Tuesday 23 May 2023

United Kingdom - May 2023 : Part 3

18th May -

John lined up a day with his friend Alison Rymell who have been putting up owl boxes around Wiltshire for many years, Alison also invited Dr. Emily Joáchim from the UK Little Owl Project to help investigate a few possible nest sites in the area. After a more relaxing breakfast we met up and drove across to Wiltshire, the landscape is slightly different from that of Somerset, having more open farmland. No surprise then, our first bird of the day was a female Common Pheasant just next to the car!

Common Pheasant - female

We met up at Alison's place, where she graciously treated us to a morning coffee, meanwhile I enjoyed looking at the Common House Martins coming to the nest boxes she put up at her house.

Common House Martin

Our first stop was for Emily to investigate a possible nest site of a pair of Little Owls, she swiftly climbed up the tree and found multiple owl pellets near the tree hole. She even tried probing an endoscope into the hole to hopefully see if there are any chicks in there, however, the tunnels were too difficult to navigate, but it is highly likely that the owls are using the site.

Next, we went to an active Tawny Owl nest box, where there is still one young inside that needs ringing. As soon as Emily climbed up the ladder to get the chick from the nest box, I noticed a large bird swooped in from above, and surely it was one of the adult Tawny Owl that came closer to investigate the intruders.

Tawny Owl

Emily got the young owl into the bag and took it a little further away from the nest, Tawny Owls are known to be very protective of their chicks. After measuring, the chick was ringed and released back into the nest box.

Emily ringing the Tawny Owl chick

Alison led us to a field nearby where a pair of Red Kite is nesting. We saw one flying around but it soon flew too high for photos, the nest was quite well hidden behind leaves and branches, but we saw one sitting on the nest. Nearby we found an Eurasian Nuthatch nest, where a pair were constantly bringing back food.

Red Kite - at nest

Eurasian Nuthatch

Afterwards, we followed Alison to two Barn Owl boxes location to check whether they are breeding. In one of the box there were at least two newly hatched chicks and three eggs still. The two adults flew out as soon as they noticed someone opening the box, I was able to get a shot of it flying back towards the barn and one perched in a tree briefly.

Western Barn Owl - newly hatched chicks and eggs

Western Barn Owl

Around the barns there were also White Wagtails which were probably breeding there, plus Common Buzzards flying around. They are the reason Alison and Emily try to keep the checkups brief, as to allow the adults to return back to the nest box as soon as possible, adult Barn Owls can be quite vulnerable if seen flying out during the day, and may even become prey for Buzzards.

White Wagtail - race yarrellii

Common Buzzard

Having checked the last possible Little Owl nest site that John's been observing for a while, which unfortunately came up empty. We said good-bye to Alison and Emily and thanked them for giving us such as wonderful opportunity to see them work up close, seeing their hard work in conserving the owls around Wiltshire was certainly inspiring. Before we headed back towards Coleford, John found a few lovely looking male Yellowhammers to show us. This handsome looking bunting breeds throughout much of Europe and is most often found around farmland. On our way back we added a Common Pheasant right next to our car, I finally took some effort to take a few record shots of a few Rooks.

Yellowhammer - male

Common Pheasant - male


After a break back at our accommodation, my dad and I joined John for a quick trip back to the Dipper spot to hopefully get some better photos. Right at the village a Red Kite flew past very low, almost touching the rooftops!

Red Kite

There was no dipper to be seen when we first got there, after a bit of waiting one finally came into view, but it remained quite far. John insisted that we wait a bit longer, as he knows that they often come very close to the bridge where we were situated. We waited and waited, before finally the pair decided to fly towards us and started posing! First on a broken branch, later on some moss covered rocks right next to our bridge!

White-throated Dipper - such a poser!

Nearby, we added a Treecreeper as well as a very confiding Goldcrest! The Goldcrest was seen at close range, showing off all its glorious details of this tiny little bird.


For dinner my mum cooked a meal for John at our Air B&B. After dinner he suggested that we give one last try for Little Owls at another farm that he knows. It was around 8pm but still bright enough to see well, as soon as we arrived at the supposed barn I saw a Little Owl perched on the broken door frame of the barn. We approached it slowly with our car and managed some great views! A distant Barn Owl was seen out hunting nearby, while a Common Pheasant roosting on a tree was quite an interesting sight for me.

Little Owl

Common Pheasant - male

Finally, on our way back my dad spotted an owl perched on a chimney! While all of us missed it, we circled back around to look for the bird, only to find no birds at all. We circled back one last time along the same roll of houses, and this time the owl was back! It was a Tawny Owl, perched on top of a chimney just as my dad said! I only took a few photos of it looking the other way before it flew off, but what a bird to end the day!

