With the combination of ten days in rural east England and a week in the wild highlands of Scotland, this tour offers a wonderful chance to experience a broad range of the UK's habitats -- and a nice range of birds as a result. We started with an exploration of East Anglia, venturing from the coastal reserves of RSPB Minsmere and RSPB Titchwell, and the remnant heathlands at Westleton, to the vast, flat Norfolk broads and the grand estates of Felbrigg, Holkham and Lynford (the latter's arboretum now part of Thetford Forest). We reveled in repeated encounters with many of the island's regulars -- breeding species such as Eurasian Blackbird, European Goldfinch, European Greenfinch, European Robin, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Common Chiffchaff, Common House-Martin and multiple species of tit. We also had close encounters with some of the island's less common breeders. A Common Nightingale shouted challenges from a roadside treetop. A Dartford Warbler flitted through gorse scrub while sentinel Eurasian Stonechats kept watch from above. Common Cuckoos shouted from the forests. Two Common Cranes stood beside a narrow channel at Hickling Broad, necks outstretched as they bugled to others circling over the marshes. A Little Owl surveyed its surroundings from a lichen-encrusted branch. A pair of Bearded Reedlings picked their way along the edge of a windy canal, searching for tidbits. Eurasian Spoonbills paraded back and forth in front of a reserve blind. A Eurasian Green Woodpecker hopped across a grassy slope, gobbling ants. Eurasian Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and Wood Larks danced overhead in springtime flight displays.
Then it was on to the north, where we traded the flat coast and farmlands of England for the windswept moors, myriad lochs, extensive pine forests and stumpy mountains of Scotland, which brought a whole new suite of birds. A Crested Tit gathered a growing mustache of prey items from a series of pine trees. A Ring Ouzel bounced across rough grass at a mountainside ski resort. European Shags stood spread-eagled on rocky islets or coursed past our clifftop perches. Eurasian Curlews piped from moors and pastures. White-throated Dippers alternated between perching on riverside branches and throwing themselves into the swift-flowing river. A Tree Pipit sang from a stumpy branch in a soaring pine forest, while a Scottish Crossbill did the same from a nearby treetop. An Arctic Loon hunted -- nose-down and regularly disappearing below the waves -- on a wide loch. Northern Gannets swirled like flakes in a snow globe over cliffs liberally sprinkled with their fellows, as well as a myriad Common Murres, Razorbills, Northern Fulmars and Black-legged Kittiwakes. And who will soon forget the spectacle of the nine male Black Grouse jousting on a grassy hilltop? Wow!
During the course of the tour, we notched up 19 species of waterfowl, including an unexpected male Garganey snoozing on the Holkham fresh marsh, a skein of surprisingly late Common Scoters, and a seriously sexy male Mandarin Duck resting on a riverbank. Our 16 species of shorebird included a quartet of male Ruffs in a variety of plumages, some rusty-bellied Black-tailed Godwits, and a plethora of showy Pied Avocets. Our raptor species, while limited, included a trio of dragonfly-hunting Eurasian Hobbies, multiple Red Kites and a point-blank view of Peregrine Falcon dining on a breakfast pigeon. But it wasn't just the birds that we enjoyed. We had a private tour of the burial mounds and museum at Sutton Hoo (site of the greatest Saxon treasure hoard ever found in Britain), and a leisurely, rainy-day wander through Blickling Hall, a Jacobean manor house that was home to the Marquess of Lothian (British ambassador to the United States in 1939-40) before it was donated to the National Trust.
Thanks so much for joining Willy and me for an exploration of our adopted home. We only wish COVID hadn't wreaked such havoc on the proceedings for some of you! We hope to see you all again on another adventure. Until then, 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) [N]
Very common throughout, with families of fluffy goslings trailing behind their parents in wetlands in East Anglia and gangs of adults loafing among the sheep herds in fields in Scotland.
BRANT (Branta bernicla)
A single bird mooched along the edge of the estuary at Breydon Water, and 150 or so (in two big groups) munched on the marshes at Titchwell. Most of the UK's Brant are long gone to their breeding grounds in Arctic Siberia by the time of our tour.
BARNACLE GOOSE (Branta leucopsis) [I]
A few, sprinkled among the other waterfowl and shorebirds on the Scrape at Minsmere, with many more grazing on the expansive green lawn (or floating in the big manmade lake) on the Holkham estate. This introduced species has become numerous in Norfolk.
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis) [IN]
Regular in small numbers in the wetlands of East Anglia, including some with goslings in tow on the lake at Blickling Hall. This species was introduced from North America from the 17th century onwards, and multiple subspecies are probably involved.
MUTE SWAN (Cygnus olor) [N]
Common in small numbers throughout, including an aggressive male (doing his best wings-up swan boat imitation) chasing a group of interlopers off "his" stretch of the Little Ouse River in Santon Downham and one sleeping atop a huge stick nest in a roadside pond in Scotland.
EGYPTIAN GOOSE (Alopochen aegyptiaca) [IN]
Scattered birds in East Anglia -- a trio snoozing by Rollesby Broad, a handful lounging on Brandon's Marsh at Hickling Broad and several families with small goslings at Cley Marshes. This species was introduced to Norfolk in the 18th century and is now widespread (though only in small numbers) across the county.
COMMON SHELDUCK (Tadorna tadorna)
Regular across East Anglia, both in flight and paddling across various waterways.
