Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Morocco Trip Report Part 3: Dec 31, 2014 to Jan 1, 2015

December 31, 2014

Other than tomorrow's long drive to the airport, today was to be my last day of birding in Morocco. I had a lot of ground to cover today, as I not only wanted to visit the mouth of the Oued (River) Massa and Oued Souss, but I also wanted to head back east an hour or so to check out some of the birds I blitzed past yesterday. To accommodate this busy day, I woke at 5:50am and departed the hotel at 6:15am. It was about an hour's drive from Agadir to the turnoff to the mouth of the Oued Massa, and another 15 minutes to the warden's house that bordered this National Park. Along the short drive from the highway to the parking lot I found another Little Owl sitting on an old rock wall.

Once at the warden's house I began to walk slowly down a dirt trail that paralleled the Oued Massa, stopping frequently to scan for birds both along the rivers banks and in the adjacent coastal scrub. Some of the first birds I saw included Little Egret, Grey Heron, Marsh Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, and Moussier's Redstart. My first lifer followed shortly after...a lone Barbary Partridge sitting ever-so-still in a stunted tree. I had great looks at the bird, but it may as well have been stuffed for lack of any movement. Further along the trail I found Sardinian Warbler, Eurasian Siskin, House Bunting, and Eurasian Curlew. Is I drew nearer to the mouth of the river it was quite apparent that a large number of gulls, distributed in two very large groups on two separate sandbars, were using the site as a roost. Upon closer approach, at least 800m away, the entire flock lifted into the air. I thought, "great, they're all going to leave before I get a chance to scan the flock". Naturally, as the flock took flight, I scanned the sky for signs of a raptor, perhaps a Peregrine Falcon, but saw nothing. Thankfully, the gulls landed.

On a first scan I counted more than 250 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, one Great Black-backed Gull, one Herring Gull, 30 Yellow-legged Gulls, and my second lifer for the day, 25 Audouin's Gulls. Shortly after scanning the flock, and content with working my way to the coast, one of the park warden's appeared out of nowhere and noticed I was birdwatching. Being immediately helpful, he asked if I had seen Black-crowned Tchagra...I had not, and indeed this was one of my target birds for the trip. The warden indicated he had just heard on in a bush above us, and within seconds of climbing part way up a small hill I saw the bird. Check!

Having thanked the warden and moving on a bit further I soon spotted my next target bird, and my primary reason for visiting the Oued Massa, Bald Ibis. A large flock of about 220 birds flew slowly by, which I was able to watch through my scope and have great views. The Bald Ibis (northern subspecies) is a critically endangered species and over the past 30 or so years has declined precipitously. One of the primary reasons for creating the Souss-Massa National Park in 1991 was to protect the Bald Ibis, and it appears to be working. In 2013 the population had its largest increase since 1980 and the population currently numbers around 450 birds.

Shortly after seeing the Bald Ibis I was greeted by yet another warden who was much more enthusiastic about talking to me. The warden carried with him a small pocket guide of local and common birds, and insisted on showing me every page and every species, indicating which species were present and which were not. He then insisted on taking me directly to the coast on his motorbike, to save me the walk. I retorted that I wanted to walk, but that didn't work at all. Before I knew it I was sitting on the back of what looked like a very unsafe motorbike with no helmet and one hand gripping my scope tightly in hopes of not dropping it. For all my resistance to ride, and the unsafe condition in which I had to do so, it was ironic that we only drove about 150m. We then walked to a sandy rise and gazed out at the open birds! After five minutes, and again insistent that I ride on the bike to another location, I fully and politely declined. This time it worked, and I was free to start walking back to the car.

On the walk back I spotted a few other good birds, including one Slender-billed Gull (my fifth lifer for the day), four Greater Flamingos, one Osprey, one Black Redstart, and one Eurasian Robin. Back at the car I slowly made my way to the other side of the river. Along the way I added another lifer, Eurasian Turtle Dove. It took a while to get to the other side of the river, as locating a bridge across it through a maze of gravel roads, dead ends, and no signs proved challenging. Once across the river however I found some great wetlands...or at least they looked great. I had hoped to find Ruddy Shelduck and Marbled Teal, along with several other ducks that were purported to occur in the area in large numbers during winter. Sadly, not a single duck could be found. Instead, I saw only two Eurasian Moorhens, one Glossy Ibis, 40 Barn Swallows, one House Martin, 20 Crag Martin, and eight Dunlin.      

