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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

2022 Western Palearctic Trips (1 Viewer)

8 May 2022

My companions tolerated a very early start. We were away from the hotel before 5.00am. Our back up California Quail sites were the Aghione area with sightings in 2021 and up to February 2022 (as at the date of our trip) – park about 42.112995 9.399046 & walk NNE along roads/paths to areas around 42.1167 9.40279 – and the Samuleto area with sightings up to at least August 2021 – around 42.098489 9.430065. But first, we were heading to Linguizetta. This was the hot tip site recommended by Valentin. En route, a Barn Owl was an addition to the trip list.

At around 5.30am, we parked up around 42.1666794 9.5432765. In the half light, the backdrop of birds included two Scops Owls and Nightjar as well as a Cuckoo and at least four Nightingales. An excellent soundtrack. It took us an hour to find a California Quail – shortly before Valentin kindly joined us – but then the floodgates opened. We saw around ten in total including a covey that crossed the road. It did look quite nice on the other side. 😊

The journey was pretty birdy. Five Red-crested Pochard in flight as well as Purple Heron and Squacco Heron were well received. A harrier was too brief for identification. Warblers included a couple of Moltoni’s as well as Great Reed, two Wood and Icterine Warblers. A couple of Serins jingled away. But the other highlight was our first attempt to tackle the local ‘Spotted Flycatchers’. After quite a bit of headscratching and expert assistance from Valentin, we settled upon both being Mediterranean Flycatchers. We would be staring at more during the balance of the trip. After around two hours, 38 species had been recorded. A cracking start to the day.

We headed on to Dunes de Prunete to enjoy some further birding around twenty kilometres further up the coast. On getting out of the car, another flycatcher was deemed a Spotted as was another further down the track. I was not finding these easy and wanted at some point to observe a singing Mediterranean Flycatcher to put my mind at rest…

At least four Nightingales added the musical backdrop as they did in a number of places on the coast during the break. As we walked down the reed filled ditch from the car to the coast, Little Grebe, breeding Coot, Red-crested Pochard, Common Sandpiper and Reed and Cetti’s Warblers were in evidence.

With our very early start and needing a break to refresh, we were only on site for an hour and a half and joined the vismig watch point for around an hour but the variety and scale of birds seen was beyond impressive. The combined full day totals of the volunteers can be found here… [Trektellen.org] - Migration counts & captures Extraordinary.

Over head during the period that we were there, I noted around 400 Swifts amongst which I recorded two Pallids and an Alpine. Of around eighty harriers, I recorded two Pallids and twenty Montagu’s with the balance being Marsh Harriers. Of around twenty five falcons, I recorded two Red-footed Falcons and two Lesser Kestrels with the balance being Common Kestrels. In addition, four European Honey Buzzards, Common Buzzard and four Red and single Black Kites brought the total raptors recorded well into three figures of ten species. About four hundred hirundines were made up mainly of Swallows but with around fifty each of both House and Sand Martins. Other birds noted moving north included five Grey Herons, forty Yellow Wagtails, thirty Bee-eaters, two Cuckoos and a Golden Oriole.

The majority of birds were observed when facing inland but some of the falcons passed behind us going along the shoreline or over the sea and when you turned and looked in that direction, there were more delights. I noted twenty Scopoli’s and four Yelkouan Shearwaters in addition to a single Ruff. Other birds I recorded included single Pheasant, Sardinian Warbler and Corn Bunting. Around fifty species in total but over a thousand individual birds was certainly the busiest migration of its nature that I had experienced. 😊 It would have been nice to have given it longer but sadly the nature of such a break rarely affords such opportunities.

Attached:-
1. California Quails crossing the road - who knows why...?
2. My companions ignoring a California Quail
3. The California Quail they ignored...
4. California Quail maybe showing too well :)
5. Great Reed Warbler
6. Icterine Warbler
7. Mediterranean Flycatcher - puzzling, puzzling, puzzling
8. Spotted Flycatcher
9. Red Kite
10. Red-crested Pochard
11. Female Common Kestrel
12. Male Common Kestrel
13. Female Lesser Kestrel
14. Red-footed Falcon
15. Female Montagu's Harrier
16. Male Montagu's Harrier
17 & 18. Honey Buzzards with accompanying Hooded Crow
 

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We headed further north along the coast and found a restaurant for a cold drink and lunch. After lunch, we birded further north along the coastal strip of L’Etang de Biguglia from 2.00pm. We started at the north end and travelled south along the coast stopping on several occasions finishing at a coastal site not far from Bastia Airport. Again, the quality and the variety of the birding really impressed. A Great Crested Grebe and four Audouin’s Gulls were additions. Marsh Harriers were again in numbers and two Montagu’s Harriers were seen as well as another Honey Buzzard. Two Lesser Kestrels and six Red-footed Falcons were seen in addition to Common Kestrel. Apparent migrant passerines included Golden Oriole, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Icterine Warbler, Redstart, two Northern Wheatears and sixty Yellow Wagtails. Another Great Reed Warbler and our only Zitting Cisticola were to be expected and we recorded our first Hoopoe. In all, we recorded forty species.

En route back to the hotel, we decided to try the valley at Asco. I confess that I found the driving here quite challenging to say the least. Single passing places & significant drops. (On one occasion, a car was at the bottom of one of those drops & I was rather keen not to be the next victim.….!) We gave it our best crack getting as far as the village itself at 5.45pm but no sign of the Lammergeiers that were the target when we stopped or during our journey. A relatively limited species list resulted and the only notable was at least twenty Crag Martin.

We were back at our hotel at 7.30pm for another very civilised evening in excellent surroundings.