MANDARIN DUCK (Aix galericulata) [I]
Going around "one more corner" along the Little Ouse in Santon Downham paid off nicely when we found a handsome male on the bank opposite our footpath. And just in time too! The paddle-boarders who happened along shortly afterwards soon scared it off. This species was introduced from Asia, and is now naturalized across the country.
GARGANEY (Spatula querquedula)
A single male snoozed on the fresh marsh at Holkham (waking up now and then for a quick look around), and another floated on one of the puddles visible from the East Bank at Cley Marshes. This is a scarce breeding species in the UK, with fewer than 100 pairs thought to summer here.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
Small numbers -- mostly males -- on scattered wetlands along the East Anglian coast.
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
Seen on most days in East Anglia, with a few on ponds along the Highland Tourist Route on our drive from Aberdeen to Coylumbridge.
EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)
Far less common than most of the other ducks seen on this tour, with few on the Scrape at Minsmere, and others on Scotland's Lochindorb. This species breeds in small numbers in the uplands and islands of northern Scotland (and England's Pennine mountains), but is an extremely numerous winter visitor.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos) [N]
Seen on most days, occasionally with ducklings in tow. The butterscotch-colored leucistic female along the shores of Loch Garten was certainly eye-catching.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (EURASIAN) (Anas crecca crecca)
Scattered birds in both East Anglia and Scotland, with the males showing the distinctive white horizontal line on their scapulars that helps to separate them from North America's birds. The subspecies found in Britain (crecca) is split by some taxonomic authorities as Eurasian (or Common)Teal.
COMMON POCHARD (Aythya ferina)
Two males floated on one of the ponds at Cley Marshes, giving us nice scope views from the nearby blind, and we found others on Titchwell's ponds the following day. They strongly resemble North America's Redheads, to which they are closely related.
TUFTED DUCK (Aythya fuligula)
Small numbers in many places across East Anglia, typically in pairs. We had good looks at the male's "ponytail" tuft on several occasions.
COMMON EIDER (Somateria mollissima)
At least a dozen birds -- a mix of males and females -- floated in the surf off Gardenstown on our sunny morning there (after the rising tide pushed them off the rocky islet on which they were snoozing). The subspecies found in Great Britain is the nominate mollissima.
COMMON SCOTER (Melanitta nigra)
A fast-flapping string -- a mix of black males and browner females -- flew past Troup Head while we enjoyed the seabird colony there. Small numbers breed on large lochs in northern Scotland, typically a long way from where we were. This species was split from North America's Black Scoter.
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
A female floated and dove on the Spey River, not far from where we spotted our White-throated Dippers. We saw several pairs on Loch Morlich, the big lake we passed on the drive up to the Cairn Gorm ski area and on Loch Garten.
WILLOW PTARMIGAN (RED GROUSE) (Lagopus lagopus scotica) [E]
Surprisingly tough to find this year -- at least until we worked our way up to the Glen Kyllachy moor. There we found a number of brick-red males, including two that did several of their distinctive display flights. A bagel! A bagel! A bagel! A bagel! The subspecies "scotica", which doesn't turn white in the winter, is sometimes split as a distinct species.
BLACK GROUSE (Lyrurus tetrix)
Yahoo! After striking out on our first early-morning attempt to find a lek (despite trying a trio of spots), we came up aces on our second try, and got fine scope views of at least nine males strutting their stuff across a grassy hilltop. We could even hear their distant bubbling calls -- at least, we could when the persistently honking Graylag Geese in a nearby field shut up for a minute or two.
GRAY PARTRIDGE (Perdix perdix)
Two foraging at the entrance to Lady Anne's Drive on our second quick visit to Holkham. Like many other species, this one has been hard hit by intensive agriculture, with a population drop of more than 92% since 1967. The biggest issue is apparently a steep decline in chick survival, driven by a lack of appropriate food items.
RING-NECKED PHEASANT (Phasianus colchicus) [I]
Common and widespread throughout. Most were males, though we did see a handful of females. Tens of thousands are released into the countryside every year to satisfy the shooting brigade -- to the decided detriment of native plant, lizard and invertebrate populations.
RED-LEGGED PARTRIDGE (Alectoris rufa) [I]
Dave was the first to connect with the "French Partridge" when he spotted one at Sutton Hoo while the rest of us toured the mounds. Fortunately, we got some pointblank views of multiple pairs along the back roads we traveled between Blickling and Cley Marshes, and of others at Minsmere. First introduced into the UK in the 1700s (in Suffolk), this species is now spread widely across the country.
LITTLE GREBE (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
A couple floated on the water at Brandon's Marsh on Hickling Broad, and we saw others at Holkham and Felbrigg, and heard the distinctive rattle of still more from a reed bed at Lynford Arboretum. As its name suggests, this is the smallest of Europe's grebes.
GREAT CRESTED GREBE (Podiceps cristatus) [N]
And this is the largest. We spotted a dozen or so on Rollesby Broad (where at least one was sitting on a waterside nest), with smaller numbers at Hickling, Holkham, Blickling and Titchwell.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia)
Common throughout, particularly around cities and towns. The ones around the Peregrine nest in Cromer seemed particularly foolhardy!
STOCK DOVE (Columba oenas)
Small numbers on several days in Suffolk, with a bigger group near the pig fields at Sutton Hoo. Though similar in size and shape to a domestic pigeon, this shy species has a dark eye, a yellow bill, and no white rump.
