Birding on the Fly in the UK

As our train sped along between Inverness and Elgin in northern Scotland, I could see flocks of gulls and a variety of black birds. I could hardly wait to retrieve my Birds of Europe and zero in on their identities.

While this was a trip to visit relatives, not to bird, I was determined to use every opportunity to acquaint myself with the birds of the U.K. My binoculars were always with me.

Female Mute Swan

Female Mute Swan

After settling into our B&B, we headed over to use the computer at the library located at Cooper Park. The park’s pond was filled with water birds: Moorhen, Lesser Scaup, Mallards, Tufted Ducks and Mute Swans. The red beaks and legs of the gulls helped me identify them as Black-headed Gulls. In winter plumage only a smudge of black behind their eye remained from their black heads.

The next day in the park outside the family History Center, I was able to differentiate the species of black birds: European Raven, Carrion Crow, Rook, and Blackbirds. There also were Common Gulls, Starlings and House Sparrows. It was barely above freezing and I got a kick out of the various birds that perched on chimney vents warming themselves in the air that was escaping.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

“What are the birds at your feeder,” I asked Colin at his house in the country outside Fochaber. I had been watching ones that looked like chickadees.

“They are tits. We have Blue, Great and Coal tits,” he replied.

It was hard to focus on them since they moved on and off the feeder in a blink of an eye. My favorites were the Blue tits with their yellow breasts and blue caps and wings.

On a drive through villages along the North Sea that bordered Moray, I spotted a number of birds. A European Robin perched on the back of a park bench in Lossiemouth. It is much smaller than the American Robin. Eurasian Curlews foraged in the dry fields. I added two more gull species: Back-backed Gull and Black-legged Kittiwake. I spotted several Pheasants in the fields as we drove. An Oystercatcher was standing in a grassy area next to a pull-out in Hopeman. While it looks very similar to the American Oystercatcher, I was surprised to learn that it is a separate species. I really wanted to stop and get good looks at these birds, but was sitting in the back of a tiny Peugot, and our cousin wanted us to see as much of the countryside as possible.

The next day as our train cruised along between Elgin and Aberdeen, I saw several Buzzards perched in barren trees.

When the train crossed over the inlet at Dundee, there were Great Cormorants swimming. And, as dusk descended on the countryside while the train headed south from Edinburgh, a Gray Heron stood silhouetted in a small pond.

Everywhere we traveled flocks of gulls – most of them Black-headed – foraged in the fields.

Lapwing on Holy Island

Lapwing on Holy Island

On Holy Island, along the North Sea in Northumberland, Magpies sailed back and forth between trees. As we walked along the path out to the castle, I noticed movement in the flooded fields and zeroed in on a couple of Lapwings. They were so perky with their long wispy crests. Our cousins Alan and Lyn realized that I was far behind them.

“Does Judy often disappear like this?” Alan asked my sister, Chris.

“Only when she’s spotted a bird,” Chris replied.

The other find of the day were Redshanks probing in the mud of low tide, unmistakable with their red legs and red-based bills.

On a morning in Newcastle I was able to spend time walking along a footpath between an athletic field and a gold course. The hedge rows that bordered the path were a goldmine of new birds: Goldcrest (similar to Golden-crowned Kinglet), Brambling and European Goldfinches. The Goldfinches were amazing with their red faces and yellow on the wings. I was able to learn the Robin’s call note as one flitted deep in the bushes. On the way back to Lyn’s house, I was surprised to see Eurasian Collared Doves.

Black-headed Gull perched on Shakespeare

Black-headed Gull perched on Shakespeare

On the drive to Stratford-upon-Avon, I saw a Kestrel. Once there, I captured a photo of a Black-headed Gull sitting on Shakespeare’s head.

In Exmouth we walked along a path that bordered the River Exe’s estuary. New birds seen for the trip were Common (Mew) Gull, Pied Wagtail, Little Egret, European Avocet and Bar-tailed Godwit. At the feeders in our cousin’s yard, I added Green Finch and Tree Sparrow.

While birding was only incidental to visiting relatives, I am grateful they all indulged me. I observed 38 species, 23 of which were life birds.


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