Attached:-
19. Marsh Harrier
20. Wheatear
21. Western Yellow Wagtail & Tree Sparrows
22. Spotted Flycatcher
23. Italian Sparrow
24. Golden Oriole
25 to 28. Red-footed Falcons
 

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9 May 2022

The day started at the hotel at 6.30am. The habitat there was excellent and a female Sparrowhawk and Serin were noted. We were under way by 6.45am and at Fort de Pasciola by 7.00am. In the best part of two hours, we had at least five Moltoni’s and four Marmora’s Warblers as well as two Corsican Finch. Other birds included Firecrest, Blue Rock Thrush, Stonechat & Wheatear. All of this was against some absolutely spectacular scenery.

We then returned to the hotel for a rather classy breakfast. An hour or so around the hotel after breakfast included Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Sardinian and two Moltoni’s Warblers, Serin and Cirl Bunting. However, the prize was a couple of Dippers on the fast moving stream below the swimming pool against a fabulous montane backdrop.

Today we were concentrating on inland sites again. A Hoopoe was picked up as we got underway at around 10.45am. A stop in Corte shortly afterwards led me to spend some time with the Sparrows. Amongst a group around the sports centre, at least one bird showed Spanish Sparrow influence with heavy black streaking extending down the flanks and another showed House Sparrow influence with significant grey in the crown. A confusing bunch! I probably tested my companions’ patience with such interest. There was little more to be seen save for the continuing presence of Red Kites overhead and Serins and Spotless Starlings amongst the urban backdrop.

Attached:-
1. Buzzard
2. Blackcap
3. Great Tit
4. Chaffinch
5. Cirl Bunting
6 & 7. Marmora's Warblers
8. Citril Finch
9. Red Kite over Fort de Pasciola
10. Dipper
11. Moltoni's Warbler
12. Red Kite
13. Serin
14. Spotless Starling
15. Italian Sparrow showing House Sparrow influence
16. Presumed female Italian Sparrow
17. Italian Sparrow
 

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We headed on to Gorges de la Restonica arriving at 11.35am. We spent over three hours working the valley stopping at various points and birding. For once, it did not prove very successful. Some nice views of Treecreepers and a Firecrest, a couple of Corsican Finches at the top of the valley and four Alpine Choughs dancing along the ridge were the highlights but Corsican Nuthatches were challenging to say the least with a single heard bird that eluded me my only record. We decided to cut our losses and head back to Col de Sorba.

We arrived at Col de Sorba at 3.35pm and spent three hours there. A similar mix of species to our first visit two days before included finding both Corsican Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker nests. The last hour was spent simply sitting quietly and watching the pair of Nuthatches come and go about their business. It was a lovely way to spend the last afternoon on what had been a trip that exceeded my expectations. You are never sure that you will see your targets and even then whether you may simply get glimpses. You can always be unlucky. So to actually get the opportunity to spend some time at our leisure felt like a privilege. 😊

We had some daylight left so decided to pop in again to the meadow further down the hill. However, as we rounded the second bend as we headed downhill, I picked up a flycatcher. A quick stop and walking back revealed a pair of Mediterranean Flycatchers. On this occasion we got a chance to hear a bird singing and a pair inland on territory with song felt a good way to be sure that we were on solid ground on this subtle species. Indeed, the Corsican birds are the less distinctive tyrrhenica and I do plan to pick up the more distinctive balearica subspecies at some point… A Corsican Nuthatch was heard here as well and Treecreepers seen.

We popped into the meadow at around 7.00pm and a quick stop produced Wryneck, two Woodlarks, Wheatear, a pair of Corsican Crossbills and two Corsican Finches. Real quality but over too soon. We were due back quite early the next morning so we headed back and spent our last night in our lovely surroundings at Hotel e Caselle.

Attached:-
18. Coal Tit
19 & 20. Treecreeper
21. Crag Martin
22. Citril Finch
23. Gorges de la Restonica
24. Great Spotted Woodpecker
25 to 32. Corsican Nuthatches at nest hole
33 & 34. Mediterranean Flycatchers
35. Woodlark
36 & 37. Corsican Crossbill
 

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10 May 2022

Up early and checking out, a few birds were recorded as we left the hotel with Wryneck, Cirl Bunting and Serin part of the backdrop. As we descended out of the mountains, the usual Red Kites were overhead despite the early hour. We had decided if time permitted to grab some quick birding around the coastal fields at the south end of L’Etang de Biguglia and arrived there at 8.25am for a final hour’s birding before we were due at the airport.

It was a quality final hour. Signs of migration included our first Turtle Dove, three Honey Buzzards, fifty Bee-eaters, our first Roller and eight Red-footed Falcons. A kaleidoscope of colour and experiences. Passerines included Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat and twenty Western Yellow Wagtails. In the distance, over a corner of the wetland, three Red-crested Pochards flew through. All of this was against the soundtrack of Cuckoo and Nightingale once again and the buzz of hirundines. But it was then time to call it a day and head to the airport.

As we dropped the hire car off, some of the Sparrows revealed Spanish influence with heavy flank streaking. Extraordinarily though the trip list wasn’t over and our first Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler were recorded as we headed across the car park as well as another Wood Warbler. Everything went smoothly for our 12.20pm flight and we arrived back at 1.40pm British time. My next trip would be a little different. A good friend had been unable to get away yet. I was due away again but with no targets at all…

Attached:-
1. House Martins
2. Swallow
3. Western Yellow Wagtail
4. Whinchat
5. Spotted Flycatcher
6 to 11. Bee-eaters
12. Dark Honey Buzzard
13. Pale Honey Buzzard
14. Red-footed Falcon
15. Roller
16. Goldfinch
17 to 20. Italian Sparrows with apparent Spanish influence....
 

