United Kingdom: England in Spring Custom Tour Trip Report, April 2022

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29 APRIL – 10 MAY 2022

By Oliver Reville

england spring trip reportAtlantic Puffin gave us many wonderful experiences during our bird tour of England.

 

Overview

 

Our 12-day custom tour of England (which ended in southern Scotland) began on the 29th of April 2022, in London, and concluded on the 10th of May 2022, in Edinburgh. During the tour we visited famous birding locations like Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Minsmere Nature Reserve, Cley and Salthouse Marshes, Welney Wildfowl and Wetland Trusts (WWT) Reserve, RSPB Bempton Cliffs, and the Farne Islands National Nature Reserve. This private tour was loosely based on our United Kingdom: Ultimate Spring Tour, but at a much more relaxed pace (which meant we didn’t see as many species as we would usually expect to see), with more cultural aspects enjoyed and non-birding activities included. It also didn’t cover the section in the Highlands of Scotland where we would usually look for the Scottish specials.

A total of 147 bird species were recorded during the tour and included superb species such as King Eider, Velvet Scoter, Garganey, Black Grouse, Willow Ptarmigan (the British endemic subspecies known as Red Grouse), Eurasian Bittern, Eurasian Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Common Crane, Eurasian Dotterel, European Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Mediterranean Gull, Arctic Tern, tens of thousands of alcids (including Atlantic Puffin), Western Marsh Harrier, Red Kite, Common Cuckoo, Eurasian Hobby, Common Nightingale, Bearded Reedling, European Pied Flycatcher, White-throated Dipper, Common Firecrest, Dartford Warbler, and Wood Warbler. The tour also featured plenty of common and attractive resident and migrant species. Species lists are given at the end of the report.

I would like to thank Bill and Jayne for their company during the tour and the great memories shared. I look forward to birding with you again soon!

england spring trip reportThis Common Nightingale gave wonderful views while belting its impressive song out.

 

Detailed Report

 

Day 1, 29th April 2022. Arrival in London, England and transfer to Suffolk

The first day of the tour was an arrival and transfer day from London Heathrow to Westleton in Suffolk. After a three-hour drive from Heathrow airport in London, we arrived in rural eastern Suffolk to relax at our hotel. In the evening we took a short drive to look for Common Nightingale and had three birds singing, however sadly none showed well, but it was good to know that they had arrived from their African wintering grounds and we’d be sure to look for them early the following day.

england spring trip reportWhile in Suffolk we enjoyed amazing views of the striking breeding-plumaged Mediterranean Gull.

 

Day 2, 30th April 2022. Birding Westleton, Dunwich, Minsmere, and Hickling

Today we began early in search of the Common Nightingale once again. This time we had far more luck and enjoyed wonderful views of a singing bird. Other birds of note here included a singing Common Cuckoo and Eurasian Blackcap.

Our next stop was the scenic coastal area of Dunwich Heath. Here our target was Dartford Warbler and we enjoyed good, but distant, views of a stunning singing male. While on the heath we also found European Stonechat, Common Linnet, Garden Warbler, and Eurasian Skylark, while Common Nightingale and Woodlark were also heard here.

After breakfast it was time to head to RSPB Minsmere, one of the country’s premier birding locations. With 64 species recorded during our visit, there were plenty of highlights, however the sight of three Eurasian Bitterns flying over the reedbed was certainly the main highlight of our birding here. Notable mentions went to Mediterranean Gull, Eurasian Hobby, and Sedge Warbler.

Our final stop was over the border in Norfolk at Hickling Broad Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT). Here we enjoyed good views of a stunning Black-winged Stilt and a drake Garganey, plus other species such as Common Crane, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, and European Robin. After a long day we arrived at our hotel on the Norfolk coast, our base for the next few nights.

 

Day 3, 1st May 2022. Birding Titchwell and Burnham Norton

This morning we visited RSPB Titchwell, yet another principal birding reserve. With beautiful weather we were able to enjoy species such as Common Pochard, Stock Dove, Little Ringed Plover, Ruff, and Western Marsh Harrier. However, with 55 species recorded here there were plenty of other highlights.