COMMON WOOD-PIGEON (Columba palumbus)
Almost ridiculously common throughout. Their large size repeatedly caught people out by surprise, as they were repeatedly mistaken for raptors.
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto)
Small numbers in Suffolk, particularly around Westleton. The one sitting on a phone pole beside a wood-pigeon was especially useful for demonstrating just how big the latter species really is!
COMMON CUCKOO (Cuculus canorus)
As usual, we heard FAR more of these than we saw. We got to see just how far that distinctive call carries, when the bird we thought was in a nearby group of trees on Westleton Common turned out to be considerably farther away -- like half a mile or more! We got some reasonable scope views after it flew to another perch, then saw others at Minsmere. But our best views came in Scotland, where we found one perched atop a post around a sheep field.
COMMON SWIFT (Apus apus)
Daily in East Anglia, with a handful of others over Carrbridge towards the end of our stay in Scotland. This is another species in steep decline across the UK, with chick survival impacted by decreases in insect populations and nesting sites impacted by modern building design.
EURASIAN MOORHEN (Gallinula chloropus)
Small numbers scattered across many of the wetlands in East Anglia and a singleton in the pond with the swan nest in Scotland. This species has been split from North America's Common Gallinule.
EURASIAN COOT (Fulica atra) [N]
Also found in small numbers in most wetlands across East Anglia, including a pair busily feeding fuzzy black chicks among the reeds at Cley Marshes.
COMMON CRANE (Grus grus)
We were first alerted to the presence of this iconic Norfolk species by its bugling calls. Unfortunately, they were out of sight behind tall reeds -- or so we thought. Fortunately, Mel spotted two as we started to move to a different viewpoint, and we had some great scope views of a pair along the edge of a canal. That opened the floodgates, and we ended up seeing at least five in flight over the Hickling Broad reserve. The presence of this species as a breeding bird in Britain is something of a mystery; experts aren't sure whether the small population that has become established in Norfolk got here on its own, or whether they were privately introduced.
EURASIAN THICK-KNEE (Burhinus oedicnemus)
It took a bit of patience, some scanning, and the weathering of a rather persistent downpour, but we eventually spotted a pair of these scarce shorebirds hunkered at either end of a pile of branches in a field near Minsmere.
PIED AVOCET (Recurvirostra avosetta) [N]
Regular in East Anglia's wetlands, including dozens in the ponds at Cley Marshes, where many sat on nests. 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) [N]
Common and conspicuous, and recorded on most days of the tour. Some of the group were surprised at how many we found away from the coast and water -- particularly in Scotland, where they were often foraging in meadows full of sheep. We even had a pair nesting on the roof of our Aberdeen hotel!
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
A handful on the muddy edges of Breydon Water -- including a few already in fine breeding plumage. This is primarily a winter visitor to the UK, with most having left for their breeding areas in far northern Siberia by the time of our tour.
NORTHERN LAPWING (Vanellus vanellus)
Gratifyingly common and widespread throughout the tour, with many seen in the zany, noisy display flights over the marshes. Particularly entertaining was the determined pair trying repeatedly to drive a clueless Little Egret away from their nest or young at Cley Marshes.
COMMON RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius hiaticula)
One pattered around on one of the muddy islands at Minsmere's Scrape, giving us the chance to study it in the scopes. Its stockier shape, orange-based bill and legs, and lack of a yellow eye ring help to distinguish it from the next species.
LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius dubius)
Singles seen at Hickling Broad and Cley Marshes and a pair at Titchwell. 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.
WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus)
A few among a big flock of Eurasian Curlews at Breydon Water showed nicely their slightly smaller size, stripier faces and shorter, straighter bills. The subspecies found in the UK -- phaeopus -- has a white rump rather than the brown rump seen in North American birds.
EURASIAN CURLEW (Numenius arquata)
A handful on the pools at Minsmere and Titchwell and a flock of 50 or so resting and preening at the edge of the river at Breydon Water. In Scotland, we got to hear their evocative, bubbling calls and watch them in their long display flights.
BLACK-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa limosa)
A trio prodded the puddles on the Scrape at Minsmere, and more foraged and rested on the pools at Cley. This is a very rare breeder in the UK; most of the birds we saw are probably headed to Iceland to breed.
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
One of these lingering winter visitors seen on the Scrape at Minsmere, with others in the pools at Titchwell. Most are long gone by the time of our tour; they breed in the high Arctic.
RUFF (Calidris pugnax)
A quartet of males -- each in slightly different plumage -- flew in and landed on the marshes at Cley while we walked the East Bank, giving us a great chance to study them in the scopes. We spotted two much plainer birds at Titchwell.
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
The tour's most common smaller sandpiper, with a handful seen at Minsmere and Titchwell and a big, wheeling flock at Breydon Water. Three subspecies (alpina, arctica and schinzii) all regularly winter in or migrate through Britain, but only schinzii breeds in northwestern Scotland.
COMMON SANDPIPER (Actitis hypoleucos)
A pair loitered on the boat docks at Rollesby Broad and others bobbed along the edges of pools at Cley. In Scotland, one waggled along the bank of the Findhorn River, while others did the same on the shores of Lochindorb. This is the Old World sister species of the Spotted Sandpiper, and it has the same stiff-winged flight.
