A Look Back At 2019 Here At Birdwatching Trips: A Year Packed With Birds And Wildlife

No better way to start a year than watching Shoebill in Uganda.

We began 2019 in Uganda running our second Uganda tour back-to-back with our first in December 2018. Both tours were just spectacular, few places can match Uganda for wildlife and we enjoyed every second of our visits. We encountered over 400 species of birds and over 40 species of mammals but it was very much about experiences rather than numbers. Gazing at a Shoebill just feet away from us as we drifted through a bird-filled swamp in a dugout canoe, watching Black Bee-eaters hawking over our heads, Rock Pratincoles so close we could almost touch them on the River Nile. Seeing tree climbing lions, watching chimpanzees in a beautiful forest, and of course the mountain gorillas, surely one of the very best wildlife experiences on the planet.

A massive silver-back male gorilla, so calm, so gentle, so close!

Hawfinch Roy de Hass

It proved a good winter for seeing Hawfinch in North Wales, always a thrill.

After our mind-blowing African adventure, it was back to our home turf, North Wales, where we are so lucky to enjoy wonderful year-round birdwatching. We ran a number of great daytrips visiting a wide variety of habitats from the seacliffs of Anglesey, the mountains of Snowdonia to the marshes of the Dee Estuary and everything in-between! We had super views of Hawfinch, spectacular Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls, Firecrests, Surf Scoters, Chough, Dipper and so much more. No wonder we love North Wales so much!

Always wonderful to watch Short-eared Owls and this winter is particularly good.

Mull scenery 1

Next we headed north to the Isle of Mull, off the Scottish west coast.

We love our annual visits to the Isle of Mull, spectacular scenery and wildlife to match. Otters and eagles, both Golden and White-tailed, were the main focus of this exciting trip. We enjoyed super views of all three but of course the island has lots more to offer. Great Northern Divers seemed to be ever-present on the sea wherever we stopped, flocks of wintering Barnacle Geese grazed the fields, Hen Harriers swept low over the marshes and we enjoyed great seafood, a wonderful short break.

Mull otter

The Isle of Mull has to be THE place to see beautiful otters.

Next we were off to Extremadura, Spain with our great friend Iolo Williams.

We love our trips to this wild and bird-filled region of Spain and in early Spring it holds carpets of wildflowers and bird migration is in full swing. We marvelled at huge Great Bustards on the rolling grasslands where their small cousins, Little Bustards, blew raspberries from the grass! Both Pin-tailed and Blaack-bellied Sandgrouse wowed our small group in the Spring sunshine. Raptors were almost always in view and we soaked up the views of Spanish Imperial Eagles and hundreds of vultures. Hoopoes bounced along the stonewalls where Corn Buntings seemed to be every few yards. Iberian (formerly known as Azure-winged) Magpies in gangs like over-sized Long-tailed Tits were regularly seen. The food was wonderful as was the wine and the beautiful hotel made for a perfect base. Come and join us and Iolo in April 2021, sorry 2020 already fully booked!

Hoopoe on wall 1

Everyone loves Hoopoes and they even nest in the garden of our wonderful hotel!

Egyptian Nightjar

We had an amazing encounter with this superb Egyptian Nightjar in Morocco.

Back to Africa, this time the north, and the magical country of Morocco. We explored from the snow-capped High Atlas mountains, through the Sahara and along the wild Atlantic coast seeing fantastic birds and landscapes. Morocco is full of surprises, with superb food, friendly people, great drummers, sunshine, castles and big skies, a beautiful country. The birds were simply spectacular and varied, with migration happening all around us!

Northern Bald Ibis Spain March 2017 1

The weird and wonderful Northern Bald Ibis breed in Morocco.

One of THE birds to see in Georgia - Great Rosefinch, photo by Steve Culley.

Thanks to some unhelpful flight changes by KLM we went straight from Morocco to Georgia, the one south of Russia, a new destination for us. We were blown away by this stunning country, the scenery, the people, the food, the wine and of course most of all the birds! We added five new species to our life lists - not easy these days in the Western Palearctic. The birding was absolutely amazing, from the snow-covered mountains, through beautiful valleys out onto rolling plains the birds just kept coming. Again migration was a real feature and we gazed in awe at flocks of raptors passing over us, heading north to their breeding grounds. We can't wait to go back in April 2021.

We enjoyed amazing close up views of Wallcreepers, a super bird that's usually hard to see.

Black Grouse May 2016 6

In May we were back in North Wales sharing our local birds - Black Grouse.

May is a wonderful month to be in North Wales with the breeding season in full swing and migration to add extra spice. From the mountains, where we watch Ring Ouzels, through the woodlands for Pied Flycatcher, Common Redstart and Wood Warbler, the forests for Goshawks and Crossbills, the moors for both Black and Red Grouse and the wonderful Hen Harriers, to the seacliffs for Puffins and Chough, North Wales has so much to offer! Come and join us this May for an exciting bird-filled tour.

Dotterel May 2016 3

May is good month to encounter a migrant Dotterel, this one was on the Great Orme, our 'back garden'.

Capercaillie male Finland 2015 1

In late May we were in Finland and had the privilege of seeing Capercaillie up close!

In 2019 we spent an amazing evening watching brown bears close to the Russian border.