Tawny Owl - looking the 'wrong' way

We said our goodbye with John that evening, as we were to depart the next morning. It was a truly memorable three days of birding, as John had planned it perfectly! with too many good birds to count and most of all good company throughout the trip! Hopefully it won't be too long until we meet again, whether in UK or in Hong Kong.

19th May -

I booked a tour through the Great Bustard Group based in Wiltshire county, where they have been working on reintroducing this species into UK since 1998. We drove from Somerset to the small village of Enford, where we met with the tour leader from the Great Bustard Group. There were seven people including us joining the morning tour, we all hopped onto their Land Rover. Our tour guide Charles was very informative and shared with us a lot of information both about the bustards and the reintroduction project. It didn't take long to see our first Great Bustards in a distant field, where we saw at least two displaying males.

Great Bustard - displaying males

Great Bustard was native to the UK up until the 1830s, when farming practices began to change and people started hunting them for their unique feathers and mounting them as trophies. Adult males can weigh up to 21kg, making them one of the heaviest flying bird in the world, this very interesting looking bird was certainly something to behold! We were soon led to a bird hide specifically to see Bustards, here we first noticed a displaying male with at least three females eyeing it.

Great Bustard - 1 male and 3 females

A few males slowly came a little closer towards the hide. They certainly look very smart with their head held high and tail cocked up! Luckily for me, my dad had his RF 800 f/11 with him, together with the 1.4x extender the lens became a 1120mm f/16, the amazing thing is with the new R-system I still got autofocus, and the quality really isn't half bad. It was also fortunate that there wasn't much heat haze while we were there, therefore a lot of the images were still relatively usable.

Great Bustard - magnificent looking males

Females in comparison are a lot smaller, they also weigh a lot less. A few were seen even closer towards the hide than the males. Females lacks the 'beard' and have less brown on the breast, but otherwise have similar patterns and colouring to males.

Great Bustard - female

When males start to 'perform', they will puff up their neck which will expose a patch of dark greyish skin. Their 'beard' will fluff up and tail cock upwards until it is inverted. Their wings are held down at an inverted position and exposes the white feathers underneath. A displaying Great Bustard almost look like a completely different bird altogether!

Great Bustard - displaying male

The only other notable bird we had at the hide were a few Red-legged Partridge which mainly hid well within the tall grass. After enjoying excellent views of the bustards, the tour ended at the gift shop and little 'museum' where you can look at a few old Great Bustard specimen up close. There are now around 100 individuals of Great Bustards in the UK, with a self sustaining population that seems to be rising in numbers.

Red-legged Partridge

After the tour, we headed towards RSPB Winterbourne Down to hopefully look for Eurasian Stone Curlews. Along the way I spotted a Corn Bunting along the road, we stopped and had very good look. This species is now declining rapidly in the UK again due to change in farming practices.

Corn Bunting

Once we got to the reserve, locating the Stone-curlews were pretty straight forward, although they were very well hidden amongst the vegetation. We had a pretty good view despite being quite far away. The reserve also hosted a good number of insects and butterflies, including a very beautiful Marsh Fritillary. There were a lot of Bumblebees around, such as this White-tailed Bumblebee. A few beautiful moths were spotted, they turned out to be Cinnabar moths, Tyria jacobaeae.


Marsh Fritillary - Euphydryas aurinia

White-tailed Bumblebee

Cinnabar Moth - Tyria jacobaeae

After lunch we called it a day and returned to London.

20th May -

We met up with some friends in London to visit the WWT London Wetland Centre, there was Alex and Fabi who flew over from HK as well, we were mainly visiting Grace who moved to London last year. Alex's friend who lives in London also joined for the day's outing. Hoiling and I were the first to arrive, at the entrance we enjoyed close views of Rose-ringed Parakeets coming to the nest holes in the main building.

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Once everyone was here, we visited the 'star attraction' of LWC, the two Asian Small-clawed Otters at the otter enclosure. It was feeding time for the otters and that attracted a very confiding Grey Heron to their enclosure.

Asian Small-clawed Otter

Grey Heron

London Wetland Centre is of course home to a large collection of exotic water fowls, there were also a lot of less exotic but obviously captive ducks, for example these lovely looking Smew, a nice looking drake Ferruginous Duck, a pair of Ring-billed Ducks and a small flock of Common Eiders. All these species can be found in the UK naturally, although rarer or out of range from London.

Smew - male & female

Ferruginous Duck - male

Ring-billed Duck - female & male

Common Eider - female

Common Eider - male

The various ponds also attracted many wild ducks, such as Tufted Ducks, Mallards and Northern Shovelers. There were quite a lot of Mandarin Ducks around, at first I thought these were part of the collection, until I noticed they can actually fly and doesn't have clipped wings. Mandarin Duck is of course an introduced species, but this species have been naturalized in the UK for many years.