After my visit to the Massa wetlands, it was now time to head inland to the Plain of the Souss, an area that lies between the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas. Although well-developed with cultivated crops, it still contains a rich diversity of habitats, including argana forest. Unfortunately for me however I was stuck in terrible traffic trying to get out there, and by the time I arrived I only had about an hour to look for good habitat and birds before having to turnaround to get to the Oued Souss while there was still daylight. Ultimately I had little luck finding any argana forest, and so alternatively I ended up driving a series of dirt tracks amid a sea of crops. None of the birds I saw were lifers, and none were particularly noteworthy. The best bird was a toss-up between Sardinian Warbler and Moussier's Redstart.

At 3:30pm I made my way back to Agadir, arriving at the mouth of the Oued Souss with just 45 minutes before the sun set. Once again, like so many sites before this one, the bird activity was slim. The best bird was a new trip tick, Eurasian Oystercatcher, but the rest were species I had already seen. I did however have a great look at a Slender-billed Gull, where the beak was distinctly red and not at all black as the field guide indicates it often appears. With just a few minutes before sunset I rattled off a few photos before returning to the hotel. It was New Years last bird of 2014 had been seen.

Sunset over the Oued Souss

January 1, 2015

Time to head back to Marrakech to catch my 12:00pm flight. This meant waking up at 5:30am and being on the road by 6:00am. It was just over an hour before it was light enough to see, and at that point I was already a third of the way Marrakech. The highway (a toll road) was wonderfully quiet...and as the desert began to illuminate under twilight I wondered what my first bird of 2015 would be. Fifteen minutes later that question was answered - Common Raven. Not exactly what I had in mind as a first year-bird for being in Morocco, especially considering I had only seen two in the past five days. Soon after seeing the raven I added Pied Wagtail and Merlin, and as I drew nearer to the city I added Eurasian Kestrel, Thekla Lark, Spotless Starling, and several other relatively common species. I arrived in Marrakech at about 9:30am, and made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. In the terminal a lone House Bunting was pecking at crumbs...that was the last bird I saw in Morocco.

A few hours later, back at London-Gatwick in the dark and rain, a few House Sparrow's bounced about in a few shrubs under a street lamp. My bus departed on time at 5:40pm and two hours later I was back in Oxford. In retrospect the trip was a big success, despite missing several target birds I had hoped to see. Prior to going to Morocco I determined that 50 species could be lifers for me. Given the general distribution of common species to rare species, I estimated that seeing between 25 and 30 lifers would qualify as a successful trip; I got 28.

 House Bunting (symbolic of my last bird seen in Morocco)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Morocco Trip Report Part 2: Dec 29-30, 2014

December 29, 2014

Today I woke at 6:30am, and after a quick breakfast of pastries and coffee I was on my way at 7:20am. Fortunately I didn't have far to go to my first destination, Tagdilt Track, a literal track through the desert about one mile from my hotel. As described in A Birdwatchers' Guide to Morocco, Tagdilt Track begins just off the main road on the east side of Boumalne Dades, just past the military barracks. The military barracks were easily found, and sure enough a track ran south along the eastern border of the barracks and then eventually out into the open desert for several miles. For all the hype this location was given in the Guide, birding was incredibly slow. The Guide does say, "The first few hours can be disappointing if you are not familiar with this kind of habitat and the secretive behavior of some of its inhabitants and it essential not to give up too quickly". I spent nearly three hours on the "track", and in that time added only one Northern Shrike, a couple of Pied Wagtails, and just one lifer, Temminck's Lark. Upon returning to the military barracks I did observe a small pool of water that had attracted a few birds. Here I added two more lifers, Trumpeter Finch (one of my target species) and Thekla Lark. I also added to the trip list Meadow Lark, Gray Wagtail, and Cattle Egret.

Now approaching midday I decided to try another area for birds. The Guide refers to an area of the desert used as an informal and unmanaged garbage dump. The refuse area could easily be seen from the track I spent the morning on, as garbage was strewn across the desert, both as a function of uncoordinated dumping and strong westerly winds that redistribute thousands of plastic bags. Amidst the denser piles of garbage was a near-constant smoldering of refuse and a cloud of smoke as the sun ignited bits of garbage through the plethora of broken glass. As I proceeded down the track that entered the dumping grounds, a few more birds were present feeding on the abundance of flies, fly larvae, and food scraps. Here I added four more lifers over the course of about an hour and a half: Lesser Short-toed Lark, Thick-billed Lark (a target bird), Red-rumped Wheatear, and Tawny Pipit. I did add several more Thekla Lark's, Temminck's Lark's, and Pied Wagtail's, but overall the richness of species was low.

