In a new venture for Christmas, the meeting of the Bird Club at Bamburgh in December was much more informal. Four members described birding holidays in 2017, and mulled wine and mince pies were served in the interval.
The meeting opened with Alison and Stewart McCormick reliving their trip to Japan. They travelled widely, from Kyushu in the South to Hokkaido in the North.
Arriving in Tokyo, their first bird watching was on the main island of Honshu. Woodland walks were rewarded with Japanese woodpecker, pygmy woodpecker, Daurian redstart, Pallas’s rosefinch, copper and Japanese green pheasant.
They visited the volcanic region where the famous Japanese macaques or ‘snow monkeys’ bathe in the hot water pools.
Leaving the snow of the Japanese Alps behind, they moved South to the much warmer island of Kyushu. Here, one of the main attractions was hooded cranes, thousands of them, overwintering on rice stubble. On a pelagic trip they also saw the rare and tiny Japanese murrelet.
The last part of the trip meant heading for the winter cold of Hokkaido at minus 20C, where they were rewarded with the highlight of the trip, watching the beautiful Japanese red-crowned cranes performing their fantastic dancing routines in the misty, freezing dawn.
The excitement wasn’t over, for at midnight they watched the rare Blakiston’s fish owl, followed the next day by a pelagic trip into the pack ice to see the magnificent Steller’s eagles. Superb photographs accompanied the talk.
John Lumby then changed not only the hemisphere, but also the temperature, taking us to tropical Sabah in Northern Borneo.
Staying in luxurious accommodation, John explored the forests of the Tabin Reserve and the Kinabatangan River. The trip was not without its exciting moments when Borneo elephants rampaged through the camp.
John had hoped to see the Borneo bristlehead, but this rarity of the tree tops escaped him. He did see many of the 13 species of kingfisher, eight species of hornbill and sunbirds, spiderhunters, bulbuls and trogons – such marvellous names for these colourful and exotic birds.
After refreshments, Richard Poyer talked about the trip to Bulgaria made by 16 club members. Visiting the Black Sea coast in September, the aim was to see the migration of raptors and water birds on their journey back to Africa, as well as other birds generally missing from the UK.
The first three days were spent in the North, where the highlight was standing on the Kaliakra peninsula watching pallid harrier, honey buzzard, Levant sparrowhawk, booted eagle and hobby. The passerines were also interesting, with red-breasted flycatcher and red-backed shrike.
Moving South, there were good views of black tern, Montagu’s harrier and little owl, but we were too late for stone curlew.
The southern base, near Burgas, is noted for saline lagoons and reedbeds. We visited two reserves with excellent visitor centres (Pomorie and Poda), partly funded by the RSPB. Sandwich tern, little ringed plover, yellow wagtail, greater and pygmy cormorants, little and great white egrets, dalmation pelicans and black storks were among the many birds seen. Amongst the reeds were penduline tit and sedge warbler.
The highlight was watching hundreds of red-footed falcons feeding on fields adjacent to the lagoons. At a migrant count location over 10,000 falcons were recorded on passage, while on ploughed fields nearby there were many white wagtails and wheatears.
All too soon we were heading back for the UK after a trip full of bonhomie, birds and wine.