Tufted Duck - male & female

Mandarin Duck - male

Many Egyptian Goose and a few Mute Swans were also seen around, both species very commonly seen in London. Both Common Moorhens and Coots were seen breeding here, either feeding young or nest building.

Egyptian Goose

Mute Swan

Common Moorhen
Eurasian Coot

Jackdaws were the most numerous corvid in the area, we also spotted one Eurasian Jay briefly. Robins were of course very common here, one very vocal individual sang beautifully next to the footpath.


Eurasian Jay

European Robin

Along some reed beds there were quite a few Common Reed Warblers, they were all very vocal, one came out briefly for a photo, but most remain very well hidden. A small flock of Long-tailed Tit came through, there were a few juveniles mixed in the flock. European Greenfinches are fairly common here.

Common Reed Warbler

Long-tailed Tit - juvenile

European Greenfinch

At the main pond, many Herring Gulls were bathing here. The most note worthy species at LWC is perhaps Sand Martins, there is a Sand Martin bank here specifically setup for them to breed, it was interesting to see them flying in and out of their nest holes. A female Mandarin Duck was seen taking care of at least 8 ducklings in front of the bird hide.

Herring Gull

Sand Martin

Mandarin Duck - female with chick

22nd May -

We didn't do any proper birding on our last few days of the trip, although we did visit Kew Gardens for a day trip, which was most enjoyable, not because of the birds, but just the overall experience in walking around this historically important site for documentation of plants species throughout the world.

Even though we wasn't there for birds, I still carried around my camera with me. Common species like Blue Tits and Coal Tits were seen.

Blue Tit

Coal Tit

The most common birds there were no doubt Canada Goose as well as Blackbirds. Other than the ever so common Wood Pigeons, we spotted a few Stock Doves as well, these were quite confiding and allowed me to get quite close for a good photo.

Canada Goose

Common Blackbird

Common Wood Pigeon

Stock Dove

Red Foxes are very common in London, where they have learnt to live along side humans. They are now so bold that you often see them out in the open in broad daylight. While for some they are a bit of a nuisance, I find them to be beautiful creatures.

Red Fox

Around the lake, there were again many common ducks, including quite a few Mandarin Ducks. Here, we had our only Green Woodpecker sighting of our trip.

Mandarin Duck - female & male

Eurasian Green Woodpecker - male


This was not a birding trip, it was merely a family reunion with a bit of birding attached! There were many species I would have liked to see but didn't try, or we simply didn't have the time to fit into our itinerary. Considering that, I thought we did quite well and I connected with quite a few species I've wanted to see in the UK, or a few species that I have seen but never been able to photograph in the past. I totalled 131 species through just realistically 5 days of birding on our two weeks trip, with 13 lifers and 20 new species added to my UK list.

I must thank my dear friend John Hansford once again for organizing our three days of birding in Somerset as well as Skomer Island, we certainly added a lot of birds due to his local knowledge. He certainly knew what would interest us and planned the three days really well. I will also like to thank Brian Gibbs for showing us around the Quantocks, Alison Rymell and Dr. Emily Joáchim for allowing us to see the behind the scenes of owl conservation in Wiltshire. I do look forward to nailing down a few remaining UK targets in the near future.