WOOD SANDPIPER (Tringa glareola)
Two pattered around in the shallow waters of Brandon's Marsh at Hickling Broad, their broad white eyebrows (and white rumps) helping to quickly identify them.
COMMON REDSHANK (Tringa totanus)
Common, widespread, and very obvious at most of the wetlands we visited in East Anglia, with others on the shore of Lochindorb. 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) [N]
Hundreds jostled for space on the ledges at Troup Head, staking out nesting spots on the seabird cliffs, while others hunted in the waters below. One showed the distinctive white eye ring and post-ocular eye line of a "bridled guillemot" -- a color morph that is more common in more northerly populations.
RAZORBILL (Alca torda) [N]
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. Most of them seemed to be asleep!
ATLANTIC PUFFIN (Fratercula arctica)
Only a couple of these endearing "little brothers" (as their scientific name dubs them) in the water below the seabird cliffs at Troup Head. Their big white cheek patches make them relatively easy to pick out from the other alcids at a distance. Sadly, their numbers have plummeted over the past few decades, apparently badly affected by rising sea temperatures (which drive their prey away from nesting areas) and harsh winter storms.
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla) [N]
Thousands whirled around the seabird cliffs at Troup Head, shouting their distinctive three-note calls or carrying beaks full of plant bits to growing nests. This is the UK's most numerous gull species.
BLACK-HEADED GULL (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) [N]
Though not the UK's most numerous gull species, this one is certainly the most widespread! We saw it on all but two days of the tour, often (as at Minsmere) in sizable numbers.
LITTLE GULL (Hydrocoloeus minutus)
Two at Titchwell -- a busily feeding adult and an immature having a bit of a rest.
MEDITERRANEAN GULL (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) [N]
A few of these beautiful gulls were sprinkled among the far more numerous Black-headed Gulls on several of the nest islands at Minsmere. Their jet black hoods, bold white eye rings, bright red beaks and white wingtips made them easy to pick out. This is a relatively new arrival to the UK; the first pair only bred here in 1968.
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, Gardenstown and Fraserburgh.
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus fuscus)
Regular throughout East Anglia, with plenty of resting adults at coastal reserves. The yellow legs, proportionally longer wings and paler backs of the adults help to separate them from the next species. We saw a few among the Herring Gulls on the beach at Fraserburgh.
GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus marinus)
Even less common than the previous species, with only a few seen at Minsmere and Fraserburgh. Most breed in the far northwest of Scotland and so are largely absent from our tour route.
LITTLE TERN (Sternula albifrons)
A few of these diminutive terns flashed over Minsmere's Scrape, calling loudly to each other. This species is closely related (and similar in appearance) to America's Least Tern. Like the Least Tern, this species is declining over its range in Europe; it's now listed as an "amber" species due to its population decline with only 1450 pairs estimated to breed in all of Great Britain.
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo) [N]
Seen in scattered wetland locations, including Minsmere (where they were reasonably common around the scrapes), Rollesby Broad, Blickling (where one made repeated passes over the lake), Titchwell and off Troup Head and Fraserburgh in Scotland.
ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea)
Only a couple of birds seen as they flew past the lighthouse at Fraserburgh -- good spotting, Carolyn! Most Arctic Terns breed in the far north and west of Scotland.
SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
Several score on the breeding islands at Minsmere gave us the chance to study them in the scopes. They're bigger and paler than the other terns we saw, and their long, black, pale-tipped bills are distinctive.
ARCTIC LOON (Gavia arctica)
It took a fair bit of searching, but we finally located one of these rare breeders hunting at the very far end of Lochindorb.
NORTHERN FULMAR (Fulmarus glacialis) [N]
Our first were a handful soaring on stiff wings over the waves and along the sandy cliffs in Cromer. We had scores of others on the breeding cliffs at Troup Head, where we got great looks at their distinctive "tube noses", an adaptation which allows them to drink seawater and filter out the salt.
NORTHERN GANNET (Morus bassanus) [N]
What a treat it was to spend time among the colony at Troup Head, where hundreds 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. The ranger told us that bird flu hit the colony hard last year, with more than 30% of the birds dying. We saw at least one of the survivors -- an all black iris is apparently a sign of previous infection.
GREAT CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Widespread, and seen most days in East Anglia. Some were in flight above fields and heaths, while others floated on area waterways, hunted beneath their surfaces or stood spread-eagled on the shore.
EUROPEAN SHAG (Gulosus aristotelis)
Regular in small numbers along the coast at Gardenstown, Troup Head and Fraserburgh. This species is smaller and slimmer than the previous, with less white in its plumage and a blockier head shape.
GRAY HERON (Ardea cinerea)
Common in the wetlands of East Anglia, where they have been slowly increasing over the past few decades.
LITTLE EGRET (Egretta garzetta)
Regular in East Anglia, where they are now well-established as a breeding species. As recently as the early 1980s, the species was recorded from only a single 10km square in all of Britain! The bird being repeatedly dive-bombed by an incensed pair of Northern Lapwings just outside the blind at Cley gave us especially nice views.
EURASIAN SPOONBILL (Platalea leucorodia)
Not long ago, this was a rare bird in England -- but no more! Though extirpated from the UK in the late 1700s, they've managed to reintroduce themselves over the past several decades. We found them in several locations and had particularly nice views of close birds at Titchwell. We saw others at Hickling, Holkham and Cley.
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus) [N]
One at Scotland's Loch Garten was little more than a head sticking out of a big stick nest. Ospreys are slowly recovering in Britain after being driven extinct as a breeding bird by the early 1900s.