 Refuse at Tagdilt Track

Thekla Lark

Temminck's Lark

Pied Wagtail

After birding for about another hour at Tagdilt, at which point the rate of return on birds had diminished substantially, I decided to drive for about an hour eastward in hopes of finding some new species. Unfortunately however, the pickings were very slim and no new species were added either to the life list or the trip list. I was a tad disappointed at some of the "misses" that I wanted to see, including Cream-colored Courser, Desert Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Hoopoe Lark, Desert Wheatear, and any of four possible species of sandgrouse that occur in the area.

By now it was about 3:30pm, and time to head back to Ouarzazarte where I would be spending the night. My plan was to visit Ouarzazarte reservoir the next morning, but given I had enough daylight remaining today, I paid a quick visit down one of five possible tracks to see if there was anything interesting. In the span of about 30 minutes I saw White-crowned Wheatear, Northern Shrike, Pied Wagtail, Great Cormorant, Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, White Stork, Winchat, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Coot, Great-crested Grebe, and my last lifer for the day, Ferruginous Duck. Despite having much higher expectations for the day, I was rather pleased with adding eight new species to the list.

December 30, 2014

I woke at 7:00am this morning with good intention of being on the road a bit after 7:30am. Unfortunately however, breakfast wasn't scheduled to be served until 7:30am, and was actually served at 7:45am. Therefore, I ended up leaving the hotel at 8:00am. On the bright side, I only had a short distance to travel to my first location, which was the furthest western access point of Ouarzazarte reservoir. The area was relatively quiet and pleasant despite being immediately adjacent to the city, but as was par for the course on the trip so far, birding was rather slim. My first bird of the day was Linnet, followed shortly after by Common Stonechat, Northern Shoveler, Great Cormorant, Thekla Lark, and Black-winged Stilt. I also had a brief glimpse of a buteo, and although I was certain it was Long-legged Buzzard, I couldn't confirm the ID. However, as I watched through my binoculars the disappearance of the buzzard over some buildings, I caught glimpse of a small bird sitting on an old stone wall. It was a Little Owl, and my first lifer for the day.

There were few other birds at this first site, with only the addition of Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Eurasian Coot, Gray Heron, and Common Sandpiper to the day list. My next three stops were at various access roads along the northern edge of the lake. Collectively, it took about 2 hours to visit all of them, and the birding was fairly thin. Some highlights included Trumpeter Finch, Eurasian Siskin, Spectacled Warbler, White-crowned Wheatear, Black Redstart, Moussier's Redstart, and Ferruginous Duck. I missed another two target birds however: Marbled Teal and Ruddy Shelduck.

By about 11:00am it was time to start making my way southwest to the city of Agadir, located about 350km away on the Atlantic coast. I knew the drive would be slow, and so by leaving Ourzazarte early enough I would at least have some time to do some birding along the way if I spotted some key habitats or bird activity. Just west of Ourzazarte, and only a mile south of Tizagzaouine, I added my next lifer for the day, and one of my missed target species from yesterday, Desert Wheatear. A few miles further south and I added another target bird that I missed yesterday, Desert Lark. These two species were a nice reprieve from having missed them at Tagdilt Track where they were supposed to be easiest to find.

  Location of Desert Lark, just south of Tizagzaouine

After several more miles I began to re-enter the lower Atlas Mountains, and at a small pond just off the highway I found another lifer, Crag Martin, and several Rock Sparrow's, Thekla Lark's, Meadow Pipit's, and a Moussier's Redstart. The next stretch of road was between Anzel and Taznakht where I found my second Desert Lark for the trip, a Dartford Warbler, two Eurasian Kestrel's, and a Black Wheatear. The final stretch of road was from Taznakht to Agadir, where the first half was quite pleasant and the second half was outright awful with incredibly slow and congested traffic, especially in the city of Agadir. Before entering the traffic mayhem I did find three Red-rumped Wheatear's, two Black Wheatear's, one Golden Eagle, and one Spotless Starling. I also saw two Common Ravens which I desperately tried to ID as Brown-necked Ravens, but with excellent views and light, no such conversion could be made. I arrived at my hotel in Agadir at 6:00pm, utterly exhausted from the long drive and intense city traffic.

