After a long hiatus, we reintroduced the Birds of Britain tour to our schedule in 2019, and then COVID promptly slammed the country's doors shut for almost three years. Fortunately, things had improved enough by late spring that we were back on track, and our tour went with scarcely a hitch -- other than that last minute hotel change, of course! England pulled out all the stops for our visit, giving us plenty of blue skies and warmth during our stay, and offering up some nice surprises among more expected breeding species. Scotland proved rather more chilly and temperamental, dumping rain on us several times (and freezing us solid more than once), but offsetting that discomfort with some gorgeous vistas, some distinctly "highland" sightings and a wonderfully sunny grand finale at a busy seabird colony along the north Scottish coast.
We started the tour with a 10-day exploration of East Anglia, venturing from the coastal reserves of RSPB Minsmere and RSPB Titchwell, and the remnant heathlands of Dunwich and Westleton, to the flat Norfolk broads, and the grand estates of Felbrigg, Blickling and Lynford (the latter's arboretum now part of Thetford Forest). We reveled in repeated encounters with many of "the regulars" -- breeding species such as Common Chaffinch, European Robin, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Eurasian Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler, House Martin, and multiple species of tits. We also had close encounters with some less common breeders. A Eurasian Bittern did its best "don't mind me, I'm just a reed" imitation before leaping up and flying off across the marsh. A Common Nightingale warbled from an open branch in a flowering shrub. A Eurasian Nightjar flashed past, its white wing and tail markings winking in the darkness. Eurasian Spoonbills busily gathered sticks -- an apparent challenge for spoon-shaped beaks! Dartford Warblers pinwheeled through gorse scrub while sentinel Eurasian Stonechats kept an eye on things from above. A surprise Black Kite (a vagrant to the UK) flapped over Felbrigg Lake one morning, followed shortly thereafter by a more-expected Red Kite. A pair of Common Cranes long legs and necks stretched out at either end, flew past over the marshes at Minsmere, bugling as they went. A Common Grasshopper-Warbler chirred (and chirred and chirred) from a series of low perches, proving (in the end) remarkably confiding for a normally-skulking species.
Then it was on to the north, trading the flat coast and crop fields of England for the windswept moors, sheep pastures, pine forests and stumpy mountains of Scotland. Though we struggled for grouse -- darn those Black Grouse, which were JUST out of view over a rise -- we did see a few "Red Grouse" (the endemic subspecies of Willow Ptarmigan) hunkering amid the grasses on a windy slope. Eurasian Curlews piped from moors and pastures. Ring Ouzels trotted across the short turf at Cairngorm ski station. Corn Buntings shouted challenges from roadside utility wires. A busy male Scottish Crossbill provisioned a gaggle of quite insistent youngsters. Tree Pipits sang lustily from stubby pine branches. White-throated Dippers threw themselves repeatedly into the River Spey. And who will soon forget our last magical picnic, sitting amid a welter of flowers overlooking the busy seabird cliffs at Troup Head, where Northern Gannets circled like flakes in a snow globe while Common Murres, Razorbills, Northern Fulmars and Black-legged Kittiwakes jousted for space on ledges below? What a way to finish!
During the course of the tour, we notched up 19 species of waterfowl, including a pair of spectacularly snazzy Mandarin Ducks along a shallow river in the Brecks. Our 19 species of shorebird included a trio of vagrant Black-winged Stilts, some rusty-bellied Black-tailed Godwits, a plethora of seriously sexy Pied Avocets. And it wasn't just the birds that we enjoyed. We visited the barrows and museum at Sutton Hoo (site of the greatest Saxon treasure hoard ever found in Britain), and a leisurely wander through Blickling Hall, a Jacobean manor house built on the property where Ann Boleyn was born.
Thanks so much for joining Willy and me in our "second home"; it was good fun sharing our adopted country with all of you! We hope to see you again soon on another adventure. In the meantime, here's wishing you good birding!
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
GRAYLAG GOOSE (Anser anser)
Plenty, including many with fluffy chicks across the wetlands of East Anglia, and flocks of adults on the Cairngorm moors.
BRANT (DARK-BELLIED) (Branta bernicla bernicla)
A single bird flew in and landed on one of the scrapes at Minsmere, and a group of 30 or so floated on one of the deeper puddles at Titchwell; most of the UK's "Dark-bellied Brant" are long gone to their breeding grounds in Arctic Siberia by the time of our tour.
BARNACLE GOOSE (Branta leucopsis) [I]
A dozen or more lounged on the islands in the scrapes at Minsmere, and twice that many foraged (or snoozed) on the grassy swath between Holkham Hall and the raven tower. This introduced species has become numerous in the Broads and surrounding areas.
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis) [I]
Small numbers on several days in the English lowlands, including a small family paddling across Brendan's Marsh during our visit to Hickling. This species was introduced from North America from the 17th century onwards, and multiple subspecies are probably involved.
MUTE SWAN (Cygnus olor)
Scattered pairs, including two birds with an ever-dwindling number of cygnets on the lake at Felbrigg, and one doing some impressive threat displays along the Little Ouse River, seen while we searched for Mandarin Duck.