EURASIAN MARSH-HARRIER (Circus aeruginosus)
Common in East Anglia, where we saw them on most days -- including multiples quartering low over the reed beds at Hickling Broad. The southeastern coast is the stronghold of this species on the British Isles.
HEN HARRIER (Circus cyaneus)
A male flew across the road in front of my van as we drove through Cley village, seen by some, and a few of us got brief views of another over upland moors along the Highland Tourist Route in Scotland. The male's white rump and all gray upperwing separate it from the more expected previous species.
RED KITE (Milvus milvus)
Regular now in southern England, with multiples seen soaring over the highways around London and others at Hickling, Holkham, Blickling and Sidestrand. Hunted to extinction in England by the early 1900s, this species has made a spectacular comeback, aided initially by a reintroduction program in the late 20th century.
COMMON BUZZARD (Buteo buteo)
Common and widespread throughout, missed on only two days of the tour -- and we were probably just not paying enough attention those days! This is another species whose numbers have increased substantially in the past few decades.
LITTLE OWL (Athene noctua) [I]
We found one near the pond at Felbrigg on our pre-breakfast visit there after a ruckus kicked up by a concerned mob of blackbirds and tits suggested it might be in the area. This small owl was introduced to the UK on several occasions during the late 1800s, and spread eastwards. Though its range and population has contracted significantly since the 1960s, East Anglia remains one of its strongholds.
TAWNY OWL (Strix aluco) [*]
We heard one calling from the dense pine woods edging Westleton Heath while we waited for it to get dark enough that the nightjars might be flying.
COMMON KINGFISHER (Alcedo atthis)
One jewel-bright bird flashed past several times at Rollesby Broad (its high, shrill call alerting us to its presence every time) and another did the same at Hickling Broad.
GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (Dendrocopos major)
Regular in small numbers in both England and Scotland, with particularly fine views of one hitching its way up a tree near the entrance to Westleton Common on our first visit there and another pair at the feeders near entrance booth to Loch an Eilein.
EURASIAN GREEN WOODPECKER (Picus viridis)
After getting fleeting views of flyby birds at Minsmere and Holkham, we had a fabulous encounter with one feeding for long minutes on the ground at Felbrigg. And those views easily netted it the top "Bird of the Trip" honors. Like North America's flickers, these big woodpeckers feed primarily on ants.
EURASIAN KESTREL (Falco tinnunculus)
Scattered individuals in England's lowlands with another over the Black Grouse lek in Scotland. 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! We saw others over Hickling Broad. The Norfolk Broads hold some of the highest densities of this species in Britain.
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
One circling high over the dunes at Minsmere clearly wasn't hunting (given the complete lack of concern from the birds on the Scrape). But our best views came in Cromer, when we scoped an adult munching on the remains of a pigeon on one of the church towers. The birds have nested on the church for three years now.
EURASIAN JAY (Garrulus glandarius)
Although widespread and common over much of England, this much persecuted species is shy and elusive during the breeding season, so we recorded only a few -- in flight across a couple of roads, and at Westleton, Hickling and Holkham, where one bird spent a long time rummaging through branches of an oak on the other side of the lake. The endemic British race "rufitergum" is pinker overall and less gray than the continental "glandarius".
EURASIAN MAGPIE (Pica pica)
Abundant across England, with a handful on lawns in Aberdeen as well.
EURASIAN JACKDAW (Corvus monedula) [N]
Another common and widespread species, seen every day of the tour. We had good looks at the distinctively pale eyes of this small crow near the 14th-century church in Westleton village our first afternoon.
ROOK (Corvus frugilegus) [N]
Another tour regular, often found in companionable flocks with the previous species. Unlike Carrion Crows, this is typically found in big groups and they nest colonially (as we saw in the rookery at Mundford). The pale base to their large bill is a good field mark for this species, and we saw it well on several occasions.
CARRION CROW (WESTERN) (Corvus corone corone)
Another common species, seen almost daily -- including in Scotland, where they are slowly pushing the next species further north and west.
HOODED CROW (Corvus cornix)
A couple of birds along roadsides in Aberdeen were a surprise; most breed and winter north and west of our tour route.
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
Single birds flapped over the uplands at the Cairn Gorm ski area on a couple of days, showing their big beaks and wedge-shaped tails nicely. We saw the massive nest of another on the seabird cliff at Troup Head; it was made almost entirely of fishing gear!
COAL TIT (Periparus ater)
Small numbers daily in Scotland, including our first pair along the trail near our Coylumbridge hotel. Britain has an endemic subspecies, britannicus, which differs from continental subspecies by having olive rather than bluish on the mantle.
CRESTED TIT (Lophophanes cristatus)
After wrestling with an uncooperative bird in Poorhouse Wood (where Malcolm spotted one that vanished before anyone else got a look), we had nice views of one food-gathering along the Twin Lochs trail in the Abernathy forest.
EURASIAN BLUE TIT (Cyanistes caeruleus)
A very common and widespread species, seen on all but one day; we missed it only on our final day in Scotland.
GREAT TIT (Parus major)
Another very common species, seen -- and heard -- daily in England and almost every day in Scotland. Their loud "teacher teacher" calls were a regular part of the tour soundtrack.