Our Finland and Arctic Norway tour is a wonderful experience as we travel north through the forests of Finland and into the tundra of Norway before reaching the Arctic sea near the Russian border. We enjoy some 200 species of birds but it is the quality not the quantity that make this trip so special. Owls are a major feature, as are woodpeckers, grouse, raptors, breeding waders and seabirds! Seeing Ruff, the males in their full breeding plumage displaying just feet away was one of so many highlights. We will be running this fantastic trip again in late May 2021. We know you will love the amazing array of birds and beautiful habitats, great food too!

Great Grey Owl Finland

Great Grey Owl, such a superb bird and one of THE birds to see in the world.

Stone Curlew adult

Stone Curlew are always high on our most-wanted list during our summer Norfolk tours.

June is a wonderful time to head to Norfolk and catch up with the wonderful array of breeding birds and the odd unexpected visitor too. Stone Curlew and Wood Larks were enjoyed on the heaths where amazing Nightjars churred and swept right over us hunting insects at dusk, wow! The marshes held breeding Avocets, Marsh Harriers and Bearded Tits. We also enjoyed a flock of Cattle Egrets and two Great White Egrets and we were very lucky that our visit coincided with a very rare Lesser Grey Shrike! We run tours throughout the year to Norfolk and would love you to join us.

Spoonbill April 2016 1

Spoonbills are now breeding in Norfolk and are always a thrill to see.

Gannets at Bempton on cliff

The Gannet colony on the Yorkshire coast: a teeming seabird city.

Our next adventure took us north to the coast of Yorkshire and the seabird cities on the towering cliffs. Here we marvelled at the thousands of breeding Gannets and watched Puffins just feet away. We also visited a forest that holds birds of prey. Here we had spectacular prolonged views of Honey Buzzards including the male performing his superb wing-clapping display! It was great to catch with Corn Buntings and Tree Sparrows too, sadly absent from North Wales these days.

Corn Bunting 1 April 2015

Corn Buntings can still be found along the Yorkshire coast, gone from much of the UK.

Everyone loves Atlantic Puffins and we enjoyed them on lots of our 2019 tours.

Off to Northumberland next, the northeast coast of England and on the way up we were so lucky to see a beautiful Baikal Teal, all the way from Russia, and a new bird for us! We took a boat trip out to the wonderful Farne Islands where vast numbers of seabirds breed. Walking amongst a Puffin colony is an unforgettable experience and one everyone should have the chance to do! The Puffins are at your feet! Arctic Terns land on your head and the cliffs are crowded with Common Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags and Kittiwakes; it is just mind-blowing. We also visited Holy Island with its castle and watched flocks of gorgeous Golden Plover.

Arctic Tern 1

If you love close views of birds, the Farne Islands is the place; Arctic Tern.

August and of course it is Bird Fair: three days of all things birds and lots of laughs too!

A confiding Snow Bunting on the shingle beach at Cley-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk.

In September and early October we ran two tours to Norfolk to see Autumn migration as huge numbers of birds arrive from Europe for the winter. Massive flocks of Pink-footed Geese filled the vast skies, always a special Norfolk spectacle. Masses of waders gathered on The Wash a breath-taking sight as they too fill the sky. Yellow-browed Warblers from way to the east flitted through the coastal willows and a Richard's Pipit announced its presence with its rasping call. Barn Owls floated along the seawall and the Cattle Egrets were still there. The shingle beaches held both Shore Lark and Snow Buntings, the exercise giving us a hearty appetite for the wonderful food! Norfolk in Autumn is always so exciting, expect the unexpected!

Vast flocks of waders crowded into their high tide roost on The Wash.

The huge and magnificent Magellanic Woodpecker - a superb bird and long-awaited!

In late October we traveled south, a long way, to southern Argentina, where we guided a group, and were blown away by the wildlife and scenery! We were mostly based in Ushuaia where the Andes meet the sea creating fantastic vistas all around us. The birds were just as fantastic as the landscapes and we soaked up lots of new species. Magellanic Woodpecker and Magellanic Plover were perhaps the two stand-out species but Dolphin Gull and Least Seedsnipe were also so good! We also visited an amazing wetland further north that boosted the list enormously.

Stunning Dolphin Gulls could be seen from our hotel window in Ushuaia!

Just some of the 250,000 pairs of King Penguins we walked amongst!

From Argentina we set sail on the trip of a lifetime to South Georgia and Antarctica, a wildlife paradise! The experience was just fantastic and very hard to put into words: it was a complete wildlife overload! Walking amongst huge colonies of penguins was like being in a wildlife documentary of our very own. Of course there was much more than simply the amazing penguins, and we were thrilled to watch four species of Albatross and huge numbers of seabirds, including beautiful Snow Petrels and Antarctic Petrels. Setting foot on the Antarctica Peninsula, our seventh continent, was imply wonderful as was learning all about the history of this very special place. If you ever have the chance, do go!

crested tit

Crested Tits really showed off for us and our guests on Speyside.

Just time before the end of the year for us to head up to Scotland, The Grant Arms Hotel on Speyside, to celebrate Christmas and New Year in fine style with a lovely group of people. It was the perfect way to round off a totally wonderful year!

A huge heart-felt thanks to everyone who travelled with us making 2019 such a special year and to all the wonderful folks who helped these trips happen. We look forward to enjoying more amazing birds and wildlife with you in 2020! Best wishes to you all for 2020 from Alan and Ruth.

If you would like to book on or would like more details of any of our tours please email us here..


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