EGYPTIAN GOOSE (Alopochen aegyptiaca) [I]
Small numbers at many of the wetlands in East Anglia, with especially nice views of one (showing us just how big Great Black-backed Gulls really are) at Hickling Broad, and a pair on the ground displaying to a pair in the air in a marshy field at the Lynford Arboretum.
COMMON SHELDUCK (Tadorna tadorna)
Regular across East Anglia, both in flight and resting on various bodies of water.
MANDARIN DUCK (Aix galericulata) [I]
A wander along the Little Ouse River near Santon Downham brought us lovely views of a handsome pair -- until they were flushed by the clueless canoeists, that is! This species was introduced to the UK from China in the early 20th century.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
Small numbers on scattered wetlands along the East Anglian coast.
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
Pairs seen on many puddles, ponds and scrapes across East Anglia.
EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)
A few at Minsmere and Hickling Broad, with especially good views of some on the Holkham fresh marsh, where hundreds overwinter. Raina spotted another from the van on one of our drives in the highlands of Scotland.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
Common and widespread throughout the tour.
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
A single male preened on one of the scrapes at Minsmere, the last remnant of the many that overwinter in East Anglia. Most have departed for their Arctic breeding grounds by the time of our tour.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (EURASIAN) (Anas crecca crecca)
Regular in East Anglia's wetlands, including dozens snoozing along the shores of Brendan's Marsh at Hickling Broad. The subspecies found in Britain (crecca) is split by some taxonomic authorities as part of the Eurasian Teal complex.
COMMON POCHARD (Aythya ferina)
A few birds -- both males and females -- floated and dove on one of the channels at Titchwell. This species is closely related to North America's Redhead, which was once thought to be a subspecies of this one.
TUFTED DUCK (Aythya fuligula)
Small numbers in many places across East Anglia, typically in pairs, plus a female with a gang of small, dark ducklings on a little pond near our Coylumbridge hotel. The "topknots" of the males were particularly obvious on the windy days!
COMMON EIDER (Somateria mollissima)
A pair floated just offshore at Troup Head and another trio at Fraserburgh on our last full day in Scotland. The subspecies found in Britain is the nominate "mollissima".
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
We spotted our first from Broomhill Bridge, over the River Spey, while enjoying our dipper pair. We had others on some of the larger lakes in the highlands, including Loch Garten and Loch en Eilein.
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
Our first floated on a river that we passed on our scenic drive to Coylumbridge on our first afternoon in Scotland -- good spotting, Raina! We had another pair fly past the Broomhill Bridge, and still more on Loch en Eilein. This species is typically called "Goosander" in Britain.
WILLOW PTARMIGAN (RED GROUSE) (Lagopus lagopus scotica) [E]
The first, creeping across the moors near the Cairngorm ski area, dropped out of view before everybody found him. Fortunately, we spotted another pair on our very windy second visit. The male was hunkered down in the vegetation with only his head showing, but the female was foraging in the open for at least some of the time. This subspecies, which doesn't turn white in the winter, is sometimes split as a distinct species.
BLACK GROUSE (Lyrurus tetrix) [*]
Arg! We could hear the soft burbling calls of several males on their lek, but they were beyond a little rise and we couldn't see them.
GRAY PARTRIDGE (Perdix perdix)
Fabulous views of a pair foraging in the grass near the parking lot at the Holkham Estate; eventually, they wandered almost within a car's length of us! This species is native to the UK, but its numbers are regularly supplemented for the shooting brigade.
RING-NECKED PHEASANT (Phasianus colchicus) [I]
Common and widespread throughout. Huge numbers are reared and released each year for hunters to shoot. They were first introduced to Europe by the Romans, and to the UK by the 11th century!
RED-LEGGED PARTRIDGE (Alectoris rufa) [I]
Surprisingly scarce this year, though we finally found a pair moving through a rough field at Titchwell. First successfully introduced in the late 1700s, this population is now globally signficant, as the species is in steep decline in its native range in France, Spain and Portugal.
LITTLE GREBE (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
One along the edge of the pond at Felbrigg proved remarkably good at either hiding in the reeds or holding its breath -- after it dove, we never saw it again! Fortunately for those who missed the first one, we caught up with others at Hickling Broad and Titchwell. As its name suggests, this is the smallest of Europe's grebes.
GREAT CRESTED GREBE (Podiceps cristatus)
One floating on the lake at the Blickling Estate gave us our first view, and we had others at Hickling Broad.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia)
Abundant in England, particularly around cities and towns. A few among the murres on the seabird cliffs at Troup Head looked like the real deal -- possibly wild birds.
STOCK DOVE (Columba oenas)
Regular in the English lowlands, with our best views coming around Westleton -- particularly on the barn visible downslope from the Westleton Common. Though similar in size and shape to a domestic pigeon, this shy species has a dark eye, no white rump and a yellow bill.
COMMON WOOD-PIGEON (Columba palumbus)
These very large pigeons were ridiculously common throughout, particularly in agricultural areas and especially in England. The white slash on their wing makes them easy to identify in flight.
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto)
Another regular species, seen on most days of the tour, though less commonly in Scotland. For some reason, it was hard to get most people very excited about them! ;)
COMMON CUCKOO (Cuculus canorus)
As usual, we heard more of these than we saw -- and even those heard numbers were down from past years, due to the species' continuing population decline. We watched one wing across the wide reed bed visible from Minsmere's Bittern hide, and most folks saw another in flight once or twice at Lynford Arboretum.