WOOD LARK (Lullula arborea)
We saw several in display flights over both Westleton Common and Westleton Heath, where their stocky, short-tailed, round-winged shapes were clearly visible. Our best views of a perched bird came on our second pre-breakfast visit to the common, when one on a utility wire showed his plumage details -- and incredibly long hind claw -- to perfection.
EURASIAN SKYLARK (Alauda arvensis)
Fairly common in East Anglia, with others "skylarking" over the agricultural fields of Scotland. We heard their lovely burbling songs raining down from the heavens as they hovered overhead in many places -- the inspiration for Ralph Vaughn Williams's orchestral piece "The Lark Ascending".
BEARDED REEDLING (Panurus biarmicus)
We had repeated brief (but distinctive) looks at a busy pair ferrying mouthfuls of food to nestlings in an out-of-sight nest at Minsmere. But our best views came along Cley's East Bank, where two mooched along the bottom of the reeds edging the ditch, giving us a chance to watch them for long minutes -- a reward for braving the chilly wind! Expansion of reed beds for bitterns in coastal reserves has helped this species, but saltwater inundations and nutrient loading from agricultural runoff have caused local declines in Norfolk. 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)
Regular in the coastal reserves of East Anglia, including one atop a bush near Brandon's Marsh at Hickling Broad, which provided super views as he sang.
COMMON REED WARBLER (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
Also common in East Anglia's reed beds, though more often heard than seen. A couple of nest-building pairs at Minsmere proved exceptionally confiding, repeatedly spending long minutes in the open. This is far plainer than the previous species, particularly on the head.
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
A big flock swirled in and out of nest holes in a sand bank near the Minsmere visitor's center, and we saw others at Cley and on most days in Scotland -- particularly along the River Spey, near where we found our dippers. This is known as the "Sand Martin" in Britain.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
Common and widespread throughout, seen every day of the tour. The subspecies in Britain (rustica) is much paler underneath than are North American birds.
COMMON HOUSE-MARTIN (Delichon urbicum)
Small numbers on scattered days in England (including some zooming over the churchyard in Westleton) with others in the skies at Fraserburgh. Their shorter tails and white rump patches make them easy to pick out from other swallows in flight.
WILLOW WARBLER (Phylloscopus trochilus)
Multiple birds seen singing their hearts out at Westleton Heath and Hickling, with others heard at Holkham. They proved to be even more common in Scotland, where they were seen every day. This species appears to be shifting its breeding range further northwards as Europe's climate warms.
COMMON CHIFFCHAFF (Phylloscopus collybita)
Common in England, where their onomatopoeic "chiff chaff" song was a regular part of the tour soundtrack. We had particularly nice looks at several on Westleton Common, where they were belting out their songs from telephone wires and treetops.
CETTI'S WARBLER (Cettia cetti)
As usual, we heard far more of these skulkers than we saw; their loud, explosive songs were an integral part of the tour's wetland soundtrack. The one sneaking back and forth through the brambles at Rollesby Broad probably gave us our best (brief) views, though we did lay eyes on others at Minsmere and Titchwell.
LONG-TAILED TIT (Aegithalos caudatus)
Little parties encountered throughout, including the ones flitting through the bushes around the parking lot at Westleton Heath our first morning. This is a very early breeder and fledged youngsters were already out and about with their parents. 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 at Minsmere. As usual, most of the birds we saw were black-capped males rather than brown-capped females.
GARDEN WARBLER (Sylvia borin)
Our best views came at Lynford Arboretum, where one sang from open branches in a bush right beside the trail; another singing bird at Minsmere was considerably less cooperative. This species is the Orange-crowned Warbler of the Old World -- its best field mark is its nearly complete lack of field marks!
GREATER WHITETHROAT (Curruca communis)
Another reasonably common species across East Anglia, recorded on all but a couple of days in England and in the agricultural lowlands north of Aberdeen. We got good scope studies of several perched up at Westleton Heath and had nice views of another doing sky-diving display flights over the gorse bushes along the coast at Minsmere.
DARTFORD WARBLER (Curruca undata)
Watching for sentinel European Stonechats worked a treat, and we soon had some good scope views of these uncommon UK breeders. This colorful species is slowly expanding its range in southern England, though severe winters cause big declines in its population.
GOLDCREST (Regulus regulus)
Easily the more common of the tour's "crests". Our first were an obliging pair in the pines on the trail out to the beach at Holkham, and we had others at the Lynford Arboretum and daily in Scotland. As usual, we heard their high-pitched songs even more often than we saw the birds. This is the UK's smallest bird.
COMMON FIRECREST (Regulus ignicapilla)
Hard work this year, with only a single bird briefly heard (and even more briefly seen) at Lynford Arboretum. The stripey face and bronze nape quickly separate it from the more common Goldcrest.
EURASIAN NUTHATCH (Sitta europaea)
One shouting from a treetop at Holkham gave us the chance to ogle it in the scopes, and the feeders outside the little cafe at Lynford Arboretum brought another down to eye level. Unfortunately, this species has declined as a breeding species throughout East Anglia over the past few decades.
EURASIAN TREECREEPER (Certhia familiaris)
Scattered birds throughout, including a little family group at Lynford Arboretum and a fuzzy-headed fledgling that fell off its perch high in a pine and tumbled down to the ground at Loch an Eilein. This resident species is another one that has declined over much of East Anglia in the past few decades.
