present in smaller numbers.

18th May: A long drive eastward to Dadia village. En route we stopped at the Evros Delta Visitor Centre to pick up our pre-arranged permits for the military zone of the delta, which we visited briefly. Highlights: Spur-winged Plovers, Collared Pratincoles and Black-headed Wagtails.

19th May: A day spoilt by persistent rain through the morning. Dadia Forest feeding station and the start of the northern section of the old Boutros road were visited. Highlights: three species of vulture, Black Storks, Eleanora?s Falcon. Although Syrian and Green Woodpeckers were heard, woodpeckers proved difficult.

20th May: Lefkimi road and Kapsala radio mast in the Evros Hills. A late afternoon visit to the Evros Delta. Highlights: Lesser Spotted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Calandra Lark, Isabelline Wheatear, Lesser Grey Shrike and a large fall of Red-backed Shrike.

21st May: Morning in the Evros Delta and late afternoon on the Lefkimi road. Highlights: Lesser Spotted Eagle, Terek Sandpiper, Olive-tree Warbler.

22nd May: Morning in the Loutros valley then a long drive to Thessaloniki via the Philippi archeological site near Kavala. Highlights: Honey Buzzard, Long-legged Buzzard at nest site, Lesser Spotted and Short-toed Eagles, Black Stork, Masked Shrike. Overnight in Thessaloniki.

23rd May: Departed Thessaloniki at midday, leaving Pallid swifts breeding on the terminal building.


Selective Systematic List

N E Greece 16th ? 22nd May 2011
Ruddy Shelduck: 3 Evros Delta

Red-crested Pochard: 10 Evros Delta

Quail: Surprisingly few ? 3 calling at the Evros Delta

Little Grebe: Common L Kerkini

Great Crested Grebe: Very common L Kerkini

Pygmy Cormorant: Reasonable numbers at L Kerkini and a few at Evros

Cormorant: Very large rafts on L Kerkini, probably several thousand birds

Great White Pelican: Common L Kerkini

Dalmatian Pelican: Common L Kerkini

Night Heron: Common at L Kerkini (as good a site in Europe?); a few at Evros Delta

Squacco Heron: Less numerous than Night Heron, but still easy to see at L Kerkini

Little Egret: Common

Great Egret: Small numbers L Kerkini and Evros Delta

Purple Heron: About five seen daily at L Kerkini and Evros Delta

Black Stork: 9 seen in the Evros Delta; 2 at L Kerkini

White Stork: Common. A flock of 70 were seen flying north over the Loutros valley on 22nd May

Glossy Ibis: A few seen at L Kerkini and the Evros Delta

Spoonbill: Reasonably common at L Kerkini. Small numbers in the Evros Delta

Honey Buzzard: One at L Kerkini, 2 in the Loutros valley

Black Kite: Small numbers at all sites visited

Egyptian Vulture: 4 at the Dadia feeding station

Griffon Vulture: 4 at the Dadia feeding station

Black Vulture: 8 Dadia feeding station, 6 Kapsala radio mast

Short-toed Eagle: 2 L Kerkini, 4 Dadia/Evros Hills and 5 in the Loutros valley

Marsh Harrier: Common in the Evros Delta

Goshawk: 2 Evros Hills

Common Buzzard: A few in Evros/Dadia

Long-legged Buzzard: 2 displaying on the Lefkimi road and a classic on a crag in the Loutros valley. These were very different from the smaller N African race, with an almost white head and aquiline shape.

Lesser Spotted Eagle: 3 Evros Hills, 1 Evros Delta.

Booted Eagle: 4 L Kerkini, 8 Evros Hills.

Kestrel: Small numbers at all sites.

Hobby: 2 L Kerkini, 1 Dadia.

Eleanora?s Falcon: 1 dark phase at Dadia.

Peregrine: At least 2 in the Evros Hills.

Water Rail: 1 Evros Delta

Black-winged Stilt: Small numbers in the delta.

Avocet: About 40 seen in the delta.

Collared Pratincole: Surprisingly few seen (8) in the delta.

Little Ringed Plover: 1 Evros Delta.

Ringed Plover: 2 Evros Delta.

Kentish Plover: At least 5 in the delta.

Spur-winged Plover

Spur-winged Plover: At least 30 seen on visits to the delta.