EURASIAN NIGHTJAR (Caprimulgus europaeus)
Those who ventured out to Dunwich Heath after dark one evening had great close views of one flying past in the beam of our spotlight. We heard the chirruping calls of one or more around us as the bird(s) hunted over the heather.
COMMON SWIFT (Apus apus)
Regular in small numbers throughout, including a few that seemed to be checking out potential nest sites in Westleton. Their arrival in the country coincided more or less with the start of our tour, with the bird alerts pinging the season's first appearances at various sites around the county.
EURASIAN MOORHEN (Gallinula chloropus)
Seen on most days in England, including one in the pond with the swan family at Holkham and multiples chugging across various ponds at Minsmere and Titchwell. This species was split from North America's Common Gallinule in 2011.
EURASIAN COOT (Fulica atra)
Regular in the wetlands of Norfolk and Suffolk. Unlike the American Coot, this one has all-dark undertail coverts.
COMMON CRANE (Grus grus)
Two flew over as we walked back towards the visitor's center (and lunch!) at Minsmere. They made a circle or two, and bugled as they headed off the reserve.
EURASIAN THICK-KNEE (Burhinus oedicnemus)
It took a bit of scanning, but we finally spotted a couple of well-camouflaged birds in a weedy field near Minsmere. Fortunately, the protective orange webbing that surrounded the breeding site helped narrow the search area!
BLACK-WINGED STILT (Himantopus himantopus)
Surprise! We got lucky and jammed in on a trio of vagrants that had first been recorded at Hickling a few days before our tour.
PIED AVOCET (Recurvirostra avosetta)
Regular in East Anglia's wetlands, including dozens in the ponds at Cley Marshes. This species had been extirpated from the UK, but reintroduced itself to the Minsmere marshes during WWII, when the coasts were flooded to prevent invasion. It is now on the logo of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), one of the largest conservation organizations in the UK.
EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus ostralegus)
Common throughout, including some in less expected places -- like searching for worms on the grassy fields on the Holkham estate -- as well as big numbers along the tideline at Titchwell. We even saw a few tiny chicks in Scotland, on the day we drove back to Aberdeen.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
A few of these lingering winter visitors seen at Hickling, with others at Titchwell. Some were already in full breeding plumage.
NORTHERN LAPWING (Vanellus vanellus)
Regular in wetlands throughout, including some demonstrating their rollercoastering display flight -- complete with strident, whistling calls -- over the freshmarsh at Holkham.
COMMON RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius hiaticula)
The more common of the tour's smaller plovers, found along most of Britain's coasts; they're generally more northern than the next species. Glen spotted our first, at Minsmere, and we had others at Hickling, Holkham and Titchwell.
LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius dubius)
Best seen at Titchwell, where a confiding pair worked a corner of one of the impoundments right near the path (to the delight of hordes of passing birders). We saw others at Cley Marshes. This species is smaller and daintier than the previous, with an all black bill, an obvious yellow eye ring and yellowish (rather than bright orange) legs.
EURASIAN CURLEW (Numenius arquata)
We heard the lovely bubbling call of this species on our afternoon visit to Minsmere's east gate, and finally laid eyes on them on the Holkham Freshmarsh and Titchwell. But they proved most common in Scotland, where they mingled regularly with the omnipresent sheep and where their wild songs were a regular part of the tour's soundtrack.
BLACK-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa limosa)
Parties of these elegant, long-legged shorebirds in several of East Anglia's wetlands: Minsmere, Hickling, Cley Marshes and Titchwell.
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
A few of these lingering winter visitors seen on the scrape at Minsmere, with others along the beach at Titchwell. Most are long gone by the time of our tour.
RUFF (Calidris pugnax)
At least one among the shorebirds foraging in Brendan's Marsh at Hickling -- the pool visible from the observation mound we walked to.
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
The tour's most common smaller sandpiper, seen at Minsmere, Hickling and Titchwell. The subspecies found in western Europe (schinzii) is much duller in breeding plumage than the ones we see in North America.
COMMON SNIPE (Gallinago gallinago)
A few foraged among the other shorebirds on Brendan's Marsh at Hickling.
COMMON SANDPIPER (Actitis hypoleucos)
One teetered along the muddy edge of a channel at Hickling, and others did the same along the River Spey in Scotland. This species is closely related to the Spotted Sandpiper and has many of the same habits and behaviors.
SPOTTED REDSHANK (Tringa erythropus)
One at Minsmere was starting to show some of its black breeding plumage. Its longer, slimmer bill and lack of white wedges on its upper wings also help to distinguish it from the Common Redshank (when it shows no black, that is).
COMMON GREENSHANK (Tringa nebularia)
A few at Minsmere, behaving rather like Greater Yellowlegs (to which they're closely related).
WOOD SANDPIPER (Tringa glareola)
One at Hickling didn't play nice, moving out of view almost as soon as it was spotted. Fortunately, we found other, more cooperative, birds at Cley Marshes the following day.
COMMON REDSHANK (Tringa totanus)
Common, widespread, and very obvious at most of the wetlands we visited in East Anglia. Their raucous calls and the flashy white wedge on the trailing edge of their wings in flight make them hard to miss!
COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)
Dozens jostled on the ledges at Troup Head, staking out their nesting spots on the seabird cliffs, while others hunted in the waters below. This species is widely known as "The Guillemot" in Britain.
RAZORBILL (Alca torda)
Also common on the cliffs at Troup Head, though less so than the previous species. Their darker back and chest color (black rather than chocolate brown), thicker bill and the white marks on their faces (horizontal over the eyes, vertical on the beak) help to distinguish them from the previous species.
ATLANTIC PUFFIN (Fratercula arctica)
A sprinkling of these endearing "little brothers" (as their scientific name dubs them) in the water below the seabird cliffs at Troup Head -- good spotting, Suzi! Their big white cheek patches made them relatively easy to pick out from the other alcids on the water.
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla)
Scores on the seabird cliffs at Troup Head with scores of others circling in the gannet whirlwind just offshore.
BLACK-HEADED GULL (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Abundant throughout, particularly in East Anglia. Unfortunately, bird flu had started to impact the breeding colonies
LITTLE GULL (Hydrocoloeus minutus)
We spotted one of these appropriately small gulls among the far more numerous Black-headed Gulls at Titchwell.
COMMON GULL (EUROPEAN) (Larus canus canus)
More common in Scotland than in England, where they're largely a wintering species. Typically only younger, non-breeding birds remain in East Anglia during the time of our tour.
HERRING GULL (Larus argentatus)
Regular throughout, including some that appeared to be breeding on the roofs of some of the buildings in Cromer.
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus fuscus)
Small numbers across most of East Anglia, but not common anywhere. One in the pig fields visible from the viewing tower at Sutton Hoo was easy to pick out from the paler Herring Gulls it was with; through the scopes, we could even see its yellow legs.
GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus marinus)
Even less common than the previous species, though seen in small numbers at Hickling, on the lake at Blickling Hall and along the beach at Holkham.
LITTLE TERN (Sternula albifrons)
A little party flew past over the surf at Cromer beach one morning, and we saw others at Titchwell. This is Europe's smallest tern, and is closely related to the Least Tern of the Americas.
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo)
Seen in scattered wetland locations, including Minsmere (where they were reasonably common around the scrapes), Blickling (where one made repeated passes over the lake), Titchwell and off Troup Head and Fraserburgh in Scotland.
SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
Seen only along the coast at Holkham this year. Their larger size and frostier upperparts help to separate them from the previous species -- as does their pale-tipped black beak, when they're seen from close enough.
NORTHERN FULMAR (Fulmarus glacialis)
Our first were a handful soaring on stiff wings over the waves -- and up to sandy cliff ledges -- near our hotel in Cromer. We had scores of others on the breeding bird cliffs at Troup Head. We got some great looks at their distinctive "tube noses", an adaptation which allows them to drink seawater and filter out the salt.
NORTHERN GANNET (Morus bassanus)
What a treat it was to spend time among the big colony at Troup Head, where thousands of the birds swirled like flakes in a snow globe just offshore. We had plenty of lovely views of close birds on the breeding cliffs as well.
GREAT CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Regular along England's coasts, either in flight, hunting on the sea, or drying out (often spread-eagled) in one of the coastal reserves.
EUROPEAN SHAG (Gulosus aristotelis)
Linda spotted our first, resting on a rock below the seabird cliffs at Troup Head. We saw a handful of others along the coast there and nearby. This species is smaller and slimmer than the previous, with less white in its plumage and a blockier head shape.
GREAT BITTERN (Botaurus stellaris)
Some superb spotting by Glen got us on one standing, statue-like, in the reed bed visible from Minsmere's appropriately named Bittern Hide. Eventually, it got up and flew to a different part of the marsh -- which certainly made it a lot easier to see!
GRAY HERON (Ardea cinerea)
Common in the wetlands of East Anglia, but much less so in Scotland, where we saw one only along the River Spey.
GREAT EGRET (EURASIAN) (Ardea alba alba)
One at Titchwell, along Norfolk's northern coast. This regular visitor is slowly becoming more common in the UK, particularly in southern England. While most are seen in the winter, they are increasingly recorded at other times of the year, and small numbers have begun to breed in Somerset.
LITTLE EGRET (Egretta garzetta)
Regular in most of East Anglia's wetlands. Twenty years ago, when we first did this tour, we saw a total of three birds -- all at Holkham Freshmarsh, which was one of the first places they bred on the Norfolk coast. Things have certainly changed since then!
GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus)
One dropped down into the Holkham fresh marsh, seen by some while most were using the restrooms or getting drinks. Unfortunately, it never moved back out to where we could see it.
EURASIAN SPOONBILL (Platalea leucorodia)
Not long ago, this was a rare bird in England -- but no more! We found them in several locations, with particularly great views of one busily gathering sticks outside the Bishop Hide at Cley. We had others at Hickling, Holkham and Titchwell.
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Surprisingly, we only saw one on the tour -- a bird which flew past as we were driving away from our Cromer hotel one morning. Unfortunately, only a few folks in my van got on it. We missed them completely in Scotland, where they breed in small numbers (and thus tend to be more regular).