After lunch we visited the far lesser-known Burnham Norton marsh. Despite the lack of spring rain leaving the area quite dry, we were able to enjoy good views of Brant (Dark-bellied Brent) Goose, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Pied Avocet, Great Egret, Eurasian Spoonbill, and Bearded Reedling – an exciting monotypic family and attractive species.

england spring trip reportWhile in Norfolk we enjoyed fabulous views of Common Reed Bunting.

 

Day 4, 2nd May 2022. Birding Burnham Overy, Blakeney, Cley, Salthouse, and Ringstead

We started today with a walk at Burnham Overy dunes. Lovely weather greeted us again and during our walk we enjoyed species like Common Pochard, Grey Plover, Eurasian Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sedge Warbler, and Common Reed Bunting. After a short break we headed to the famous east bank at Cley. Many of the species we had seen previously were present here, but we also recorded Eurasian Wigeon, Common Ringed Plover, Eurasian Curlew, and Common Snipe which were new for the trip. We also enjoyed good views of Common Redshank, Eurasian Spoonbill, and Bearded Reedling.

After lunch we took a long walk to Kelling Water Meadows from Salthouse, where we recorded 38 species, including Tufted Duck, Eurasian Whimbrel, Rook, Sand Martin, and Common Whitethroat.

Our final birding of the day was a spontaneous stop near the village of Ringstead. Despite the cold wind we enjoyed distant views of Eurasian Dotterel, a great surprise to end a productive birding day.    

england spring trip reportSedge Warblers were abundant in all suitable habitat during the tour and were extremely vocal on their return to breeding sites after spending the winter in Africa.

 

Day 5, 3rd May 2022. Birding Thornham, Snettisham, and Hunstanton

Our final day on the north Norfolk coast started at Thornham Harbour. Shortly after parking the car, we enjoyed close views of Northern Wheatear and, while walking the sea wall, we found some stunning Ruff molting into breeding plumage. In the harbor itself were Grey Plover and Eurasian Curlew.  Our next stop was the very productive Snettisham Coastal Park. Here we enjoyed a number of species including Tufted Duck, Eurasian Whimbrel, Sedge Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, and Meadow Pipit. A distant Common Swift was our first of the tour, but sadly at very long range (these are usually one of the last summer migrants to arrive back in the UK each year).

After lunch we walked the beach at Hunstanton and enjoyed great views of Northern Fulmar as they soared overhead and interacted on the cliffs at their nest sites.

 

Day 6, 4th May 2022. Birding Welney, Lynford, and Santon Downham

Leaving the Norfolk coast behind we headed into the fens to explore the famous Welney WWT Reserve. We enjoyed a productive morning here with some standout scarce species like Western Cattle Egret and Glossy Ibis. A good number of Whooper Swan remained at the reserve and also here were Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Tern, Great Egret, Lesser Whitethroat, and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

After lunch we headed into Thetford Forest to Lynford Arboretum. Here we enjoyed brief views of Common Firecrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker, and Garden Warbler, as the weather closed in. Dodging the rain, our final birding location was Santon Downham. Sadly, we could not locate the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in poor weather, but did see Great Spotted Woodpecker and heard Eurasian Siskin and Red (Common) Crossbill.

 

Day 7, 5th May 2022. Bike ride, transfer to Yorkshire

Today was mainly a non-birding and travel day. In the morning Bill and Jayne took a bike ride in Thetford Forest. After lunch we began our journey to Yorkshire.

england spring trip reportThe massive cliffs at Bempton gave us amazing views of breeding Razorbill.

 

Day 8, 6th May 2022. Birding Bempton Cliffs and the North Yorkshire Moors National Park

After yesterday’s travel day we were itching to get back out birding. To begin, we headed to the world-famous Bempton Cliffs RSPB Reserve. This amazing seabird colony gave us sensational views of Common Murre (Common Guillemot), Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Black-legged Kittiwake, European Herring Gull, Northern Fulmar, and Northern Gannet. We also had distant views of Corn Bunting and enjoyed close views of Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

After lunch we headed into the North Yorkshire Moors. A random stop in Forge Valley Woods gave us our first Tawny Owl, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, and Eurasian Nuthatch of the tour. Following this we visited a well-known site for European Turtle Dove, sadly none were present, but we did add Yellowhammer to our trip list.