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Corsican Species List

1. Red-crested Pochard – three sightings on the coast in wetland habitat
2. California Quail – around ten at Linguizetta site on 8th May
3. Common Pheasant – single heard at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
4. Red-legged Partridge – two at the meadow below Col de Sorba on 7th May
5. Little Grebe – single at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
6. Great Crested Grebe – single at L'Etang de Biguglia on 8th May
7. Feral Pigeons – sightings in urban areas
8. Common Woodpigeon – relatively widespread
9. European Turtle Dove – single on the coast near Bastia airport on 10th May
10. Collared Dove – widespread
11. Common Cuckoo – commonly heard – around ten in six checklists
12. Eurasian Nightjar – single heard at Linguizetta California Quail site on 8th May
13. Alpine Swift – single at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
14. Common Swift – very widespread in numbers
15. Pallid Swift – two at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
16. Common Moorhen – single at Linguizetta California Quail site on 8th May
17. Eurasian Coot – three at Dunes de Prunete & 100 at L’Etang de Biguglia on 8th May
18. Ruff – single at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
19. Common Sandpiper – single at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
20. Audouin's Gull – four at L'Etang de Biguglia on 8th May
21. Yellow-legged Gull – widespread
22. Lesser Black-backed Gull – single at Linguizetta California Quail site on 8th May
23. Scopoli's Shearwater – twenty offshore at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
24. Yelkouan Shearwater – four offshore at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
25. Great Cormorant – single at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
26. Grey Heron – six at Linguizetta California Quail site and five at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
27. Purple Heron – single at Linguizetta California Quail site on 8th May
28. Squacco Heron – single at Linguizetta California Quail site on 8th May
29. European Honey-buzzard – a total of eight seen on the coast with five on 8th May & three on 10th May
30. Golden Eagle – single at Col de Sorba on 7th May
31. Western Marsh Harrier – around 80 seen along the coastal strip on 8th & 10th May
32. Pallid Harrier – two at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
33. Montagu's Harrier – around twenty two seen along the coastal strip on 8th May
34. Eurasian Sparrowhawk – two sightings of singles
35. Red Kite – commonly encountered with more than seventy seen including on most journeys
36. Black Kite – two singles along the coastal strip on 8th May
37. Common Buzzard – commonly encountered in small numbers normally as singles with more than ten seen
38. Barn Owl – single seen en route to the coast on 8th May
39. Eurasian Scops Owl – at least two heard at the Linguizetta California Quail site on 8th May
40. Eurasian Hoopoe – two singles seen – one on 8th & one on 9th May
41. European Bee-eater – over two hundred seen along the coastal strip on 8th & 10th May
42. European Roller – single seen near the airport on 10th May
43. Eurasian Wryneck – two singles – one on 9th & one on 10th May
44. Great Spotted Woodpecker – commonly encountered
45. Lesser Kestrel 08 May – two at Dunes de Prunete & two in the coastal strip near the airport – both on 8th May
46. Common Kestrel – commonly encountered with more than forty seen
47. Red-footed Falcon – two at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May & six on 8th May & eight on 10th May at site in coastal strip near the airport
48. Eurasian Golden Oriole – singles at Dunes de Prunete & L’Etang de Biguglia – both on 8th May
49. Eurasian Jay – commonly encountered
50. Alpine Chough – four recorded at the top of Gorges de la Restonica on 9th May
51. Eurasian Jackdaw – three at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
52. Hooded Crow – very commonly encountered
53. Common Raven – commonly encountered with more than ten individuals
54. Coal Tit – commonly encountered in coniferous areas inland
55. Eurasian Blue Tit – commonly encountered inland
56. Great Tit – very commonly encountered
57. Woodlark – two seen at the meadow below Col de Sorba on both 7th & 9th May
58. Zitting Cisticola – single at L'Etang de Biguglia on 8th May
59. Icterine Warbler – two at Linguizetta California Quail site & single at L’Etang de Biguglia – both on 8th May
60. Sedge Warbler – single at Bastia Airport on 10th May
61. Eurasian Reed Warbler – single at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
62. Great Reed Warbler – singles at Linguizetta California Quail site & at L’Etang de Biguglia – both on 8th May
63. Sand Martin – over eighty along the coastal strip on both 8th & 10th May
64. Eurasian Crag Martin – over thirty seen inland at five different sites
65. Barn Swallow – very commonly encountered in large numbers in coastal strip
66. Common House Martin – very commonly encountered
67. Wood Warbler – two at Linguizetta California Quail site on 8th May & single at Bastia Airport on 10th May
68. Common Chiffchaff – single at Bastia Airport on 10th May
69. Cetti's Warbler – at least seven heard along the coastal strip
70. Long-tailed Tit – only singles at Hotel e Caselle & near Col de Sorba – both on 9th May – presumably as during breeding season when more elusive
71. Eurasian Blackcap – commonly encountered
72. Garden Warbler – single at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
73. Sardinian Warbler – three singles recorded
74. Moltoni's Warbler – around ten recorded on both visits to Ruines du Fortin de Pasciola, the Linguizetta California quail site & Hotel e Caselle – so presumably pretty widespread in vegetated habitats
75. Common Whitethroat – two singles recorded
76. Marmora's Warbler – half a dozen recorded – single at Col de Sorba on 7th May & otherwise at Ruines du Fortin de Pasciola on both 7th & 9th May
77. Goldcrest – recorded on both visits to Col de Sorba on 7th & 9th May
78. Common Firecrest – three singles recorded – Ruines du Fortin de Pasciola, Gorges de la Restonica & near Col de Sorba – all on 9th May
79. Corsican Nuthatch – four recorded at Col de Sorba on both 7th & 9th May & heard at Gorges de la Restonica & below Col de Sorba – both on 9th May
80. Eurasian Treecreeper – two at Gorges de la Restonica & two in pines below Col de Sorba – both on 9th May
81. Eurasian Wren – recorded on four occasions
82. White-throated Dipper – two on the stream at Hotel e Caselle on 9th May
83. Spotless Starling – very commonly encountered
84. Mistle Thrush – recorded on three occasions
85. Eurasian Blackbird – very widespread & commonly encountered
86. Spotted Flycatcher – four recorded along the coastal strip on 8th & 10th May
87. Mediterranean Flycatcher – two at Linguizetta California Quail site on 8th May & a pair including a singing bird in pines below Col de Sorba on 9th May
88. European Robin – commonly encountered
89. Common Nightingale – ten recorded along the coastal strip on 8th & 10th May – always an excellent soundtrack
90. European Pied Flycatcher – single at L'Etang de Biguglia on 8th May
91. Common Redstart – single at site in coastal strip near airport on 8th May
92. Blue Rock Thrush – singles at Ruines du Fortin de Pasciola on both 7th & 9th May
93. Whinchat – singles at Linguizetta California Quail site on 8th May & a site near airport on 10th May
94. European Stonechat – two singles recorded both inland – one on 7th & one on 9th May
95. Northern Wheatear – three singles recorded – one on coast & two inland
96. Italian Sparrow – at least forty recorded in total in urban situations mainly with birds showing hybrid influence of House Sparrow & Spanish Sparrow at Corte on 9th May & influence of Spanish Sparrow at airport on 10th May
97. Eurasian Tree Sparrow – two recorded on coastal strip near airport on both 8th & 10th May
98. Grey Wagtail – commonly encountered inland
99. Western Yellow Wagtail – around 120 recorded in the coastal strip on 8th & 10th May
100. Common Chaffinch – very commonly encountered inland
101. European Greenfinch – commonly encountered
102. Common Crossbill – six at Col de Sorba on 7th May & two at meadow below Col de Sorba on 9th May
103. European Goldfinch – commonly encountered
104. Corsican Finch – single at Col de Sorba & ten at the meadow below Col de Sorba noth on 7th May & two at each of Ruines du Fortin de Pasciola, Gorges de la Restonica & the meadow below Col de Sorba on 9th May
105. European Serin – commonly encountered
106. Corn Bunting – single at Dunes de Prunete on 8th May
107. Cirl Bunting – very commonly encountered