EURASIAN MARSH-HARRIER (Circus aeruginosus)
Common in East Anglia, where we saw them all but our first afternoon. These are decidedly broader-winged -- and darker-plumaged -- than are Northern Harriers.
EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK (Accipiter nisus)
One flap-flap-glided its way along a wooded edge of the marsh while we birded near Minsmere's east gate, on the afternoon of the day we visited Sutton Hoo.
RED KITE (Milvus milvus)
Regular in small numbers in East Anglia, with others at Curr Wood and Loch en Eilein. Twenty years ago, this bird wasn't found over most of England. Now it's widespread, thanks to a very successful reintroduction program.
BLACK KITE (Milvus migrans)
One over the lake at Felbrigg on our second pre-breakfast visit was certainly a surprise; this is not a regularly-occurring species in Britain. Its uniformly-colored upperparts, and the lack of a deeply forked tail help to distinguish it from the expected Red Kite.
COMMON BUZZARD (Buteo buteo)
Common throughout, which certainly wasn't the case in the "old days". When we first ran this tour back in 2002, we didn't see a Common Buzzard until we got to Scotland! This species comes in a wide variety of color morphs, as we saw.
LITTLE OWL (Athene noctua) [I]
One sitting quietly near the pond at Felbrigg Hall was a highlight of our second pre-breakfast visit there -- after we spent a LONG time looking for it! These small owls were introduced from the continent several times, starting in the late 1800s.
GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (Dendrocopos major)
Scattered individuals throughout. Suzi spotted our first -- at Minsmere -- and we had others at Hickling, Holkham, Mumford (in the parking lot of our hotel) and Curr Wood.
EURASIAN GREEN WOODPECKER (Picus viridis)
After only hearing them on our first visit, we had a wonderful encounter with a raucous pair on our second pre-breakfast outing to Felbrigg, then spotted another near our lunch restaurant on the day we drove to Lynford. These big woodpeckers spend a lot of time on the ground, searching for their favorite food -- ants.
EURASIAN KESTREL (Falco tinnunculus)
Scattered individuals in the lowlands, including one on a nest on the Blickling Estate. Eurasian Kestrels are considerably larger than their American counterparts.
EURASIAN HOBBY (Falco subbuteo)
Especially nice views of a small group hunting dragonflies over the reed bed in front of one of the hides at Minsmere. They certainly kept us entertained while we waited for a bittern to make an appearance! Some saw another rake across the road in front of the vehicles on the day we went to Holkham.
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
A pre-breakfast ramble down to the center of Cromer -- where a pair has nested on the church tower for years now -- gave us our best views. Some folks could even see them from their hotel room windows!
EURASIAN JAY (Garrulus glandarius)
A few folks managed to catch a quick glimpse of one flying across the road on our way back from the Blickling estate, but our best views came on the Holkham Estate, where we found some very cooperative birds among the big oaks. We had others at the Lynford Arboretum. These handsome birds are far shyer than North American jays are.
EURASIAN MAGPIE (Pica pica)
Common and widespread throughout, often trundling along the edges of roads. This was split from North America's Black-billed Magpie (formerly considered to be the same species) because of morphological and behavioral differences.
EURASIAN JACKDAW (Corvus monedula)
Another common and widespread species, especially in England. We had good looks at the distinctively pale eyes of this small crow in Westleton village our first afternoon.
ROOK (Corvus frugilegus)
Another tour regular, often found in companionable flocks with the previous species. Unlike Carrion Crows, this is typically found in big groups.
CARRION CROW (WESTERN) (Corvus corone corone)
Individuals and pairs scattered all throughout the tour. This one got its name for its rather gruesome habit of following armies and scavenging the dead.
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
A couple of birds near the column on the Holkham Estate were a satisfying find. The birds nested on the column this year -- one of the first nests in the county for more than 150 years!
COAL TIT (Periparus ater)
One with our Goldcrests at Sutton Hoo, with others at Lynford Arboretum and in Scotland. The big white "thumbprint" on their nape is a good field mark. Though generally found in coniferous forest, they also occur in mixed woods.
CRESTED TIT (Lophophanes cristatus)
We searched for quite a while before finally connecting with a couple of these distinctively crested tits along the Twin Lochs trail in the Abernathy Forest. They're not normally quite so hard to find! The subspecies found in Scotland is the endemic "scoticus".
EURASIAN BLUE TIT (Cyanistes caeruleus)
As usual, the most common and widespread of Britain's tits, particularly in England; we saw far fewer in Scotland. The busy birds in the pines around the Sutton Hoo visitor's center gave us particularly nice opportunities for study.
GREAT TIT (Parus major)
Another common species, with good views on multiple occasions -- including of birds foraging busily in trees right beside the road as we walked to the Westleton Common each morning. As its name suggests, this is the largest of Britain's tits.
WOOD LARK (Lullula arborea)
One frozen right beside the path on the Dunwich Heath allowed superb scope -- and binocular -- studies. The bold pale-dark-pale pattern at the bend of its wing (its folded upperwing coverts) help to separate it from the next species, which was also seen at the same location.
EURASIAN SKYLARK (Alauda arvensis)
Easily the more common of the tour's larks, often seen in hovering flight high overhead, with the sound of their bubbling song drifting down to us.