With the weather closing in we headed onto the moors. To our surprise they were a hive of activity with Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse), European Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, Common Snipe, Western Marsh Harrier, Mistle Thrush, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, and Tree Pipit all present.

england spring trip reportThis female European Pied Flycatcher gave us prolonged views at close range in the stunning Derwent Gorge.

 

Day 9, 7th May 2022. Birding North Yorkshire Moors, Saltholme RSPB, and the North Pennines  

Today we would leave Yorkshire. Before doing so, we stopped in some woodland on the west side of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, where we found, to our surprise, a pair of Mandarin Duck, an unexpected find. Also here were Stock Dove, Common Cuckoo, Mistle Thrush, and other common woodland species.

We headed next to Saltholme RSPB reserve. The site was busy with bird life, and we enjoyed good views of two drake Garganey as well as Common Pochard, Pied Avocet, Sedge Warbler, and other typical wetland species.

As we headed into the Pennines the sun emerged and we took a pleasant walk into Derwent Gorge. Here we enjoyed fantastic views of European Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler, plus added Eurasian Treecreeper and Grey Wagtail to our list.

Finally, we explored the moors near Langdon Beck which again were busy with birds, including Black Grouse, Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse), Eurasian Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, and Tree Pipit.

england spring trip reportEuropean Golden Plovers were one of many highlights of our brief time on the moors.

 

Day 10, 8th May 2022. Birding Langdon Beck, Farne Islands boat trip, and Holy Island

Today we headed further north into Northumberland towards the famous Farne Islands. Once again, we passed through the Langdon Beck area, where we recorded eight more Black Grouse and had great views of European Golden Plover.

We arrived at Seahouses in the late morning to catch the boat to the Farne Islands. A blustery but enjoyable three hours was spent among the huge seabird colonies that populate the islands. We had excellent close-range looks at Common Murre (Common Guillemot), Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Northern Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, European Shag, and Common Eider.

After lunch we took a short drive to Holy Island (Lindisfarne) where Bill and Jayne took a walk around the village on the island.

england spring trip reportThis first-summer King Eider provided us with yet another highlight from our enjoyable tour.

 

Day 11, 9th May 2022. Bamburgh Castle and birding Mussleburgh Pools

Our final full day saw us explore the wonderful Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. A striking location full of relicts and monuments, emphasizing the rich history of the area. We also got to enjoy great views of Northern Fulmar nesting on the castle keep.

After lunch we left England and crossed the border into Scotland where we headed to Mussleburgh Pools to the east of Edinburgh. On the sea here we enjoyed great views of a first-summer drake King Eider, with a small group of Common Eiders. Further out a large raft of Common Scoters held a small number of Velvet Scoters, while Northern Gannet fished close to the shore.

On the freshwater pools of the site, the typical common wetland species were present including Common Shelduck, Common Redshank, and Gadwall, while a purpose-built Sand Martin colony held a good number of breeding birds.

Our final stop of the day, and the tour, was the River Esk on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Walking the riverside path we enjoyed great views of a juvenile White-throated Dipper, which was feeding in the rocks of the fast-flowing river. An amazing way to end the tour.

 

Day 12, 10th May 2022. International departure from Edinburgh, Scotland    

The tour concluded with an early flight from Edinburgh airport.

 

Bird ListFollowing IOC (12.1)

 

Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen.