Also recorded by my travelling companions were Tree Pipit and Peregrine.

So I was due away again in a little over a week for a different trip. This time to Latvia. It was simply a short planned recreational trip with one of my travelling companions from this trip and another friend who had not been away yet this year. That forthcoming trip had no targets but we hoped to enjoy some migration watching in a country that we had all visited before....
 
18 May

Latvia was a country with which we were familiar but no more so than Cafe birder who had almost lost count of his visits. We tried to tally the number as we chatted en route. 😊 He was not quite in double figures. We had last been away together in February 2020 just before the pandemic curtailed travel. We were joined by our good friend with whom I had also travelled to Corsica and Cyprus this year. The three of us were due off together again in June to Tenerife and Gran Canaria. I then had a gap in the Calendar for the main moth trapping season and to avoid the increased costs and chaos of school holiday travel.

My main previous Latvian visit had been when seven of us including Cafe birder had travelled there between 15th and 19th May 2009. We travelled quite extensively and recorded 177 species. This was a far far less ambitious trip. (Café birder and I had also done a very short Estonia trip via Riga in 2015.) Flights were arranged through Wizz Air and car rental through Rentalcars.com. Accommodation was arranged at a flat in Kolka for five nights through Booking.com. We expected this to be a two bedroom flat that slept a maximum of six adults from the booking confirmation. We were in for a surprise.😊

We headed out from Luton Airport on the 06.50am flight arriving at Riga Airport at 11.30am. We were soon picking up the rental car with the usual rigmarole. On previous visits through Riga Airport, I had recorded Thrush Nightingale and Common Rosefinch but on this occasion, it was less exotic. Hooded Crows and White Wagtails are the default and other than the usual, a pair of Wheatear and some singing Skylark were perhaps the most noteworthy. We set off en route to Kolka with a few species along the way adding to the trip list. We stopped at a café at Smardes Krogs for lunch. In the thirteen years since our first visit, Latvia seemed more prepared for visitors. Our first visit had included heading out to the east of the country.

Our first White Stork of the trip and our first Tree Sparrow were noted.

We stopped to check the Kemeri Centre Boardwalk. I had fond memories of this site from 2009 and all three of us had ticked species here in the past. We arrived at 2.15pm which was not the ideal time of day. Nevertheless, we found a pair of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers visiting a nest hole and nearby, there was a Wryneck. A Black Stork circled overhead across a clearing in the canopy and the woods buzzed with Wood Warblers, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers and Redstart. After an early start, it was good to be among the birds in habitat.

After an hour and a half, we decided to head over the road to carry on our woodpecker search. We were fully aware of the limitations. You would want to be earlier in the year and earlier in the day for better returns. However, we still had a Black Woodpecker crossing the track and the more distant drumming of a Three-toed Woodpecker. A Downy Emerald and a Camberwell Beauty rounded off a brief 25 minute stop before we headed on again towards Kolka.

During the journey north we added more species with a couple of Common Sandpipers, another four White Storks, female Sparrowhawk and a couple of Whinchats. In addition, we had a roadside colony of Great White Egrets. This species has transformed its status in Latvia since our first visit in 2009 as it has done elsewhere. It has pushed westwards and exploded its population!

We arrived in Kolka at 6.15pm. Our accommodation proved to be a one bedroom flat on the second floor of a block at 57.745730 22.591583. There was one bed but the other sleeping arrangements depended on a sofa bed and armchair beds in the living room. The capacity of six adults depended on two in the one bed, two in the sofa bed and the two armchair beds. There was also no central heating. This proved to be a challenge as we were in for a wet few days so drying off everything after birding proved a challenge! That said, we had paid £325 for five nights and we did have three windows looking out towards the point at some height and across some allotments. It was a superb location.