Lapwing: 1 Evros Delta.

Common Sandpiper: 1 Evros Delta.

Curlew Sandpiper: A minimum of 280 on the Evros Delta, many in full summer plumage, others still in winter plumage ? a fabulous sight.

Little Stint: A party of 20 L Kerkini and 18 in the Evros Delta.

Dunlin: Just one amongst the Curlew Sandpipers.

Ruff: 1 Evros Delta.

Curlew: 2 late migrants in the Evros Delta.

Terek Sandpiper

Terek Sandpiper: 1 adult summer plumage bird among the Curlew Sandpiper in the Evros Delta was one of the trip?s highlights. Excellent views of this charismatic wader.

Little Gull: 1 at L Kerkini and 1 at the Evros Delta.

Mediterranean Gull: Common at the Evros Delta ? over 100 on each visit.

Yellow-legged Gull: Widespread in small numbers.

Little Tern: At least 60 on the Evros Delta.

Gull-billed Tern: small numbers on the Evros Delta.

Whiskered Tern: At least 300 on L Kerkini.

Black Tern: About 100 on L Kerkini.

White-winged Black Tern: 1 among the Black Terns.

Turtle Dove: A pleasure to see this species in good numbers throughout the trip. 25 on the Evros Delta were probably migrants.

Little Owl: 1 Dadia village.

Common Swift: Very small numbers noted throughout.

Pallid Swift: Common Thessaloniki.

Bee-eater: Very common throughout.

Roller: Only seen in the east, where up to 10 were noted in Evros/Dadia.

Hoopoe: Very common.

Calandra Lark: At least 10 in the southern part of the delta; a pair seen in the northern part.

Short-toed Lark: Common along the dirt tracks of the delta.

Crested Lark: Common and widespread.

Woodlark: 1 L kerkini; several in the Evros Hills/Dadia.

Skylark: 1 in the Delta.

Crag Martin: Several Kapsala Radio Mast.

Red-rumped Swallow: widespread and common.

Tawny Pipit: 3 Evros Delta.

Black-headed Wagtail: Common in suitable habitat, such as the delta.

Grey Wagtail: A few by a stream in the Evros Hills.

Nightingale: Abundant; seemingly in every patch of shrubbery.

Isabelline Wheatear: 4 in western part of the Delta.

Black-eared Wheater: 3 south of Lithotopos, 3 Kapsala Radio Mast.

Blue Rock Thrush: At least 2 at Kapsala Radio Mast.

Cetti?s Warbler: Common in suitable habitat, both wet and dry.

Zitting Cisticola: Common in suitable habitat.

Great Reed Warbler: common in the Delta.

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler: Very common and abundant in scrub throughout, in gardens, roadsides field margins.

Olive-tree Warbler: 3 near Lefkimi village on the road t the radio mast, 2 with one bird singing and in display flight in hills on track 4 km south of Lithotopos.

Subalpine Warbler: Not uncommon, usually in oaks in hilly areas.

Eastern Bonelli?s Warbler: 1 in the Dadia Forest.

Sombre Tit: 1 seen well in hills south of Lithotopos; a few heard in Dadia Forest.

Short-toed Treecreeper: A few seen and heard in Dadia Forest.

Penduline Tit: Common in wet, shrub-filled ditches around L Kerkini and in the Delta. A completed nest seen from the eastern embankment of L Kerkini.

Golden Oriole: Common in suitable habitat.

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike: Common in all areas.At least 150 were seen along a 3 km stretch of track in the western delta on 20th May (a rain front had passed through the previous day); if this transect were representative of the whole Delta, then several thousand birds would have been involved.

Lesser Grey Shrike: 1 among the Red-backed Shrike fall on 20th May.

Woodchat Shrike: Fairly common.

Masked Shrike: At least 5 in the Kerkini area; 1 on the Lefkimi road; 4 in the Loutros Valley. Not difficult to find.

Spanish Sparrow: Quite common in isolated groups in the Delta.

Serin: A few scattered in typical sites.

Hawfinch: Several in L Kerkini and Dadia areas.

Cirl Bunting: Small numbers at all sites except the Delta.

Black-headed Bunting: common.