Downtown Agadir, from the Ibis Hotel

Monday, January 19, 2015

Morocco Trip Report Part 1: Dec 26-28, 2014

And so the adventure first trip to Africa, and going solo.

December 26, 2014

Day 1 was essentially a travel day, slowly making my way from Oxford to Marrakesh. It began with a quick cab ride from Littlemore to the downtown Oxford bus station, and then a relatively long 2-hour ride to London-Gatwick airport (thank goodness for Sudoku). I had about 3 hours to mill about the airport, so had some lunch, studied the bird guide a bit, and tallied five species from the airport windows: Common Wood-Pigeon, Eurasian Blackbird, Common Buzzard, and Eurasian Magpie. At 3:40pm my EasyJet flight departed on time, and landed ahead of schedule thanks to a strong tail wind. It was quite strange watching the sun set for nearly the entire flight, as we essentially flew down the edge of the sunset bell curve.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, between the UK and Morocco

Once in Marrakesh, my luggage was there to meet me (unlike in the UK), getting through customs was relatively easy, and renting my car was painless. It was the next hour-and-a-half that didn't go so well...I had pre-programmed all of my destinations and routes into my GPS before leaving Canada. My hotel, based on the information I had, was just 3 kms from the airport. However, when I arrived at my destination, my hotel was nowhere to be seen. After searching the immediate area intensely, asking for directions (what man does this?), and then finally relying on my iPhone to navigate, I found it...or so I thought. The hotel had the right name, but it turned out I was in the wrong district. The hotel operator there did however provide me with a hand-drawn map to the correct location, and after another 30 minutes I was at the right hotel. I was thankful to finally settle, without any major incident.

December 27, 2014

Day 2 and my first full day of birding in Morocco. Today's plan was to head to a ski hill at Oukaimeden in search of two key species: Alpine Chough and Crimson-winged Finch. I woke at 6:10am and departed the hotel at 7:10am, about 15 minutes before sunrise. My day began with some common European birds on the hotel grounds, including Pied Wagtail, Chaffinch, Blackcap, and European Blackbird. For the first several miles, or about half the trip, driving was along a relatively fast and straight road. At Douar Ouriki I saw a Common Stonechat, and in the village of Trine I saw my first lifer for the trip, Common Bulbul. Also in Trine was another Blackcap, and Chaffinches of the African race. At Trine I turned off to begin the long climb up the High Atlas to Oukaimeden. Birding was slow going, and almost every possible pullout had somebody selling something. And if a pullout had nobody selling anything and I chose to pullover to scan for birds, it wasn't long before someone pulled up on their motorbike with something to sell.

At Tinichchi I found another two Common Bulbul's, as well as two Rock Bunting's, and a Black Wheatear. I arrived at Oukaimeden with great expectations a little after 10:00am. Unfortunately, expectations were soon crushed by the swarms of people, especially the numerous peddlers pushing their wares. I spent about an hour at the resort, pulling over to scour the land wherever I could get a bit of peace. I couldn't for the life of me find a Crimson-winged Finch, so that was a huge disappointment and my first big miss. I did however get Alpine Chough, about 40 of them mixed in with the even more numerous Red-billed Chough, and so managed to get one of two target birds. The only other species with decent numbers was Horned Lark (14 of them), among which was a single Linnet. At Oukaimeden Lake, which was completely open, I observed a lone White-throated Dipper foraging at the mouth of a small stream that flowed into the lake. This was my third lifer for the trip, and a pleasant surprise. With several more hours to spend birding, and Oukaimeden decidedly not being the place to do so, I began to make my way back down the long and winding road, now playing it by ear as to where to go.

Oukaimeden Ski Resort and a few choughs

Just past Tinichchi was a road heading west, referred to as Route de Farthing. I had no idea where it went, or what to expect, but with about 4 hours to spare I went for a "country drive". I eventually ended up in Tahannout, a mid-sized village in the lower foothills of the Atlas Mountains. It was here that I decided to turnaround and head back to Tinichichi. On the journey west I added few species to the trip list...the best bird was a Sardinian Warbler. At Tannahout I added White Stork, and on the journey back east I added Mistle Thrush, Firecrest, Red Crossbill, and Greenfinch. Back at Tinichchi I decided to give Oukaimeden one last chance, but by the time I got up there, about two hours before sunset, the birding was even worse. Now I could only find a few Red Choughs, and so I gradually made my way down the hill and to Ait Outir, my destination for the evening.