The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International: VU = Vulnerable, NT = Near Threatened

 

Common Name Scientific Name
Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)
Brant (Dark-bellied Brent) Goose Branta bernicla
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis
Greylag Goose Anser answer
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata
Garganey Spatula querquedula
Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata
Gadwall Mareca strepera
Eurasian Wigeon Mareca penelope
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Common Pochard – VU Aythya farina
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
King Eider Somateria spectabilis
Common Eider Somateria mollissima
Velvet Scoter – VU Melanitta fusca
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra
Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)
Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse) Lagopus lagopus scotia
Black Grouse Lyrurus tetrix
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
Swifts (Apodidae)
Common Swift Apus apus
 
Cuckoos (Cuculidae)
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia. dom.
Stock Dove Columba oenas
Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)
Water Rail (H) Rallus aquaticus
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Cranes (Gruidae)
Common Crane Grus grus
 
Grebes (Podicipedidae)
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
 
Oystercatchers (Haematopodidae)
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Stilts, Avocets (Recurvirostridae)
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Plovers (Charadriidae)
Northern Lapwing – NT Vanellus vanellus
European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
Eurasian Dotterel Charadrius morinellus
Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)
Eurasian Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Eurasian Curlew – NT Numenius arquata
Bar-tailed Godwit – NT Limosa lapponica
Black-tailed Godwit – NT Limosa limosa
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Ruff Calidris pugnax
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Common Redshank Tringa totanus
 
Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)
Black-legged Kittiwake – VU Rissa tridactyla
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus
Common Gull Larus canus
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
European Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea
Auks (Alcidae)
Common Murre (Common Guillemot) Uria aalge
Razorbill – NT Alca torda
Atlantic Puffin – VU Fratercula arctica
 
Petrels, Shearwaters, Diving Petrels (Procellariidae)
Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis
Gannets, Boobies (Sulidae)
Northern Gannet Morus bassanus
Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
European Shag Gulosus aristotelis
Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
 
Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)
Eurasian Bittern Botarus stellaris
Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Great Egret Ardea alba
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)
Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Red Kite Milvus milvus
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Owls (Strigidae)
Tawny Owl (H) Strix aluco
 
Woodpeckers (Picidae)
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopous major
Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo
Crows, Jays (Corvidae)
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica
Western Jackdaw Coloeus monedula
Rook Corvus frugilegus
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Tits, Chickadees (Paridae)
Coal Tit Periparus ater
Marsh Tit Poecile palustris
Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
Great Tit Parus major
Bearded Reedling (Panuridae)
Bearded Reedling Panurus biarmicus
 
Larks (Alaudidae)
Woodlark (H) Lullula arborea
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis
 
Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)
Sand Martin Riparia riparia
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Common House Martin Delichon urbicum
Cettia Bush Warblers & Allies (Cettiidae)
Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti
Bushtits (Aegithalidae)
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
 
Leaf Warblers & Allies (Phylloscopidae)
Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
 
Reed Warblers & Allies (Acrocephalidae)
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
Eurasian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
 
Grassbirds & Allies (Locustellidae)
Common Grasshopper Warbler (H) Locustella naevia
 
Sylviid Babblers (Sylviidae)
Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
Lesser Whitethroat Curruca curruca
Common Whitethroat Curruca communis
Dartford Warbler – NT Curruca undata
Goldcrests, Kinglets (Regulidae)
Common Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Wrens (Troglodytidae)
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Nuthatches (Sittidae)
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Treecreepers (Certhiidae)
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris
Starlings, Rhabdornis (Sturnidae)
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Thrushes (Turdidae)
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
Common Blackbird Turdus merula
Chats, Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)
European Robin Erithacus rubecula
Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra
European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Dippers (Cinclidae)
White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus
 
Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
 
Accentors (Prunellidae)
Dunnock Prunella modularis
 
Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
White (Pied) Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis
 
Finches, Euphonias (Fringillidae)
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
European Greenfinch Chloris chloris
Common Linnet Linaria cannabina
Red (Common) Crossbill (H) Loxia curvirostra curvirostra
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus
Buntings (Emberizidae)
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra
Yellowhammer Emberiza citronella
Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus

 

Total seen 142
Total heard only 5
Total recorded 147

 

Mammal List

 

Common Name Scientific Name
Rabbits and Hares (Leporidae)
European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus
Brown Hare Lepus europaeus
 
Deer (Cervidae)
Red Deer Cervus elaphus
European Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus
Reeves’ Muntjac Muntiacus reevesi
(Chinese) Water Deer Hydropotes inermis inermis
 
Mustelids (Mustelidae)
Stoat Mustela erminea

 

Total 7

 

 

This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.

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