BEARDED REEDLING (Panurus biarmicus)
Sadly, we never really got THE looks at these handsome little birds -- only flitting flight views and glimpses of them as they wormed their way through the dense reed beds. This species was a taxonomic mystery for a while: first placed with the true tits, then with the parrotbills. However, recent DNA studies have shown that it isn't closely related to any other living species, so it now sits in its own family -- Panuridae.
SEDGE WARBLER (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
Splendid views of many singing birds in the reed beds at Minsmere, with others at Hickling Broad and in the tiny reed beds on the Felbrigg estate. High levels of breeding hormones sure make these little songsters easier to see!
EURASIAN REED WARBLER (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
One singing from the edge of the reed bed at Felbrigg one morning showed very nicely -- another win for spring hormones! We had others at Titchwell. This is far plainer than the previous species, particularly on the head.
COMMON GRASSHOPPER-WARBLER (Locustella naevia)
WOW! This one was definitely an unexpected treat! A passing bicyclist told us about the "cricket bird" he had just seen on a little-used path at the Lynford Arboretum. We tracked it down -- hearing its distinctive call from a surprising distance -- and ended up getting great scope views of this often challenging skulker.
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
The least common of the tour's swallows, seen only at Minsmere (where a big gang of them swirled around the sandy breeding cliff near the visitor's center), over Cley Marshes and around the River Spey. This is known as the "Sand Martin" in Britain.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
Common throughout, often in good numbers.
COMMON HOUSE-MARTIN (Delichon urbicum)
Also regular throughout, though in much smaller numbers than the previous species. Their shorter tails and white rump patches make them easy to pick out in flight.
WILLOW WARBLER (Phylloscopus trochilus)
Our first was a loudly singing bird in a dead tree near the visitor's center at Hickling -- perfectly positioned for watching it in the scopes. They proved to be more common in Scotland, including multiples along the trail we walked on our last morning in Aviemore. This species appears to be shifting its breeding range further northwards as the climate changes.
COMMON CHIFFCHAFF (Phylloscopus collybita)
Common in England, where their onomatopoeic "chiff chaff" song was a regular part of the tour soundtrack. The bird singing from the telephone wire on Westleton Common allowed some particularly nice scope studies. Their habit of regularly dipping their tails is another good way to separate them from the similarly-plumaged Willow Warbler.
CETTI'S WARBLER (Cettia cetti) [*]
We heard them on six different days, but never laid eyes on a single one. Unfortunately, that's often the case with these skulkers!
LONG-TAILED TIT (Aegithalos caudatus)
A pair near the parking lot at Dunwich Heath distracted us briefly from our search for Dartford Warblers. We had other little groups at Minsmere, Felbrigg and Lynford Arboretum. The UK has an endemic subspecies: rosaceus.
EURASIAN BLACKCAP (Sylvia atricapilla)
A good scattering of birds in East Anglia, though sometimes heard without being seen. We did have some great views on Westleton Common and Lynford Arboretum; most of the birds we saw were black-capped males rather than brown-capped females.
GARDEN WARBLER (Sylvia borin)
This very plain-faced warbler put on a good show at Westleton Common one morning -- and we certainly heard it on each visit there. We had another near the visitor's center at Hickling.
LESSER WHITETHROAT (Curruca curruca)
One singing from a shrubby hedgerow on a footpath just beyond our garden provided a consolation prize when we missed the Tawny Owls. Particularly nice was the fact it was sitting right next to the next species, which was also singing!
GREATER WHITETHROAT (Curruca communis)
Reasonably common in East Anglia, though often heard rather than seen. A bird shouting from the gorse along the beach at Minsmere showed nicely, as did others along the track out to where we found the grasshopper-warbler.
DARTFORD WARBLER (Curruca undata)
Watching for sentinel European Stonechats worked a treat, and we soon had some lovely looks at these uncommon UK breeders. Our best looks came near where we'd parked, when a male hunted its way through a bush right beside us.
GOLDCREST (Regulus regulus)
Easily the more common of the tour's "crests". Our first were an obliging pair in the pines near the visitor's center at Sutton Hoo, and we saw others at the Lynford Arboretum and in the Abernathy Forest. And, as usual, we heard their high-pitched calls even more often than we saw the birds. This is the UK's smallest bird.
COMMON FIRECREST (Regulus ignicapilla)
Fine views of these diminutive cuties among the evergreens of Lynford Arboretum. Their stripey faces and orange-gold neck patches help to separate them from the previous (closely-related) species.
EURASIAN NUTHATCH (Sitta europaea)
One at the Minsmere feeders proved cooperative, returning several times to grab another sunflower seed. We had another pair (eventually!) right near the top of one in the big oaks on the Holkham estate. Our best looks, though, came near the little cafe at the Lynford Arboretum -- where one crawled around on a trunk for long minutes, right at eye level.
EURASIAN TREECREEPER (Certhia familiaris)
Scattered individuals, with our best looks coming on the trunks of some of the big pines on the Twin Lochs trail in Scotland's Abernathy Forest. We had others with mixed flocks at Minsmere (near the east gate and in the reserve itself) and in the big oaks on the Holkham estate.
EURASIAN WREN (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Very common in England, somewhat less so in Scotland -- though as usual, we heard far more churring from the dense brush than we actually saw. One busily building a nest at Minsmere was particularly entertaining.
