From Albania to Alkborough

Hello birdwatchers

The last four weeks have been a little different than normal in that I actually managed to leave the UK for a much needed holiday at the end of September. So, after an excellent shearwater cruise out of Bridlington harbour and a short walk around Middleton Park in Leeds, I was off to Albania, Montenegro and Croatia.

The hardest part of the planning stage was finding a guide in Albania who could take me to see my target species, Dalmatian pelican. I had heard about the state of the roads in Albania so I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of having to drive myself on a 200km round trip to Divjaka to visit Karavaska lagoon, an important breeding area for the species.

Dalmatian pelicans on Karavasta Lagoon, Albania

Dalmatian pelican with our grey heron on Karavasta Lagoon, Albania

After a few hours of research, I’d found some leads but my usual sources of information didn’t provide any local birdwatching guides. Just as I was giving up hope and was working out how I was going to get myself there, I heard back from a small business, Albanian Eagle Tours, who arranged access onto the site, lunch in the national park and for me to be picked up from my hotel. My host, Andi, was great company and, not being a birdwatcher himself, I was surprised at how patiently he indulged my need to look at everything that moved. By the end of the day we were both watching birds. Perhaps I sowed the seeds and turned him into a budding birder. One thing is for sure. No way would I have been able to drive on those roads without dying or having a nervous breakdown and no way would I have found the pelicans on my own so thank you so much Andi.

We looked at the lagoon from every angle and, although we were viewing birds from quite a distance I managed to get great views of the pelicans, pygmy cormorants, Caspian terns, greater flamingo, great white egret, little egret and some of our winter passage waders through my scope. The distance, and the heat haze, made digiscoping difficult but you’ll be able to see the remains of the “curly” crown on the pelicans above which is part of their breeding plumage. Many birds had left the pools and channels for their wintering grounds but resident kingfishers provided something to look at as we walked back to the car.


Views of the Karavasta Lagoon area
The small part of Albania that I saw on the rest of my 3 day visit showed the destructive effect the political situation was having on the countryside. Many wetland habitats had been destroyed to build hotels on the coast, and raw sewage was being pumped directly into the sea. Hopefully the new head of government will make some lasting changes – I’d like to return one day to see whether the situation improves and visit other areas of the country.
The next few days of our holiday took us to Montenegro where we stayed in Ulcinj, Kolasin and Perast. We visited Lake Skadar and the national parks at Durmitor and Lovcen, birdwatching whenever we could on route. Our planned trip to the lagoons at Ulcinj, a little known birdwatching area on a working salt extraction site, didn’t work out as planned. For some reason that we couldn’t quite work out, we were weren’t allowed on the site on the only day that we were in the area. Another reason for a return trip to the Balkans. Birds seen in Montenegro included hundreds of pygmy cormorants; black-necked grebe, Slavonian grebe, long-legged buzzard, black kite, goshawk, lesser kestrel, lesser spotted woodpecker, whinchat, icterine warbler, zitting cisticola, wood warbler, spotted and semi-collared flycatcher, alpine chough and rock bunting.

Durmitor National Park
Our final two days took us to Dubrovnik in Croatia. It is impossible to visit this city without becoming a text book tourist so we did all the usual things like walking around the city walls; taking a trip in a glass bottomed boat to see the fish and riding the cable car to the top of the mountain. Apart from the sound of cow bells, it was quiet on the mountain and only melodious warbler and sombre tit were added to the list. We spent most of the time looking at the many grasshopper and butterfly species that we weren’t equipped to identify. Back in the old town at Dubrovnik, lesser kestrel could be seen hunting from a nearby island but the star species was alpine swift. Unlike our swifts, the alpine swift stays in its breeding area until after the post breeding moult so, even though it was the end of September, there were a lot of birds around. Their cackling calls could be heard through the morning and the evening and it really was a welcome sight to watch the low flypasts as the sun went down. 
Alpine swifts over Dubrovnik
On our way back to the UK we reflected on what a fantastic holiday it had been. We met some wonderful people and really enjoyed the local food, wine and beer. I look forward to a return visit.
The birding continued soon after our return with a ringing trip in the Lower Derwent Valley. This time we managed to get blue tit, great tit, coal tit, dunnock, blackbird and goldfinch in the mist nets. Everyone had the chance to hold and ring a bird, under the close supervision of our host and we also got the chance to see a barn owl chick.
A dunnock caught in the Lower Derwent Valley
Subjects covered in my weekday indoor classes included “Being ready for anything: how to get the most out of your birding trips and what to wear” and “Introduction to the dipper” while weekday outdoor classes visited Knotford Nook and Nosterfield.
Greylag with pink-footed geese at Nosterfield

 Which takes me to Alkborough which we visited on the morning of the 12th October. It was a bit of a dreary day but thankfully, the rain only managed a light drizzle which didn’t affect our plans. We managed to see marsh harrier, little egret, avocet, green sandpiper, ruff, curlew, black-tailed godwit, teal, wigeon and shelduck as well as our first winter flocks of redwing. Seven whooper swans and a couple of pink-footed geese flew over our heads. We finished our day at RSPB Blacktoft Sands and were able to compare spotted redshank and common redshank. Snipe could be seen on almost every lagoon. A real treat was to see a weasel running towards us on the path as we made our way back to the car and we also found an angle shades moth emerging from the leaf litter in the car park.

Snipe at RSPB Blacktoft Sands
Angle shades moth
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