We grabbed some birding that night. A selection of duck included three Greater Scaup, ten Common Scoter, twenty Long-tailed Duck, four Goosander and twenty Red-breasted Merganser on a glassy sea. An Arctic Skua hassled the local Sandwich Terns and gulls and at least ten Black-throated Divers added to the northern backdrop. Passerines were thin on the ground with the later hour but a Black Redstart sang as we brought a long day to an end. We grabbed some provisions to cover some evening food and breakfast. We would see what tomorrow would bring after a quick local beer…

Attached:-
1. Black Stork
2. Wryneck
3. Wood Warbler
4 & 5. Middle Spotted Woodpecker
6. Downy Emerald
7. Camberwell Beauty
8. Great White Egret
 

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Very nice reports !
You were lucky to have a great migration day at Prunete, last year was in general a very good year for spring migration in Corsica (although it was very dry and many good places for waders and herons in Cap Corse had no water). We had a big influx of Collared Flycatchers in April and then an Icterine Warbler influx when you arrived in May :)

We'll see what spring 2023 brings us !
 
19 May

A trip of this nature is clearly a bit of a lottery. Your returns depend upon the weather conditions but the reality was that we were hopeful of plenty of birds of interest irrespective of that. We were determined to give it our best shot. The alarm was set for us to be out at dawn. Both my fellow travellers had spent time at Kolka previously. They were familiar with where they had found birds previously. However, it was all going to be new for me.

We were out around 5.45am and in slightly over two hours, we recorded about fifty species. We were mainly checking the bushes and ditches. The prizes were a Bluethroat and a Red-breasted Flycatcher. In addition, we had the three common hirundines and five species of common warbler as well as Pied Flycatcher, two Redstarts and two Common Rosefinches. Overhead, we had Tree Pipits as well as both White and Yellow Wagtails. Ten Bullfinches perhaps suggested some movement as perhaps did the Siskins, Hawfinches and Yellowhammers but again, all could easily have been residents. Numbers fluctuated day by day depending on the conditions with the species mix varying. The sea produced both Mute and Whooper Swans, Great Crested Grebe and around twenty Black-throated Divers, three Greater Scaup, a couple of Velvet & forty Common Scoter, two Goosander, a Red-breasted Merganser and the spectacle of two hundred Long-tailed Duck. In this pre-breakfast period, our only raptors were a Kestrel and two Hobbies. It had been a good solid morning’s birding. A start. But it was not really a moving day.

From the flat windows over breakfast, the birding continued. In the allotments below the windows, a male Red-backed Shrike, a Serin and three Rosefinches were the highlights. Notwithstanding its challenges, the accommodation certainly had its advantages.😊

After breakfast, from 9.40am, we decided to spend some time at the tower at 57.757330, 22.591932. Again, the sea was quite busy with Arctic Skuas, Sandwich Terns and Black-throated Divers in addition to a selection of the same wildfowl plus on this occasion four Greylag Geese and a drake Eider. Mainly, we were looking inland. A Golden Oriole was new for the trip but the main focus was not passerines. The hope was for some raptor passage. In under two hours, over 50 raptors of ten species were seen. The bulk of these were about twenty each of Sparrowhawk and Common Buzzard, four Kestrels and two Marsh Harriers. However, in addition, we had Osprey, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Honey Buzzard, an adult White-tailed Eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard and a Hobby. It was pretty cold and there was little sign of active migration. Decent variety for a quiet day.

We decided to spend the afternoon visiting sites to the south. So at 12.15pm, we stopped to check a triangular area of land that had proven to be good for Cranes in previous years. Imaginatively, Cafe birder had christened this The Triangle many years before. The quality birds continued in a 45 minute stop and did indeed include 14 Common Cranes. Green Sandpiper was new for the trip list as was a Black Kite (alongside another Osprey and Lesser Spotted Eagle). Wryneck, Golden Oriole, three Whinchats, two Wheatears and a Rosefinch reinforced the birdy feel. Two Ravens were also new for the trip.

Attached:-
1. Scaup
2 & 3. Black-throated Divers
4. Red-breasted Flycatcher
5. Common Rosefinch
6. Mute Swans
7. White Wagtail
8. Arctic Skua
9. Sparrowhawk
10 & 11. Marsh Harriers
12. Hobby
13 & 14. Honey Buzzard
15. Green Sandpiper
16. Raven
17 & 18. Common Cranes
19. Lesser Spotted Eagle
 

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Continuing to head south, we stopped in Roja in the hope of finding a restaurant for lunch. Finding one that was open proved futile. It seemed that the early season and perhaps a continuing hangover from the effects of the pandemic were limiting options. Whilst grabbing a coffee, a Common Tern was the first of the trip and another Hobby, Black Redstart and Serin were recorded. We continued south noting a couple of White Stork en route and after a couple of failed attempts, we did indeed find somewhere to grab some lunch.

Fully replenished, the afternoon’s birding started at Mersrags at 3.00pm centred on the tower and coast around 57.344418, 23.124964. We spent around two hours on site. Our wildfowl list increased with ten Shelduck, a drake Garganey and five Gadwall. Seven species of wader included a Whimbrel and two Greenshank. Ten Great White Egrets reinforced their changed now common status and we were treated to another White-tailed Eagle, this time an immature.

I was lost for about thirty minutes sitting on the beach simply enjoying the Little and Common Terns feeding in the surf.

The main target was Citrine Wagtail. We found both a male and a female. Blue-headed Wagtails are far more numerous at the site and some of the males were maginificent.

Sedge and Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings were unsurprising in the reedbeds. Hawfinches and Serin reinforced their common status. Spotted and two Pied Flycatchers and a Whinchat added to the backdrop. An excellent site but it was time to move on.

Lake Engures is very large and there are a number of access points – some of which have deteriorated over the years since I last visited. Again, Cafe birder was familiar with the changes to the site over those years. My last visit here had been in 2009 on exactly the same date. Jason Williams had called a Cattle Egret and I had been the second person to put my bins on this first for Latvia. A small Latvian twitch had ensued. It is only when typing this trip report that I had noticed that we were visiting exactly thirteen years later. It was not a deliberate pilgrimage.😊

Today we had a window simply to visit the north end and a quick trip down the west side of the lake where we were most likely to find any lingering wintering geese if they were still around. We did not have particularly high hopes as the mild conditions had reduced wintering birds. The current conditions were also holding back spring migration. As a result, relatively it was proving relatively quiet despite the fantastic variety that we were encountering.