WHITE-THROATED DIPPER (Cinclus cinclus)
A pair along the Spey River alternated between plunging into the water and bouncing along the bank and gravel bars under the bridge we were watching from, giving us a nice chance to study them in the scopes -- at least until the canoeists went past.
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)
Regular throughout, particularly along the Cromer seafront, where males sang from rooftops and busy parents gathered mouthfuls of insects from the lawn across the street from our hotel. Like a number of other once-common species, starlings are in steep decline across the UK, with numbers falling 66% since the mid-1970s.
MISTLE THRUSH (Turdus viscivorus)
Seen on most days, with especially nice views of one singing from the top of a dead tree on the Felbrigg estate one morning. This is larger and grayer than the next species, with more rounded spots on the breast and belly.
SONG THRUSH (Turdus philomelos)
Regular in small numbers throughout. A youngster (still speckle-backed) in a garden near the Westleton Common on our first visit was a surprise -- it seemed very early for fledged youngsters! It was especially helpful to see this and the previous species in quick succession at Felbrigg one morning.
EURASIAN BLACKBIRD (Turdus merula)
Common and widespread throughout the tour, including some right in our Westleton hotel's parking lot on our first morning together.
RING OUZEL (Turdus torquatus)
Persistence EVENTUALLY paid off! It took quite a bit of time and effort -- and the braving of some fairly frigid conditions -- but we finally connected with a couple of these now-rare thrushes by the ski chalet on the Cairngorms. And once they deigned to be watched, they proved quite confiding.
SPOTTED FLYCATCHER (Muscicapa striata)
We were at Lynford Arboretum the morning they arrived back from their wintering grounds. One afternoon they weren't there, the next morning there were multiples singing from treetops near the little cafe. We saw others at Loch en Eilein. This is another species that is seriously declining in Britain.
EUROPEAN ROBIN (Erithacus rubecula)
Abundant throughout, often (as around the Westleton hotel parking lot) proving very confiding. You realize just how homesick those original US colonists must have been to name the big, fat American Robin after this little charmer!
COMMON NIGHTINGALE (Luscinia megarhynchos)
It took some patience, but we all finally got good looks at one singing from a dense bush on the Westleton Common. If birds had tonsils, we could have seen them, its mouth was open so wide! This is another declining species, which has become a very rare breeder in England now.
EUROPEAN STONECHAT (Saxicola rubicola rubicola)
A handful flicked across the heather bushes on Dunwich Heath, and we saw others on most days in Scotland.
NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)
A few bounced on the grassy lawn across from our Cromer hotel, flicking up to the low roofs of surrounding sheds and back down. We saw others doing the same in the pastures at Felbrigg. The white rump and tail are certainly eye-catching.
DUNNOCK (Prunella modularis)
Regular throughout, particularly in the lowlands -- including some confiding birds right around the parking lot of our Westleton hotel. Birds seen in most of the UK belong to the endemic subspecies "occidentalis".
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)
Scarce through most of the trip -- to the surprise of those who grew up knowing them as "English Sparrows"! They were regular in the seafront gardens across from our Cromer hotel, with others near the visitor's center at Hickling and around Boat of Garten and Speyside in Scotland. Populations of this once-common species have collapsed across much of Britain (dropping by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008) for reasons not completely understood.
EURASIAN TREE SPARROW (Passer montanus)
And this one is in even steeper decline, with a loss estimate of 93% between 1970 and 2008. Some of the group did get a glimpse of one or more with a mixed sparrow flock in a Scottish hedgerow, part of the whirlwind of birds we found when we stopped for our Corn Buntings.
GRAY WAGTAIL (Motacilla cinerea)
A couple along the river in Santon Downham showed nicely from the bridge as they waggled around on the surface vegetation and along the edges of the water. We saw others along the lake edge in the Abernathy Forest. This is the longest-tailed of Britain's wagtails.
WHITE WAGTAIL (BRITISH) (Motacilla alba yarrellii)
By far the most common of Britain's wagtails, regular across the island. The subspecies here -- yarrellii -- is nearly endemic to the islands (found only in the UK, Ireland and on the nearby coastal continent) and is locally known as the Pied Wagtail.
MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis)
Fine views of several bouncing through the dune grasses at Holkham Beach, with others in the Cairngorms and in fields along the Spey River. One on a rooftop in Fraserburgh had us briefly hoping for a Rock Pipit, but it wasn't to be.
TREE PIPIT (Anthus trivialis)
Best seen in Santon Downham, where we found one singing from atop a pine in the plantation forest. We had others in Scotland, including several singing in the forest at Loch an Eilein.
COMMON CHAFFINCH (Fringilla coelebs)
One of the more common songbirds of the trip, though somehow, we managed to miss it on a few days in Scotland; we were clearly not trying hard enough! Their cheery, bubbly, descending song was a regular part of the tour's soundtrack -- as were their regular "DINK" calls. The subspecies found in Britain and Ireland is the endemic "gengleri".
EURASIAN BULLFINCH (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)
A male for some near the visitor's center at Hickling Broad, with others heard near Boat of Garten. But our best looks came on our last morning in Aviemore, when we found another male feeding quietly in the woods along the trail near our hotel.