EURASIAN WREN (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Very common in England, somewhat less so in Scotland -- though as usual, we heard far more churring from dense brush than we actually saw. A territorial bird shouting challenges on Westleton Common and another bouncing through a log pile at Minsmere gave us especially nice looks.
WHITE-THROATED DIPPER (Cinclus cinclus)
A pair along the Spey River alternated between plunging into the water, perching on stream-side branches, 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.
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 (giving us the chance to practice separating males from females by examining the color of their bill bases). 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)
Two bouncing around on the fresh marsh at Holkham were clearly gathering food for nestlings, and we saw several others doing the same at Lynford Arboretum. We heard their lovely fluty songs regularly in Scotland, where they were seen nicely on all but one day.
SONG THRUSH (Turdus philomelos)
One singing from a holly tree in the Westleton churchyard always seemed to be directly in line with the sun -- though we did finally manage to edge around far enough to get a good look. We had better luck in Scotland, particularly near the little shop at Loch an Eilein. As usual, we heard far more than we saw; their regularly repeated phrases reminded us a lot of mockingbird songs.
EURASIAN BLACKBIRD (Turdus merula)
Very common throughout East Anglia, with fewer in Scotland.
RING OUZEL (Turdus torquatus)
A male at the ski resort at Cairn Gorm sat with his back to us, only giving us brief glimpses of his white collar before eventually dropping out of view. Luckily, we found a more obliging female the following day; she trotted around on a grassy stretch near one of the sheds, allowing some good scope looks. This highland species has the wonderful folk name of "Vicar Thrush", for that white collar around its neck.
EUROPEAN ROBIN (Erithacus rubecula)
These little charmers were seen on all but our final day in Scotland, sometimes almost at our boot tips. The ones searching for scraps under the tables outside the Minsmere cafe were particularly obliging.
COMMON NIGHTINGALE (Luscinia megarhynchos)
One of the highlights of our first morning's walk at Westleton Common was a very showy bird singing his heart out from the top of some scrubby trees -- though we all agreed its famous song was a bit of a disappointment. We heard others elsewhere on the common, on Westleton Heath and at Minsmere, but overall, this species has declined quite dramatically in England. Habitat loss and a drop in habitat quality probably plays a part in this, as does the fact that England is on the very northern edge of the bird's range.
COMMON REDSTART (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
An eye-level male singing his heart out along the edge of Loch Garten was a highlight of our walk along the Twin Lochs trail.
WHINCHAT (Saxicola rubetra)
A pair atop the little bushes on Tulloch Moor -- the male singing and both hunting -- were a nice consolation prize after we dipped on Black Grouse during our early morning visit there.
EUROPEAN STONECHAT (Saxicola rubicola rubicola)
Some lovely views of a pair perched up on gorse bushes on Westleton Heath, with other showy birds at Minsmere and Lynford Arboretum. A busy pair along the Highland Tourist Route on our first afternoon in Scotland were the only ones we saw in that country.
NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)
A male at the Cairn Gorm ski area did his best "little shrike" imitation -- great spotting, Joan! We saw a female among the soggy heather bushes on Glen Kyllachy moor, while searching for Red Grouse.
DUNNOCK (Prunella modularis)
Abundant across East Anglia, with others in the Findhorn valley in Scotland. 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" -- with most seen around various hotels and visitor's centers. This is another species in rapid decline across Britain, with the loss of 69% of the population between 1977 and 2010. Only suburban birds seem to be thriving, with both rural and urban birds disappearing, for reasons not completely understood.
GRAY WAGTAIL (Motacilla cinerea)
One waggled its way along a little back road in front of us as we drove towards Gardenstown, giving us nice views before disappearing down into a roadside ditch. This is the longest tailed of Europe's wagtails.
WHITE WAGTAIL (BRITISH) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) [N]
And this is the shortest tailed! It is by far the most common and widespread of Britain's wagtails, and was seen every day. 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)
Our best views probably came at Holkham, where several confiding pairs strode around in the short vegetation along the track out to the beach and perched on nearby shrubs; we even got to see them do their parachuting display flights. We spotted others at Titchwell, and daily in Scotland.
TREE PIPIT (Anthus trivialis)
Surprisingly scarce this year, with only a single bird seen singing from a stubby branch on a pine tree in Scotland's Poorhouse Woods.
COMMON CHAFFINCH (Fringilla coelebs)
One of the more common songbirds of the trip, seen daily except for our final day in Scotland -- including some point-blank birds on the cafe tables at Minsmere. Their cheery, bubbly songs were 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 showy male in a big Scots pine along a trail in the Rothiemurchus forest was a nice reward for getting up early for a pre-breakfast outing. We heard others from trees beyond our "wee hairy coos" (aka Highland Cattle) and on Tulloch Moor (where Willy got great views of one before we all scuttled back to where he was standing).
EUROPEAN GREENFINCH (Chloris chloris)
Small numbers in East Anglia (particularly around Westleton, where we had some lovely views of them perched up in treetops), with others around Coylumbridge. We heard their distinctively wheezy calls more often than we saw the birds.
EURASIAN LINNET (Linaria cannabina)
Regular in East Anglia (less so in Scotland), with especially nice views of some perched up on the gorse bushes on the Westleton Common, and of others on wires over an agricultural field in Scotland. The birds in England belong to the subspecies "cannabina" while those in Scotland are in the subspecies "autochthona".