Other species seen included: Mute Swan, Shelduck, Mallard, Grey Heron, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Black-headed Gull, Common Tern, Rock Dove, Stock Dove, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Cuckoo, Green Woodpecker, Syrian Woodpecker, Sand Martin, House Martin, Swallow, Tree Pipit, White Wagtail, Robin, Dunnock, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Spotted Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, Raven, Starling, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting.

In total 149 species were recorded on the trip.

Report compiled by Doug Page, photos by Renton Righelato.

Renton Righelato – July 2011


Portland Bill, Dorset (April 2011)

BOC Outing to Portland Bill, Dorset ? April 2011

A copy of the text of this report is available to download here.

Portland Bill is about as far from the Reading area as it is possible to travel for a day trip, so only a few people (who had chosen to stay overnight) assembled at the Obelisk near the lighthouse at 6:45am for the early sea-watching session, but they were rewarded with many parties of Manx Shearwaters going up-channel in lines of up to 20 birds, several Red-Throated Divers, the odd Common Scoter plus a constant movement of Shags, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and the common auks, some of them coming very close.

By 8am the activity on the sea was much reduced so we walked round the bushes near the Portland Bird Observatory (the old lighthouse) hoping for some grounded migrant passerines but the whole area was ?dead? apart from the occasional Chiffchaff and Wheatear. On our return to the Obelisk to meet the later arrivers, we learned that we had missed the only Arctic Skua of the morning but we soon had compensation in the form of a passing egret, which looked ?big?, and on more careful examination could be seen to have very long legs and dark feet, so we decided it was a Great White Egret (a breeding bird because the bill looked dark). This egret flew eastwards past the peninsula before turning out to sea again, so was it on its way to one of the breeding colonies in northern France or the Low Countries?

After 10am we walked up towards the top of the cliffs hoping for a Peregrine or some migrants in the fields, but that area was as empty as the bushes had been, apart from a few Rock Pipits, another Wheatear and a steady stream of north-bound Swallows overhead. It was the 5th in a succession of fine, calm days and so I suppose that the migrants had already passed through, to the disappointment of our BOC group and several other biding groups. There must have been at least 50 birders in 4 groups searching the area ? maybe we just scared them all off!

We moved on to Lodmoor RSPB reserve, though some people chose to divert to Radipole RSPB reserve in central Weymouth to see the Hooded Merganser that has been there for 2 years or more, and which was looking particularly fine in breeding plumage at the time. At Lodmoor, we walked the perimeter path, but here too there was a marked lack of passerines, except for many singing Dunnocks and Reed Warblers, though we did get several brief views of a flock of Bearded Tits. Eventually we came across a knot of birders crammed into a small gap in the hedge who were looking through the gap at something on the scrape that turned out to be the Long-Billed Dowitcher that had been in the area for several days. When the crowd thinned, we were able to watch it at close range as it bathed and preened and those with cameras got good pictures. Further scanning of the pools revealed a group of four Whimbrel that were clearly seen by all.

On balance we had a good day, with fine weather, three ?rarities?, several hard-to-see birds and a day list of 68 species, but the general lack of migrants was disappointing, but perhaps it was too much to expect everything.


Raptormania in Andalucia (April 2011)


Raptormania in Andalucia, April 2011

A copy of the text of this report is available to download here.

Ken White and Sarah Priest are clearly hooked on raptors, hence the title of their programme. Within a few minutes of donning our binoculars, it seemed that they had rounded up seven suitable eccentrics to join them. We hadn’t been off the plane for an hour and we were already communicating in a birder’s patois which would have out-foxed any sane sun-seeking Brit tourist looking for the beach.

“Red-rumped!” “Pallid!” “Bee-eater!” “Zit!” “Sardine!” “White-Headed!” “Pratincole over!” ” Two Kentish!”

White-headed Duck

There was just so much happening that communications short-cuts seemed in order. Standing in the middle of a desperate little remnant of marsh within the creeping Costa construction, nine members of BOC had got straight into a mode of enthusiasm and cooperation which would have won us any bird race. Apart from the leaders, there were Ros Hardie, Richard Stansfield, Ishmael Hazari, Ken Bradley, Chris Munford, Mary and me, all of us raring for more of Andalucia. That afternoon spent at the Guadalhorce Reserve was kiddies-in- the-sweet-shop stuff, as Stilts, Curlew Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, a Purple Heron, two immature Flamingos, Swallowtail butterflies, and so much more, set us up for the rest of the week in a big way.