Birding along Route de Farthing

December 28, 2014

Day 2, and hopefully things would go better than yesterday's weekend visit to tourist-central. I woke at 6:30am, had a wonderful breakfast of pastries and jams with coffee, and started birding as soon as it was light. The hotel grounds turned out to be quite productive, and what I thought was my first lifer of the day, a Helmeted Guineafowl, turned out to be a rather free-roaming bird of likely domestic stock. Helmeted Guineafowl was declared extirpated from Morocco in the 1970s, and so I thought I`d hit the jackpot. But thanks to the rather kind feedback from @MoroccanBirds, I had not made a major discovery. See here for an interesting discussion on the topic. I did however still manage to add a lifer from the hotel grounds, which was a very cooperative House Bunting. There were also numerous Common Bulbul's milling about along the riparian vegetation.

From Ait Outir I headed east toward Toufliath, where once again I had a specific target bird I wanted to see, Levaillant's Woodpecker. Before arriving at Toufliath however, I did see some excellent birds along the way, including my first Moussier's Redstart and Black Redstart, lifers five and six respectively. At Toufliath I was again somewhat disappointed by the circumstances. The only place to pullout was at the side of the highway, the only major road in the area that crosses the High Atlas. Every few seconds loud cars and trucks bellowed by, making the birding difficult. I spent about an hour at the site, hiking up and down both sides of the road scouring every tree and branch for signs of movement. I even walked slightly up into the forested hills, but seeing several well-used trails I was certain that many led to private residences. I unfortunately did not locate Levaillant's Woodpecker, but I did add Short-toed Creeper to my life list, and saw only my second Great Spotted Woodpecker (two of them).

Disappointed with not seeing Levaillant's Woodpecker, I continued my journey east from Toufliath to Taddert. Along the way I spotted Black Wheatear, another Moussier's Redstart, European Serin, and several Pied Wagtail. After Taddert I began the very long and winding climb through the Tizi-n-Tichika impressive single-lane road with precipitous drops and little in the way of safety guards. Of course, at the top of the pass where barley a plant can survive, was the ubiquitous pottery and rug peddlers. Birds at the pass included only a few Red-billed Choughs and a Pied Wagtail, but the scenery was amazing.

The great climb over the Tizi-n-Tichika Pass

From Tizi-n-Tichika Pass I made my way downhill about 2000m to the city of Ouarzazarte, where a much lower range of hills and moutains (knows as Jbel) lined each side of a vast plain. At Ouarzazarte I added my last lifer for the day, White-crowned Wheatear, and on my way to Boumalne Dades I saw another five individuals of this handsome species. Also along the way I added Northern Shrike and Crested Lark to the trip list. I arrived in Boumalne Dades at about 3:30pm, with about 20 minutes to spare before sunset. Boumalne Dades is located at the eastern end of the Dades Valley, and lies between the Central High Atlas and Jbel Sarhro. The vast plain that lies between these mountains was my destination for tomorrow's birding, with several desert specialties on the "hit list".

Sunset over Boumalne Dades

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Norfolk Trip Report: Dec 20-21 2014

So my trip to the UK got off to a rocky start. Jet-lag is a given when arriving from western Canada, but when the airline doesn't deliver your bags the exhaustion seems to increase. My bag did eventually arrive, but five days later. In the meantime, I bought a few items to tie me over, particularly for a weekend of birding in Norfolk. Good friend Simon Buckingham, whom I've now shared a few birding trips with, kindly offered to take me to Norfolk for the weekend of December 20-21 in search of a few lifers. The following is an approximate account of where we went and what we saw.