We arrived at the tower at 57.317585, 23.090051 after 5.00pm. The main wildfowl here were Greylag Geese (including several broods of goslings) and Mute Swans. In addition to the existing trip wildfowl, there were eight Tufted Duck, two Pochard & two Goldeneye. Our highlights were a couple of Little Gulls amongst at least 400 Black-headed Gulls, Bittern, Hoopoe, a male Bearded Tit and Savi’s Warbler. An adult White-tailed Eagle was keeping everything lively as were a couple of Marsh Harriers.

After around an hour, we continued along the northern and western edge stopping at some roadside pools at around 57.288762 23.059534 and then onto the location of a former tower at 57.271072 23.075309. Another collection of highlights were gathered – a drake Garganey, three Wood Sandpipers with a couple of Lapwing, three more Bitterns, Great Reed Warbler, another Savi’s Warbler and a Thrush Nightingale blasting away. Yet again a White-tailed Eagle (this time an immature) and another couple of Marsh Harriers were keeping everything on their toes. After another hour, we started heading back.

During the journeys, a few White Storks and a Woodlark were good to see but the best incidental bird was a Capercallie at the roadside just north of Roja at 8.15pm as we drove back in the evening. A quick check reveals that was my 132nd species of the trip in just under two days. A good return. We grabbed some provisions and returned to the flat to prepare something to eat, have a few beers and get some kip. We would be out again at dawn. We were determined to make the best of the three days left.

Attached:-
20. Great White Egret
21 to 24. Common Tern
25 to 29. Little Tern
30. Hawfinch
31. Blue-headed Wagtail
32 & 33. Citrine Wagtail (male)
34. Citrine Wagtail (female)
35. White Stork
36. Common Cranes
37 & 38. White-tailed Eagle
39. Capercallie
 

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20 May

Today, we were going to get wet…. It turned out that we got very wet. Repeatedly.

We were up and out at 5.30am and doing the usual circuit around the bushes and ditches at Kolka. By now the main species mix was familiar. However, highlight this morning was an immature male Red-footed Falcon. A Merlin was also new for me for the trip. I happened upon an Eurasian Nightjar in an area that suggested that it was a grounded migrant and I flushed it twice inadvertently before losing it without picking it up on the ground. Interestingly, my only other experience of migrant Nightjars had been in Bulgaria in 2016 on a similarly wet day. (Later that year I was to see the Common Nighthawk in Oxfordshire that had also been grounded by rain.)

A Thrush Nightingale was our first at Kolka and otherwise highlights of the walk were Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike, two Icterine Warblers, Great Reed Warbler, Wood Warbler and a Common Rosefinch. We tried hard to dig out a star but we were unable to do so. This morning seemed like the morning to do it. The conditions were not easy but the bushes were alive with birds and my totals for the commoner species were ten Sedge Warblers, twenty Willow Warblers, ten Chiffchaffs, thirty Blackcaps, fifty Garden Warblers, fifty Lesser Whitethroats, ten Whitethroats, ten Spotted Flycatchers, six Pied Flycatchers, four Redstarts, fifteen Whinchat and ten Northern Wheatears. Sitting here typing this up, it is the type of morning that makes you want to go back and give it another crack. Maybe there wasn’t really something to be found but it does feel that there should have been!

Shortly before 8.00am, we headed back for a quick breakfast. From the accommodation, a Grasshopper Warbler could be heard singing from the bushes in the allotments below. We were back out again by 8.35am. A couple of Great White Egret and two Marsh Harriers overhead belied the conditions. But the next couple of hours simply reinforced the species mix from the morning. Around 10.30am, we were back at the flat trying to find the most ingenuous ways to get any heat to try and dry off damp clothes, coats and boots… It wasn’t easy and a rota system using the stove and one towel rail in the bathroom was all that we could muster.

During the heaviest rain over the next three hours, we used the flat windows as a hide to watch the birds migrating through the allotments below. Highlights included a Sandwich Tern cutting the corner of the point and presumably the same two Great White Egrets from earlier still wandering around in the low cloud and rain. We did see Great White Egrets migrating through the point and out across the Baltic on another day. Female Red-backed Shrike, female Pied Flycatcher, both male and female Common Rosefinches, Cuckoo, a couple of Redwing and Spotted Flycatcher moved through the bushes below. A Crested Tit and a Black Redstart were presumably just wandering local birds albeit we had seen more Black Redstarts than previous days. However, the main point of interest was a succession of chats hoping through the allotments apparently grounded and breaking up their migration and our minimum counts were fifteen Whinchat, six Northern Wheatears and four Redstarts.

By 1.30pm, our clothes and boots were simply damp rather than sodden and so we decided to give things another crack. In the murk, some Goldeneyes were close inshore with a group of twenty plus a Common Scoter, Goosander and two Red-breasted Merganser. A check of the woods produced a couple of Willow Tit (no doubt residents) as well as four Crested Tits. Checking the bushes where we had previously seen the Red-breasted Flycatcher revealed two to be present. But scanning my checklist from the afternoon, the only different variety from the morning and the only really noteworthy thing was an additional reasonable number of finches in the afternoon walk with two hundred Chaffinch and thirty Crossbills. Around 5.30pm, we headed back to the flat very wet again but satisfied that we had given things our best crack. My last bird noted in the day was adding Serin to the flat list at 6.00pm. I have little doubt that by then my Latvian flat list had beaten my twenty year garden list at home….

The birding had been good if damp and days like today do rather appeal to my sado-masochistic tendencies that occasionally it feels good to work hard for your birds. 😊 All my pictures from the day – and there weren’t many – were grey, dark and grainy.