Next morning we saw our first incoming Booted Eagle from Punta del Carnero. An hour later we pulled in to watch a horde of invading Griffon Vultures and a Short-toed Eagle play “hide behind the hill”. When one of the “Griffs” soared down to check us out, the “wow factor” really came into play! If the Hampshire White-tailed Eagle was a barn door, this chap was the barn!

The group
Griffon Vulture

A few hours later we were back to birder shorthand as the heat of early afternoon brought in a flurry of activity at a viewpoint above Tarifa…

“Three Griffs off the head!” “Monty’s coming up the valley!” “Egyptian to the left!”

The strong easterly wind was not helping the birds to make the crossing: a string of Black Kites straggled wearily up the valley and we watched in awe as a distant flock of thirty precious Black Storks struggled against an invisible force which threatened to send them in pursuit of Columbus – into the ocean blue! There is nothing beyond, the Romans had said on the nearby Pillars of Hercules, and that would have been true for any weak migrants in that wind.

Purple Swamp-hen

In late afternoon, the farmland of La Janda, was dotted with White Storks, Cattle Egrets and “real” Red-legged Partridges. The skyline was frequently broken by Montagu’s Harriers and, once, by a flock of Collared Pratincoles. Purple Swamp-hens were in the gullies and, and on higher land, we found Little Owl, and Woodchat Shrikes.

The next morning it was all rock and roll on the heights of El Torcal near Antequera: Rock Bunting, Rock Sparrow, Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martin, Alpine Swift, Subalpine Warbler… (The roll, by the way, was in the picnic.) Thekla Lark was a nice find, but a Melodious Warbler was a real surprise. Then off for a spot of culture, with an afternoon spent admiring the exquisite gardens and the view at the Alhambra in Granada: a Firecrest for some here, and a nesting pair of Lesser Kestrels, not forgetting the snow-covered Sierra Nevada behind and an evening visit to the exquisite palace interior. That was a long day, since it was after one a.m. when we got back.

Thekla Lark
Lesser Kestrel

The fourth day brought more rocky crags, this time beyond Ronda, with Choughs and Black Wheatear, and the first passionate discussion about the fine details of the two Short-toed Lark species. But it was the Lagunas – Dolce and Fuente de Piedra – which indulged us most. Over sandwiches we located a Black Tern among the many Whiskered Terns, enjoyed a fly-through of Gull-billed Terns, spotted a Little Gull, counted about twenty Black-necked Grebes, and admired the flight of several adult Flamingos. At the larger lake a few miles on, more than a few hundred gorgeous Flamingos mingled with a variety of waders, including about twenty Little Stints. This was a busy, surfeit of water birds set against a sparkling, windy mass of blue water – and our first Glossy Ibis overhead.

El Papudo

El Papudo, our delightful first guest-house, was situated on a hillside above a citrus orchard. In the shrubs of its walled garden sang Nightingales, Serins and Sardinian Warblers. A dawn outing to the hillside above brought an assortment of songs, with Bee-eaters and a handsome Whinchat.

We were moving further west that day to a new base near Barbate. A stop at a coastal cafe allowed us to sea-watch as we drank coffee: some Sandwich Terns, yes, but Balearic Shearwaters and distant Scopoli’s Shearwaters were the real bonus here!


The Barbate marshes looked a bit raw, with un-vegetated new profiling work, but there were several small waders – Little Stints and Kentish Plovers among them – as well as our first Spoonbill, and a riot of wonderful wild flowers around the margins, among which a Short-toed Lark fed. There were more Pratincoles here too, but a small host of Calandra Larks became our major entertainment, as their impressive black wings carried them up into the sun.

El Palomar de Breña

Later that afternoon we arrived at El Palomar de Breña, an 18th Century hacienda-turned-hotel, with a facade and courtyard straight out of a spaghetti western. It boasted the largest dovecote ever built, which now housed several Lesser Kestrels and a pair of Little Owls. As we walked back to the nearby forest of Umbrella Pines to look for more birds, an Osprey cruised in from the sea and over our heads. We found Short-toed Treecreeper, Redstart, Cirl Buntings etc., but most importantly a definitive example of Lesser Short-toed Lark to settle any doubts once and for all.