LESSER REDPOLL (Acanthis cabaret)
Unfortunately, we saw these only in flight, when two bounded over Tulloch Moor as we headed back to the vehicle after our Black Grouse search.
SCOTTISH CROSSBILL (Loxia scotica) [E]
A yellowish male singing for long minutes from the top of a Scots pine in Poorhouse Woods was a nice find -- and very obliging, giving us ample opportunity to study him repeatedly in the scopes.
EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH (Carduelis carduelis)
Common and widespread in England (including some showy birds sharing trees with the greenfinches on our first afternoon) with a few seen and heard daily in Scotland as well. Their tinkling songs were a regular part of the tour soundtrack.
EURASIAN SISKIN (Spinus spinus)
We worked hard to get a look at one along the Little Ouse in Santon Downham, and then had them daily in Scotland -- including a multitude within arm's reach at RSPB Loch Garten's feeders.
CORN BUNTING (Emberiza calandra)
A roadside stop en route to Troup Head netted us a couple of singing birds sitting on utility wires and fence posts. Populations of this species are in free-fall across most of the UK, but lowland Scotland remains one of its strongholds.
YELLOWHAMMER (Emberiza citrinella)
A handsome male sang from a treetop on Westleton Common, and others did the same along a track at Lynford Arboretum.
REED BUNTING (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Regular in East Anglia's coastal reserves, where their simple, three-note songs were frequently heard. Our only views were at Minsmere, where multiple males perched up on reed heads and bushes or chased each other around over the marshes. The females must have been sitting on eggs somewhere.
OLD WORLD RABBIT (Oryctolagus cuniculus) [I]
Seen in small numbers on most days of the tour, both in England and Scotland. This species, introduced to the island by the Romans, is finally starting to recover after a decade of being hammered by two rabbit diseases: myxomatosis and rabbit hemorrhagic disease.
EUROPEAN BROWN HARE (Lepus europaeus) [I]
A scattering in East Anglia, and somewhat more common in Scotland. The large size, pale eyes and long, black-tipped ears of this species quickly separate them from the smaller Old World Rabbits. Like the previous species, this one was introduced from the continent -- either by the Romans or even earlier.
NORTHERN (BLUE) HARE (Lepus timidus)
A few chased each other around on the grassy slopes near the Black Grouse lek, and a trio of others bounced around a little paddock on the Glen Kyllachy moor. The white feet, all-white tail and grayer fur of this native species help to separate it from the more widespread European Brown Hare.
EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis) [I]
Regular in the East Anglian lowlands. This is the same species as that found in the eastern half of the US; it was introduced into Britain in the 19th century, with disastrous consequences for the native European Red Squirrel.
BANK VOLE (Clethrionomys glareolus)
One worked its way through some vegetation near the feeders outside the visitor's center at Loch Garten, periodically popping into view. It was a much richer brown than the next species, with a somewhat longer tail.
SHORT-TAILED VOLE (Microtus agrestis)
One of these little cuties showed well at Loch an Eilein, giving us good looks at its very short tail; this species is grayer overall than the Bank Vole is.
NORWAY (BROWN) RAT (Rattus norvegicus) [I]
Several scuttled around under the nearly empty feeders in the "bird garden" at the Speyside Centre -- leading us to wonder if any of the parents allowing their kids to romp in the nearby children's play area would have been quite as willing to had they known!
SHORT-BEAKED COMMON DOLPHIN (Delphinus delphis)
Several individuals in at least one pod (and maybe two) surfaced periodically offshore at Fraserburgh while chasing underwater prey -- to the delight of a little cadre of people watching for them from near the lighthouse.
HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)
One seen from Troup Head caught a bird (we couldn't see what species) and played with it for a while before finally gobbling it down. There is growing concern that bird flu is spreading into seal populations when they eat infected birds; a number of dead and stranded seals have tested positive for the disease.
GRAY SEAL (Halichoerus grypus)
One rolled in the surf off Fraserburgh, surfacing repeatedly as it hunted along the shore. The longer nose of this bigger species helps to distinguish it from the Harbor Seal.
CHINESE WATER DEER (Hydropotes inermis) [I]
One in a crop field by Hickling Broad, 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 Westleton Common, at Holkham and along the edges of the highway on the drive back to London.
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 in various places on the Minsmere reserve, with much bigger herds on several days in Scotland -- including a group of 60 or more munching their way across one hillside.
REINDEER (Rangifer tarandus sibiricus)
A small free-ranging herd lives on the Cairngorm Mountains, and we saw quite a few of them 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 in both England and Scotland. This is the UK's "medium-sized" deer.
VIVIPAROUS LIZARD (Zootoca vivipara)
A few of the group spotted one of these stripey brown lizards at Minsmere. Unlike most reptiles, females of this species carry their fertilized eggs within their body, then give birth to live young.
Other species of interest:
* Peacock (Aglais io) - This was the dark red one with the big eyespots that we saw basking on leaves at Hickling Broad (and elsewhere).
* Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) - This was the yellow one that several of us saw in flight one day.
* Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) - We saw several males, which are white with broad orange tips to their forewings; females lack the orange.
* Large Red Damsel (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)
* Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans)
* Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
* Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela campestris)
* Black Slug (Arion ater)
And, of course, the "WEE HAIRY COOS" (aka Highland Cattle) we saw in Scotland, particularly the very friendly (and incredibly long-horned) pair in the field near Carrbridge.
Totals for the tour: 148 bird taxa and 16 mammal taxa