I departed Oxford early on the 20th to meet Simon at his home just outside west London. It was a nice morning, but breezy and coffee from Costa's was very welcome. A little after sunrise Simon and I departed for a relatively long (about 1.5 hours) drive to Norfolk. Along the way we spotted common birds such as Common Wood-Pigeon, European Blackbird, and Carrion Crow. We also saw a few Ring-necked Pheasant's, which throughout the weekend became quite ubiquitous. Our first stop was near the village of Welney where I was soon shown my first lifer for the trip, Whopper Swan. Among the group of birds were several Bewick's Swan's, a subspecies of Tundra Swan. We also saw several Red-legged Partridge, but with not for lack of trying, could not locate Gray Partridge. Some other interesting birds, as far as I was concerned as a visitor from Canada, included Eurasian Kestrel, Little Egret, Rook, and Northern Lapwing.

Common Black-headed Gull

The remainder of the morning was spent slowly making our way to Thornham. Along the way I got my second lifer, Fieldfare (three of them), and several other relatively common birds such as Common Black-headed Gull, European Goldfinch, and Chaffinch. A bit closer to Thornham we found Egyptian Goose (four of them), a rather funny looking bird and a new species for the life list. We also added Bar-tailed and Black-tailed godwits to the trip list, Red-breasted Merganser (or Goosander as they call them in Europe), Common Buzzard, and Pied Wagtail.

Shortly after arriving in Thornham we located my fourth lifer of the day, Pink-footed Goose, and at Titchwell (an RSPB reserve) I added my fifth lifer of the day, Water Rail. Titchwell, despite being windy and cold, had a good variety of birds, including Eurasian Curlew, Common Shelduck, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Redshank, Tufted Duck, Common Pochard, Ruff, Red Knot, Long-tailed Tit, and Little Grebe. By the time we ended our birdwatching at Titchwell (and Simon wouldn't allow me more than 3 minutes in the gift shop), we spent the remaining minutes of daylight searching for the mysterious Gray Partridge, but to no avail. We ended the day by adding Northern Shoveler and Jackdaw to the list, and then headed to Sheringham where we stayed at Hooray Henry's B&B, which was wonderfully quaint and complete with a full English breakfast (except perhaps the black pudding...I tried it, but didn't finish it). Simon and I had dinner at The Lobster, a traditional English pub with excellent steak and kidney pie and good beer to complement it.

The following morning we started a bit late as breakfast wasn't served until 8:00am. By 8:30am we were on our way, this time heading back toward Titchwell and Cley. Based on the stories Simon told me about the number of rarities and birders that visit Titchwell, I thought they should rename it to Twitchwell...and there's no way I'm the first person to jest about this.

Convinced that I wasn't going to get my luggage back (now 4 days since reporting it missing), we made a quick stop at the Titchwell gift shop to pick up a new Collin's bird field guide. The one I brought with me was "lost" in my luggage, and I was heading to Morocco in just five days (at the time assuming my luggage bag was gone for good) Titchwell was the place to buy a new one because it was less expensive (postscript: I got my luggage back late on Dec 23, but my guide was a first edition and the new one I bought was a second edition...for those who know me well, the new guide was clearly not a waste of money as I am a bit of field guide fanatic).

Northern Lapwing

Birds in the Sheringham-Titchwell area included many of the same species we saw yesterday, but we added Eurasian Marsh-Harrier, Eurasian Robin, and Great Cormorant. Simon got a tip on a good bird at Cley, and within 15 minutes of arriving we got it...a small flock of Twite perched close enough for excellent views and my sixth lifer for the trip. Also at Cley we added Reed Bunting and Spotted Redshank. Our next destination was Guyhirn, where after about an hour's drive we found the next target bird, and my seventh lifer for the trip, Bean Goose. The remainder of the day was spent chasing birds with little success. First we scoured some fields near Guyhirn in hopes of finding a small flock of recently seen Common Cranes, but they weren't where we had hoped to see them. We then went to Pitsford Water in hopes of re-sighting a Smew that had recently been seen there, but we dipped. We did add Great-crested Grebe and Common Goldeneye at Pitsford Water, but that was it for new trip ticks. Our next stop was Ravensthorpe Reservoir, again trying to re-locate a recently seen Smew, but we dipped again.

From Ravensthorpe we began the long journey back, making a couple of short stops to check for rarities such as Golden Pheasant, dipping all the way. Our final stop, at Simon's house, had a slight hope of seeing Rose-winged Parakeet, a species that regularly visits his bird feeders. However, by the time we arrived we were into the wee hours of daylight and the birds had apparently headed to their roost for the evening. After saying goodbye, I headed back to Oxford, happy in the fact that I added seven new lifers and had a chance to spend a couple days with Simon.