Saturday, 3 December 2016

A Trip to Suffolk via Scotland

After all the excitement of the desert wheatear on Friday 25th November it was off to Edinburgh in Scotland on Saturday 26th with friends Julie and Matt for a few days away. The flight from Exeter was delayed by over an hour due to fog but when we landed in Edinburgh the sun was shining but beginning to set and from the tram to the city centre I managed to see 6 roe deer feeding in fields near the airport.

Edinburgh was interesting but busy, the Christmas market was quite good and we had a  lovely meal at The Dome while enjoying the Christmas decorations. A trip to the Royal Yacht Brittania at Leith provided the best bird sightings of the trip with 2 male and a female red breasted merganser, a female teal, mallard, a grey heron, shag, cormorant and common gull, herring gull, black headed gull and great black backed gull all seen in the harbour from the decks of the boat. I also scanned out across the Firth of Forth from the decks and picked up a distant pair of eider flying low over the water and a distant raft of around 100 common scoter on the water before they split up and flew off in opposite directions.

 Christmas Lights, Edinburgh

 The Dome, Edinburgh

The Dome, Edinburgh

The train journey to Ipswich from Edinburgh via London on November 29th was very enjoyable on a beautiful sunny day and we saw Bass Rock, Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island, The Farne Islands, Dunsterburgh Castle, Coquet Island, The Baltic Centre in Newcastle, Durham Cathedral and York Minster as we whizzed by sipping wine. I managed to see quite a few birds too - stock dove, green woodpecker, sparrowhawk, buzzard, kestrel, fieldfare, redwing, golden plover, lapwing, redshank, great spotted woodpecker, tufted duck and wigeon were all seen but the highlights were goosanders on the river at Berwick, a small raft of eiders close to the shore off the coast of Northumberland, a flock of around 300 pink footed geese in fields near Morpeth with another flock of around 100 seen near York and a red kite overhead near Peterborough. The journey from London to Ipswich was less interesting as it was getting dark but as we left Liverpool Street but we did see The Shard and The Gherkin.

My plan during my stay in Ipswich while visiting family pre-Christmas was to visit Minsmere for a walk and a look around but I left my RSPB membership card and free visitor passes in Plymouth and so faced with paying £27 admittance for David, Mum and myself I looked for an alternative place to visit. With Tundra bean geese being reported at the RSPB North Warren reserve near to Minsmere we visited there instead on November 30th on another cold but still and sunny day. I have never visited the reserve before and it was also free to visit, we even managed to get a free parking space too!

We walked along the footpath to Aldeburgh over the shingle beach and I regularly scanned the marsh by the roadside as we wandered along. There was a 100+ flock of (presumed feral) barnacle geese and lots of greylag geese and despite not finding any bean geese (or reported pink footed geese) amongst them I did see 50+ white fronted geese.

 White Fronted Goose with Greylag Geese, North Warren

 White Fronted Goose with Greylag Goose

 White Fronted Goose
Barnacle Geese

A cup of coffee at The Brudenell hotel in Aldeburgh (where my lovely Great Uncle Les treated the family to a lovely Christmas break back in 1986) helped to warm us up on a very chilly day before we headed back to the car. A scan offshore on the walk back gave distant views of flyby red throated divers and great crested grebes but none were close to shore. A further scan of the marsh gave some closer views of the white fronted geese but still no bean geese but a female marsh harrier flying over was a nice bonus as it spooked unseen snipe from the ditches.

Marsh Harrier

We moved on to Snape Maltings for some lunch and while Mum and David looked around the shops I took a walk along the river, seeing a kingfisher, 2 little grebes, a little egret and another female marsh harrier. A very large looking female peregrine flew over on a hunting mission, spooking all the birds on the mudflats before being lost from sight but a short while later it flew over again carrying what looked like a redshank in its talons.

That evening we had a nice meal out at Prezzos in Stowmarket with my nephew Jack and my "Uncle" John (my Dads cousin so technically my second cousin) and the next morning it was bright and sunny and frosty again (although it did cloud over later) and so we headed off to Dunwich to visit Dingle Marshes, another RSPB reserve I haven't visited before and which was free to visit and with free parking.

Dingle Marsh, Dunwich

On arriving at the beach car park I headed up the shingle beach to view the sea and immediately found the wintering flock of sea duck offshore, around 2000+ common scoter, but without my telescope I could only find an immature male eider amongst them (no reported velvet scoter, scaup or long tailed ducks). A few distant red throated divers were seen flying past but a lone female common scoter was resting on the sea quite close to shore.

 Scoter Raft, Dunwich

 Female Common Scoter

Common Scoter

The wind was bitingly cold despite the sunshine and Mum and David had soon had enough and I didn't want to push my luck so despite a very distant view of a great white egret flying over the reed beds we started to head off to nearby Yoxford for lunch at Mums friends cafe and a look around antiques shops for David. However Mum surprisingly suggested I stay at Dunwich and she would pick me up later and so I leapt at her suggestion and was very glad I did as I had an amazing walk around the marsh.

I headed off up the beach, seeing a male sparrowhawk perched on a fence post out of the wind as I began my walk. A small flock of finches flew up from the path in front of me, spooked by a flyover carrion crow, and I dismissed them as linnet. However on getting closer to where they had settled I quickly realised they were in fact twite, a very nice surprise - yellow bills, pink rumps of some of the males in flight and a lovely twittering call all noted but they were active and mobile and flighty and eventually flew off and out of sight.

 Twite

 Twite

Twite

My attentions however were soon taken over by 4 snow buntings feeding amongst the pebbles, I almost stood on them as they were so tame and I had some lovely close views of them feeding on seeds along the beach.

 Snow Buntings

 Snow Bunting - well camouflaged

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

I carried on along the beach, eventually reaching some open pools where I watched shoveler, teal, gadwall, mallard, wigeon, shelduck, redshank, snipe, a curlew, a dunlin, grey heron, little egret and a very smart looking water pipit but best of all was getting some great views of the great white egret feeding around the pool edges looking very large compared to the little egrets and with a lovely all yellow bill and black feet.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret

Great White Egret

Great White Egret

Great White Egret

Time was ticking on and I headed back to the car park to meet Mum but unfortunately I was a little late - I hadn't realised how far I had walked and walking along the shingle beach was hard going. I also had various avian distractions along the way - a pair of marsh harriers taking it in turns to be mobbed by carrion crows and lovely views of a flyby bittern along with more views of the 4 snow buntings feeding with linnets and skylarks. Unfortunately I couldn't refind the twite but never mind.

Arriving back at the car park late I found Mum waiting but I had a quick look at the scoter flock again and thought I had a brief flight view of a velvet scoter with some common scoters - a brief flash of what I think were white wing patches before the bird turned and flew directly towards me and then splashed down on the sea and was lost from sight.

We headed back to Yoxford to have tea and cake in the G and T cafe run by Mums friends - I had homemade cauliflower and courgette cake which was very tasty - and we picked up David from the antiques shop where he had bought some silver candle holders before we headed back to Ipswich for dinner at The Beagle with Dad after what had been an amazing days birding.

And so all in all it had been a very pleasant if tiring trip with some good bird sightings along the way and a nice break before the horrors of Christmas fully kick in.




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