Attached:-
1. Linnet (female)
2. Great White Egret
3. Spotted Flycatcher
4. Pied Flycatcher (male)
5. Whinchat (female)
6 & 7. Redstart (female)
8. Black Redstart (male)
9. Wheatear (male)
10. Whinchat (male)
11. Whinchat (female)
12. Common Rosefinch (male)
13. Red-backed Shrike (female)
14. Common Scoter (male)
15. Goldeneyes (mixed)
16. Lesser Whitethroat (male)
17. Redstart (male)
18. Blackcap (male)
 

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21 May

We were up and out at 5.15am for the usual circuit. A strong morning’s birding revealed the usual species mix including a couple of Common Scoter, thirty Long-tailed Duck, Merlin, Woodlark, Treecreeper, Thrush Nightingale, three Common Rosefinches, thirty Crossbills and Serin amongst slightly less than fifty species. We walked a little further this morning to visit a Ural Owl nest in the woods nearer the point. I did not take any GPS co-ordinates and with the caution that is needed to limit the risk of any disturbance generally, I would not have shared them if I did. But in any event, it is not really a site that you would visit for the species and there are others available to do so with research and local Latvian contacts. A couple of tail feathers as the bird shuffled were enough for a year tick. I had ticked the species on 16th May 2009 when Andris Avotins allowed us to accompany him in Teici Nature Reserve in eastern Latvia whilst he undertook his usual monitoring of Ural Owl nestboxes. On that occasion we had seen two female Ural Owls and a chick as he fearlessly went about his business! It was remarkable as he perched at the end of his long unsupported ladder and manouevred to monitor the chicks whilst keeping one eye on the adult. Quite remarkable. I have also seen the species twice since in Finland (in 2012 & 2014). I suspect that my enjoyment of the Ural Owl experience some thirteen years later was therefore probably more about my imagination of the rest of the bird as I glimpsed it shuffling deep inside its natural nest crevice….

After breakfast, a quick seawatch produced twenty Velvet Scoter but it seemed today that things were relatively quiet at the point so we decided to head south. A stop at The Triangle shortly before 10am produced Black Woodpecker, two male Red-backed Shrikes, two Woodlarks, four Whinchats, Tree Pipit and two Crossbills in a walk along the road checking the meadows and forest clearings.

Again, we were getting wet today! A stop at Roja Harbour at 11.00am was quiet enough and simply produced a couple of Ringed Plover, Common and Sandwich Terns and a Wheatear. So we headed on again and stopped at the northern end of Mersrags to check the beach. A couple of Shoveler and a Teal were new for the trip list and waders included Grey Plover, 30 Ringed Plover and Whimbrel. The collection of gulls offshore included twenty Little Gulls as well as twenty Arctic Terns amongst the terns. We headed south again and stopped at Berzciems for lunch hoping for the weather to clear slightly….

Thankfully it did, so we headed back up to Lake Engures and a different tower area at around 57.271465 23.127212. This is where we had found the Cattle Egret in 2009. You park at around 57.271465 23.127212 and it is a very pleasant stroll through the woodlands so about three hours were spent on site. A lovely breeding plumaged Red-necked Grebe was an expected addition. The usual mix of wildfowl included ten Whooper Swans, a drake Garganey, twenty Shoveler, ten Gadwall, twenty Wigeon, ten Teal, twenty Pochard and two Goldeneye. A couple of Bitterns boomed from the reedbeds and a Great Reed Warbler grunted away. Not as many waders as expected but a Little Ringed Plover was a trip addition.

Raptors included a couple of Marsh Harriers and a Hobby but also our first Peregrine of the trip. Around twenty Great White Egrets seemed to be everywhere and at least ten Little Gulls were amongst a Black-headed Gull colony that must have numbered a thousand birds. The woods were busy with both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and also Icterine Warbler, Wood Warbler, Tree Pipit, Treecreeper and Goldcrest.

It had not been a trip for mammals in light of the weather restricting any evening or night driving. But around the parking area, there are a bunch of oversized Black Rabbits. I resisted photographing them but I did enjoy photographing a delightful juvenile Red Squirrel. 😊

With a couple of hours birding left in the day before the onset of heavier weather yet again, we headed back to Mersrags and on this occasion the tower area. We found a few more waders at the beach here with five Ruff, two Temminck’s Stint and a Sanderling amongst the Dunlin and Ringed Plovers. Otherwise, on this occasion, we found another Citrine Wagtail. A different female was in a mixed pair with a male Blue-headed Wagtail. This had occurred at the site before leading to hybirds with mixed characters. Yellow Wagtails being far more numerous at the site. It was certainly an interesting and thought-provoking experience.

The weather had beaten us again so we abandoned our plans for the evening and headed back to the flat. Tomorrow was our last full day all too soon and we were hoping for it to be drier!

Attached:-
1. Red-backed Shrike (male)
2. Dunlins
3. Little Gulls & Arctic Terns
4. Whimbrel
5. Spotted Flycatcher
6. Tree Pipit
7 to 10. Red Squirrel
11. Dunlins & Ringed Plovers
12. Temminck's Stint
13. Blue-headed Wagtail (male paired with female Citrine Wagtail)
14 & 15. Citrine Wagtail (female paired with male Blue-headed Wagtail)
 

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22 May

This was our last full morning at Kolka. We would be able to grab some time tomorrow morning before heading back south to the airport but we would have some time pressures.