1Greylag GooseAnser anser
2Brent Goose #Branta berniclaMany seen at Norfolk
3Barnacle Goose # +Branta leucopsisA few at Snettisham
4Canada GooseBranta canadensis
5Mute SwanCygnus olor
6Egyptian GooseAlopochen aegyptiaca
7Common ShelduckTadorna tadorna
8Mandarin DuckAix galericulataMainly around London
9Northern ShovelerSpatula clypeata
10GadwallMareca strepera
11MallardAnas platyrhynchos
12Common PochardAythya ferina
13Tufted DuckAythya fuligula
14Common Scoter # +Melanitta nigraA few from Hunstanton Beach
15Grey Partridge # +Perdix perdixA few near Snettisham
16Common PheasantPhasianus colchicus
17Red-legged PartridgeAlectoris rufa
18Great Bustard # +Otis tardaAt least 7 seen, numerous males displaying, on Salisbury Plain
19Little GrebeTachybaptus ruficollis
20Great Crested GrebePodiceps cristatus
21Rock DoveColumba livia
22Stock DoveColumba oenas
23Common WoodpigeonColumba palumbus
24Collared DoveStreptopelia decaocto
25Common CuckooCuculus canorusHeard at Holme Dunes as well Quantocks, one seen at Steart
26Common SwiftApus apus
27Common MoorhenGallinula chloropus
28Eurasian CootFulica atra
29Stone-curlew # +Burhinus oedicnemusA pair seen at Winterbourne
30Pied Avocet #Recurvirostra avosetta
31Eurasian OystercatcherHaematopus ostralegus
32Grey PloverPluvialis squatarola
33Northern LapwingVanellus vanellus
34Common Ringed PloverCharadrius hiaticula
35Little Ringed PloverCharadrius dubius
36Eurasian CurlewNumenius arquata
37Bar-tailed GodwitLimosa lapponica
38Ruddy TurnstoneArenaria interpres
39SanderlingCalidris alba
40DunlinCalidris alpina
41Common RedshankTringa totanus
42Common GuillemotUria aalge
43RazorbillAlca torda
44Atlantic PuffinFratercula arctica
45Black-legged KittiwakeRissa tridactyla
46Black-headed GullChroicocephalus ridibundus
47Little GullHydrocoloeus minutusOne seen at Titchwell
48Common GullLarus canus
49Herring GullLarus argentatus
50Lesser Black-backed GullLarus fuscus
51Great Black-backed GullLarus marinus
52Little TernSternula albifronsTwo seen flying on the beach at Holme Dunes
53Black Tern # +Chlidonias nigerOne at Ham Wall
54Common TernSterna hirundo
55Sandwich TernThalasseus sandvicensis
56Northern FulmarFulmarus glacialis
57Northern GannetMorus bassanus
58Great CormorantPhalacrocorax carbo
59European ShagGulosus aristotelisA few seen from Skomer Island
60Great Bittern #Botaurus stellarisOne seen briefly at Ham Wall
61Grey HeronArdea cinerea
62Great White EgretArdea alba
63Little EgretEgretta garzetta
64Eurasian Spoonbill #Platalea leucorodiaA few at Titchwell and a pair at Steart
65Western Marsh Harrier # +Circus aeruginosus
66Red KiteMilvus milvus
67Common BuzzardButeo buteo
68Barn OwlTyto alba
69Little OwlAthene noctua
70Tawny OwlStrix aluco
71Common KingfisherAlcedo atthis
72Great Spotted WoodpeckerDendrocopos major
73Eurasian Green WoodpeckerPicus viridis
74Common KestrelFalco tinnunculus
75Ring-necked ParakeetPsittacula krameri
76Eurasian JayGarrulus glandarius
77Common MagpiePica pica
78Red-billed Chough # +Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocoraxUp to 8 seen on Skomer Island
79Eurasian JackdawCorvus monedula
80RookCorvus frugilegus
81Carrion CrowCorvus corone
82Common RavenCorvus corax
83Coal TitPeriparus ater
84Eurasian Blue TitCyanistes caeruleus
85Great TitParus major
86Eurasian SkylarkAlauda arvensis
87Bearded Tit # +Panurus biarmicusOne male seen briefly at Titchwell
88Sedge WarblerAcrocephalus schoenobaenus
89Common Reed WarblerAcrocephalus scirpaceus
90Sand MartinRiparia riparia
91Barn SwallowHirundo rustica
92Common House MartinDelichon urbicum
93Wood Warbler #Phylloscopus sibilatrixOne seen on Quantocks
94Willow WarblerPhylloscopus trochilus
95Common ChiffchaffPhylloscopus collybita
96Cetti's WarblerCettia cetti
97Long-tailed TitAegithalos caudatus
98Eurasian BlackcapSylvia atricapilla
99Garden WarblerSylvia borin
100Lesser Whitethroat #Curruca currucaOne heard from the car on the way back from Skomer Island
101Common WhitethroatCurruca communis
102Dartford Warbler # +Curruca undataA pair seen on Exmoor
103GoldcrestRegulus regulus
104Eurasian NuthatchSitta europaea
105Eurasian TreecreeperCerthia familiaris
106Eurasian WrenTroglodytes troglodytes
107White-throated DipperCinclus cinclusA pair at Coleford
108Common StarlingSturnus vulgaris
109Mistle ThrushTurdus viscivorusOne seen flying past on the Quantocks
110Song ThrushTurdus philomelos
111Eurasian BlackbirdTurdus merula
112European RobinErithacus rubecula
113European Pied FlycatcherFicedula hypoleucaA pair seen at nest on Quantocks
114Common Redstart # +Phoenicurus phoenicurusTwo males on Quantocks
115European StonechatSaxicola rubicola
116Northern WheatearOenanthe oenanthe
117DunnockPrunella modularis
118House SparrowPasser domesticus
119Grey WagtailMotacilla cinerea
120Western Yellow WagtailMotacilla flava
121White WagtailMotacilla alba
122Meadow PipitAnthus pratensis
123Tree Pipit #Anthus trivialis
124Rock PipitAnthus petrosus
125European GreenfinchChloris chloris
126Common LinnetLinaria cannabina
127European GoldfinchCarduelis carduelis
128Eurasian SiskinSpinus spinus
129Corn Bunting # +Emberiza calandra
130Yellowhammer # +Emberiza citrinella
131Common Reed BuntingEmberiza schoeniclus
# UK List
+ Lfer

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