EUROPEAN GREENFINCH (Chloris chloris)
Daily around Westleton, including some in display flights over the village. The yellow slashes in their wings and tail help to identify them in flight. This is another endemic subspecies -- harrisoni.
EURASIAN LINNET (Linaria cannabina)
Regular in East Anglia, with especially nice views of some perched up on the gorse bushes on the Westleton Common. The birds in England belong to the subspecies "cannabina".
LESSER REDPOLL (Acanthis cabaret)
Seen in the Cairngorm ski area -- a consolation prize for our first misses of the Ring Ouzel.
PARROT CROSSBILL (Loxia pytyopsittacus)
The deeper, doubled call of the single, large-billed female-type bird we found at Loch en Eilein was suggestive of this species -- though the experts say that examination of sonograms are needed to be sure.
SCOTTISH CROSSBILL (Loxia scotica) [E]
A male and a gaggle of youngsters high in the pines along the edge of the lake at Loch en Eilein were a highlight of our visit there. There is growing thought that this species may actually be a fairly stable hybrid between Common and Parrot crossbills.
EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH (Carduelis carduelis)
Another regular, seen most days in East Anglia with smaller numbers in Scotland. The ones at the feeders near our favorite lunch spot in Scotland were particularly obliging.
EURASIAN SISKIN (Spinus spinus)
Small numbers around the parking lot at Lynford Arboretum on our early morning visit, with bigger numbers in Scotland -- particularly around Aviemore.
CORN BUNTING (Emberiza calandra)
A roadside stop on our drive back to Aberdeen landed us amidst the motherlode, with several close birds singing from nearby utility wires and others singing further away. Populations of this species are in free-fall across most of the UK, but lowland Scotland remains one of its strongholds.
YELLOWHAMMER (Emberiza citrinella)
Suzi spotted our first -- a handsome male singing from a birch tree on Dunwich Heath. We had others on the Westleton Common (where we figured they were celebrating Sherry's release!), and along the track out to where we found the Common Grasshopper-Warbler.
REED BUNTING (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Regular in East Anglia, with especially nice views of singing males in (appropriately) the reed beds of Minsmere's marshes. Their simple three-note song was a regular part of the coastal soundtrack.
OLD WORLD RABBIT (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Sadly, few seen during the course of the tour, with our biggest numbers (and they weren't very big) coming at Minsmere; there were also singles noted in a Westleton garden, at Hickling and in a few roadside locations in both England and Scotland. This species has been hammered by the double whammy of myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus -- and that has a knock-on effect for species such as Eurasian Thick-knee, which depends on the short-grass ecosystems they maintain.
EUROPEAN BROWN HARE (Lepus europaeus)
Scattered individuals, including one in an agricultural field at Hickling and others at Holkham and Curr Wood, and along several roads. This species, fortunately, has not been as affected by the rabbit diseases as the previous species has been.
EUROPEAN RED SQUIRREL (Sciurus vulgaris)
Sadly, we only spotted a single one along the roadside on our drive to Boat of Garten this year -- and even then everybody didn't get on it. This species has been badly impacted by the introduction of the next species.
EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis) [I]
Unfortunately, quite common, particularly in areas with abundant oaks -- as on Westleton Common and the Holkham estate. This larger species outcompetes its smaller native cousin.
NORWAY (BROWN) RAT (Rattus norvegicus) [I]
The multitudes scuttling around the sunken gardens on the Cromer seafront were a bit unsettling -- and very brazen!
GRAY SEAL (Halichoerus grypus)
A few sleek animals in the water offshore at Troup Head.
CHINESE WATER DEER (Hydropotes inermis) [I]
One in the same field as the European Brown Hare at Hickling, where they're reasonably common. As their name suggests, these small introduced deer are particularly common around wetlands -- though England's population is definitely spreading out into drier places.
MUNTJAC (BARKING DEER) (Muntiacus muntjak) [I]
Another small introduced deer -- and one that has become a bit of an invasive pest across much of England. We saw them on the Blickling and Holkham estates, and at Titchwell and Lynford Arboretum.
FALLOW DEER (Dama dama) [I]
Hundreds and hundreds on the grounds of the Holkham estate, where they have been introduced. It looks like they could really use some effective birth control methods!
RED DEER (Cervus elaphus)
Small numbers seen on several days in Scotland, where they are most common.
REINDEER (Rangifer tarandus sibiricus)
A small free-ranging herd lives on the Cairngorm Mountains, and we saw a few of them -- just outside the fence around a pasture where some of their buddies were snoozing. The 150-strong herd is allowed to wander over a 6000-acre range.
ROE DEER (Capreolus capreolus)
Scattered individuals, including Minsmere, Felbrigg and in Scotland (where one was desperately trying to get back over or around a deer fence from road -- and crashing repeatedly into it instead).
BARRED GRASS SNAKE (Natrix helvetica)
We watched one hunt through the vegetation in a bit of water along the edge of the track at the Lynford Arboretum.
SLOW WORM (Anguis fragilis)
This isn't really a worm -- or even a snake -- at all, despite its appearance; it's a legless lizard. Given that they normally spend most of their time hiding under things, we were quite lucky to see it!
Totals for the tour: 153 bird taxa and 12 mammal taxa