Our final full day was spent on the marshes near Sanlucar, the junior branch of the celebrated Doñana delta of the Guadalquivir. This smaller reserve was still an impressively huge area of grassland and marsh, seething with a feast of birds. Our entree was Glossy Ibis and Night-Herons, with a main course of Marbled Duck, Red Crested Pochard and Little Tern, plus dessert of Slender-billed Gulls. Side dishes were Iberian Yellow Wagtails, flocks of small larks, and assorted waders too numerous to list -and, by the way, hundreds more Flamingos. An incoming flock of Black Kites brought with them our one Red Kite. A Griffon Vulture at rest on a field was an impressive sight. The strong east wind at the estuary of the Guadalquivir was redolent of the voyages of exploration which once departed from nearby Cadiz and from up-stream Seville,

Then it was homewards, via a morning in the Sierras looking (in vain) for nesting Bonelli’s Eagles on another giddy crag. A few good bird sightings, including another Booted Eagle, were almost eclipsed by the sight of a small herd of Spanish Ibex, complete with tiny kids, clambering over the precipitous cliff, a sight which I would not have missed for anything.

Booted Eagle

But we had a date with Easyjet at Malaga. My last impression of the birds of Andalucia was of the “Zit! Zit!” calls of a displaying Zitting Cisticola over the car-hire yard. What a daft name that is!And what of the non-birding aspects? Most of all we had enjoyed each others’ company, seen a lot, and learned a lot. We had had some great evening meals in Tarifa and in the crag-side village of Benarraba, which more than off-set a couple of less-satisfying experiences. The Cortijo el Papudo guest-house was perfection, while La Palomar had both character and quirks.

The main objectives of the trip had certainly been fulfilled: we had enjoyed a range of experiences and habitats, and, in spite of the adverse winds, we had seen some impressive examples of visible migration. Having family to visit in Australia and Canada, Mary and I have had little birding experience in the Mediterranean, so there were a couple of dozen new birds on our list, and there were “rarity moments” for even Ken and Sarah, so it had been a very successful trip. We had a collective list of over 140 species, which included thirteen raptor species, Europe’s two rarest ducks, and one of the rare gulls.

The group

The great success of the trip was primarily due to Ken and Sarah’s impeccable organisation, to their un-shakeable good nature and consideration, and not least to Ken’s endurance behind the wheel. The rest belongs to our companions, who were great to be with.

Ray Reedman – June 2011

(Group shot courtesy of Sarah, flight shots by Ken, Thekla Lark by Mary, others by Ray).


This was the first overseas trip of recent years to be organised under the BOC flag. Ken and Sarah are currently planning three more such trips over the next eighteen months, which will be fully integrated into our excursions programme. Keep an eye on your BOC programme, as places will be limited. The trip fee covered flight, minibus costs, and accommodation (single occupancy a bit more). We found it to be excellent value for money. Personal insurance was extra. We budgeted 30 Euros pp a day for meals etc., which was adequate. By general consensus, we shared all evening meal and drink costs equally, regardless of choices, since that saved everyone a lot of calculations and hassle at the end of a busy day.


France on a shoestring (March 2011)

France on a shoestring

A copy of the text of this report is available to download here.

A small group of BOC Members wanted to do some different birding and see a few special species in March so took advantage of a one night stopover in France. Ferry fares are often very cheap at this time of year and the DFDS lines Calais to Dunkerque service offered a package of car plus up to four adults for £20 return. We caught the 08.00 ferry arriving two hours later at 11.00 French time. On the way Gannets, gulls and Kittiwakes were abundant and Sandwich terns and Shag were sighted close to Dunkerque.

Our first main stop was Marquenterre Reserve in the Baie de Somme, many say you love it or you hate it but it certainly offers a lot of birding in a small space. Entry was ?9.90. For more details see–fre3.html. In the car park, we ate our pre-packed lunches from home (we took lunch food for two days – some of us for six!) before entering the Reserve proper. Unusual Great Tit songs occupied us while we munched! The reserve has toilets and a café.