We were out at 5.40am this morning and in a three hour wander, I recorded a checklist of 66 species. A Red-throated Diver on a day of twenty Black-throated Divers was a trip tick. In addition, we saw two Willow Tits again and revisited the Ural Owl and had a slightly better shake of its tail feathers.😊 Passerines included two Golden Orioles, Icterine Warbler, Woodlark and Thrush Nightingale. Some perched Yellow Wagtails included some nice thunbergi. It seemed a few more thrushes and finches were moving and we had twelve Fieldfares, a Brambling, twelve Hawfinch and one hundred Crossbills. We spent a pleasant half an hour or so watching two Hobbies in a woodland clearing. Their interaction and calling suggested that they were a resident pair with one eye on spring. A solid and varied morning before heading back to the flat for breakfast.

After breakfast, we went back up the tower at around 10.00am for three hours to see what we could add to the morning’s birding. Four Velvet Scoters did a flypast and a steady stream of Common Swifts and hirundines kept us amused. A total of sixteen Great White Egrets headed north out across the Baltic Sea – next stops Estonia or Finland. Otherwise, two Golden Orioles appeared to be moving including one that did an aerobatic display flying upside down as it passed. Again, the main targets were the raptors and we recorded twenty four in total of seven species. Ten Sparrowhawks, six Common Buzzards and three Marsh Harriers were the bulk of the sightings but the variety was added by two Honey Buzzards, a ringtail Hen Harrier, White-tailed Eagle and Hobby.

We then decided to head west and check out the area around Silteres Meadow around 57.6232312 22.2631232. We spent about three hours in the area from 1.45pm and the highlight were a couple of calling Corncrakes that frustrated us by remaining invisible. About fifty Common Cranes were an impressive sight and we managed the trio of Common, Green and Wood Sandpipers. We also enjoyed a Lesser Spotted Eagle mobbing a White-tailed Eagle but did not find any Golden Eagles in an area where Cafe birder had recorded them before. Three Red-backed Shrikes, four Whinchats and a couple of Tree Pipits were enjoying the meadows whilst at least six Ravens cronked overhead.

From here, we headed inland to Cirstes Gravel Pits at 57.6138561 22.4349376 where a couple of Whooper Swans, two Little Ringed Plovers and a male Red-backed Shrike were the highlights in a brief stop. We headed back to Kolka for an early dinner with a plan to enjoy a dry evening at last by heading back to Silteres Meadow and afterwards try for Pygmy Owl and Spotted Crake…..

At 8.00pm, we were back driving west along the P124 and enjoyed two Capercallies on the roadside verge. Thereafter, in an hour back at Silteres Meadow from 8.25pm, we had another twenty two Cranes, an immature White-tailed Eagle and a male Red-backed Shrike and eventually, we succeeded with our plan seeing one of the Corncrakes that had frustratingly avoided us during the afternoon.

From here, we moved on to the Cirstes Road and at a clearing around 57.6485395 22.362327, we succeeded in finding a Pygmy Owl. A couple of roding Woodcock overhead were another trip addition.

Our final stop of this evening’s excursion was the roadside marsh at 57.5890237 22.608664. We arrived at 10.30pm. The Spotted Crakes did not play ball but it was certainly an excellent site. At least three Cuckoos, three Water Rails, Green Sandpiper, Bittern, Great Reed Warbler, Savi’s Warbler and Nightjars all announced their presence. In the half light, we also saw a male Marsh Harrier, Hobby and roding Woodcocks overhead. Shortly after 11.00pm, we headed back to Kolka with the last birds of the day being two Nightjars and two Woodcocks enjoying the warmth of the road.

A swift beer back at the flat brought our last day to an end.

Attached:-
1. Hawfinches (& Spotted Flycatcher)
2. Marsh Harrier
3. Blue-headed Wagtail (female)
4. Grey-headed Wagtails
5. Common Rosefinch (male)
6. Ural Owl (tail feather only.....)
7. Common Swift
8. Herring Gull
9. Velvet Scoters
10. Hobby
11. Hen Harrier (female)
12. Honey Buzzard
13. Golden Oriole (upside down)
14. Cranes
15. Red-backed Shrike (female)
16. Yellowhammer (male)
17. White Stork
18. Red-backed Shrike (male)
19 & 20. Pygmy Owl
 

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23 May

We were up and out at 5.15am for our final walk around the bushes and ditches at Kolka. Nothing unexpected in our final selection but my checklist of fifty species included ten Long-tailed Duck, eight Black-throated Divers, a male Red-backed Shrike, two Woodlarks, Pied Flycatcher, four Redstarts, two Whinchats, twenty Yellow Wagtails, Tree Pipit and four Crossbills. However, my personal highlight was a delightful hepatic Cuckoo. I am not conscious that I had seen one before and this one showed exceptionally. A very fitting end to a good few days’ migration watching.

We were soon packed. Eventually, after the drama of leaving my phone in the flat – and retrieving the flat key from the letterbox in which we had dropped it to recover the phone – we were under way by 8.00am.

We decided to break our journey back where the trip had started at the Kemeri Centre Boardwalk at 9.30am. I did have a White-backed Woodpecker in flight but it did not play ball so I still need to photograph that species one day! The Middle Spotted Woodpeckers were still tending the nest hole that we found on the first day and the woods again abounded with Wood Warblers, Nuthatches, Treecreeper, Redstarts and Spotted and Pied Flycatchers. After a quick thirty minute break, it was sadly time to head to the airport.

We arrived back at Riga Airport at 10.45am and my final checklist of the trip records ten species as we dropped off the hire car. After a delay of around two hours, we were away and heading back. We arrived at Luton Airport mid afternoon and hit a few logistical problems again with the car park before finally hitting the M1. Surprisingly, the trip was not quite over. En route home, as we headed down the M4, the bizarre sight of a White-tailed Eagle perched up south of the M4 alongside the river near Sutton Benger was presumably an isle of Wight introduction. Our last White-tailed Eagle of the trip…

Attached:-
1. Red-backed Shrike (male)
2. Pied Flycatcher
3 & 4. Lesser Whitethroat (male)
5 to 7. Common Cuckoo (hepatic female)
8 & 9. Nuthatch
10 & 11. Middle Spotted Woodpecker
 

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