Whooper Swan

A large wood structure close to the entrance provides a birds eye view of the reserve and from there we started to tick off many species on our impressive bird list of ninety for the trip. Maybe the Crossbill that called from the top of a pine was good but the White Storks nests and Spoonbills carrying nest material were better? Or was it the pair of Whooper Swans on the pools? As we made our way along the paths and tracks seeing the fields, ponds and lakes it was evident that spring was already in full flow. Willow Warblers sang everywhere, Chiffchaffs gave visual comparison opportunities while Cetti’s Warblers sang in the ditches and Swallows and Sand Martins fed over the lakes.

Avocets were everywhere in impressive numbers with Oystercatchers and a few Redshank and Snipe. The odd Black-tailed Godwit could be seen here and there. White Wagtails were everywhere and later a distant Yellow was seen (possibly M.f.Thunbergi). A solitary immature Crane also fed happily in a field.


Plenty of duck were present with Pintail, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler widespread. Grebes were better, Great crested and Little were outshone by up to five Black-headed Grebes in superb plumage.

Last time we came here Mediteranean Gulls were breeding but this time we saw only Black-headed preparing to breed. However, about fifteen Little Gulls provided some great entertainment.

About this time rain tried to stop play but a bit of patience saw us able to walk most of the reserve and return via the heronry where Spoonbills, Grey herons and Little Egrets were already on nests with White Storks in good view. We saw Cattle Egret over the reserve and Night herons also breed there.

The hides are big but provide challenges as the small holes to view through are not always aligned to individual heights, Ted also found the ceilings a problem at times! However, photographic opportunities are considerable with birds quite close to the hides.


After our visit, and allow at least four hours and more there if you can, we set off for an overnight stop at a Formule 1 hotel in Venette, near Foret de Compiegne about 1½ hours drive away. This hotel chain will provide a room for ?26 a night with twin beds and a wash basin. Toilets and showers are a few steps away. A basic breakfast is about ?3. It’s not the place you’d take your partner to if you wanted to impress her but value for money is unbeatable. Beer(s) and a meal for the night down the road was more than the cost of the hotel!

On a wet morning we made our way to the forest south of Compeigne on the D973 and found a suitable parking place midway along the Route Forestiere des Nymphes. As the weather dried up we started to explore. The forest is actively managed, everywhere trees are chopped down and left lying and replanting or regeneration is evident. Although some areas of young growth looked marginally interesting tall trees dotted around gave hope and as we entered the forest on foot we realised some oases of very old trees had been left amongst the younger growth.

Marsh Tit were everywhere, Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tit were added to by a party of Crested Tit. A pool of rain water on a track led to bathing and drinking opportunities and we watched as Chaffinch, Robin and suddenly, two Hawfinch dropped by.

Into the wood as we found Treecreeper (not Short-toed – we checked!) and Nuthatches, we heard an unfamiliar call which turned out to be a wonderful Middle Spotted Woodpecker, a really special find and it showed remarkably well – but not one of us had a camera! Nearby, a Tawny Owl was disturbed and flew to a visible branch for good observation.

Naturally Black Woodpecker was a target and while Green was heard singing (or was it Black?) and Great Spotted were seen, we could not locate the prize. However, late on our visit as we had to head back towards port we heard the flight call close by without doubt. The lack of a sighting provides the spur for another trip!

A two hour drive back to Calais provided rest, (except for the driver) with a reviving Black Kite en route and after a vital mission to collect a pre-ordered wine supply from a French vineyard we just had time to visit Oye Plage, a coastal reserve between Calais and Dunkerque. As we approached a Marsh harrier over the fields gave us hope and we were surprised to find a really good site. With limited time we managed only the main locations and hides but added a number of species such as Curlew and Greater Black-backed Gull to our lists. Many species were here and it is worth a good half day at least as a Mediterranean Gull breeding colony is known and the habitat was very promising.

Our haste meant we could not do the site justice but we will be going back there soon. Only a 20 minute drive from the ferry terminal it provided a fitting end to a good visit and we arrived home about 11pm very pleased with our budget visit. Next time we may go a little later as Bluethroat and more passage migrants will be present to improve our lists even more. We covered 600 miles in the car and sharing the costs, ferry, hotel and entry fees etc it cost much less than £100 a head so well worth trying again – but take cameras and you’ll get plenty of opportunities!

Further details can be obtained from or .

Colin Wilson – 4th April 2011