Monday, 30 March 2020

Step up for Steppe Eagles!

Tomorrow would have been the Champions of the Flyway race day 2020. Sadly, Coronavirus has stopped this year's race, but I hope you will join the #FlywayFamily and celebrate our migrant birds wherever you are. Let's show solidarity to the cause bird from lockdown, or on your daily exercise walk  and tweet #COTF20. More about the day can be read on Mark Pearson's blog.

You can read more about this year's cause, stopping the catastrophic decline of Steppe Eagles, on the Champions of the Flyway website.

Meanwhile, two years ago, I was part of the Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers that won the Guardians of the Flyway trophy for most funds raised. It was an epic day, with some epic birds, including my first ever Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Rufous Bush-chat. Absolutely amazing!

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Birding in Lockdown - Week One - keep it local folks!

Birding is now focussed on my small, mid-urban estate garden and one short daily walk along the River Ouse south of Bishopthorpe. This is still enough to lift the spirits, with the dry, sunny spring weather a joy.

Most of the time, birding is out of my back window and I am building up quite a good picture of the local garden regulars. Despite the territorial activity going on, at least three male Blackbirds are visiting regularly. Perhaps we are on the boundary of three adjoining territories? One female who I have nicknamed Ouzel, has a smart white throat patch. She is busy collecting nest material non-stop. I am not sure where her nest is as yet. Another more standard female comes regularly, but I've not seen her gathering anything. More interesting records during the week have been a male Greenfinch with a white head, two flyover Grey Herons and a Tree Sparrow.

 Greenfinch and Tree Sparrow

On my dog walk, I am checking a short stretch of the River Ouse and a flooded field at Church Ings SSSI. The water is rapidly receding due to the long spell of dry weather but it is still pulling in a few ducks, including (max counts in brackets) Gadwall (4), Teal (9), Wigeon (2), Shelduck (2), Pintail (1), along with a couple of pairs of Oystercatchers, Curlew and up to two Little Egrets, the first I have seen around here.

Today (28th), along with the female Pintail, there were four spanking Graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a couple of Herring Gulls, presumably pausing on their way north, due to the fresh (and nippy!) northerly wind. With lots of mud, I think there is a great chance of a Little Ringed Plover or, if I dare to dream, an Avocet, in coming days....!

Church Ings SSSI

We will get through this!

Hasta luego Wheldrake

Another beautiful evening walk at Wheldrake Ings. We are 'social distancing' now and this is the best place for it; I had the place to myself.

At least 195 Black-tailed Godwits were still on the refuge busy feeding, 'wickering' away noisily as they fed in small groups. Many are looking stunning in brick red colours, whilst some still sport silver and white winter finery. They will feed up and head north soon.

I felt a rising melancholy as I absorbed the atmosphere of early spring on the ings. I am not sure when I will be able to return, due to the imminent lockdown as a response to the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world.

An hour or so after I returned, our Government announced we are now in lockdown. No more Wheldrake Ings for at least three weeks, most likely more. Stay at home and stay safe folks.

Iceland calling

An evening walk at Wheldrake Ings on 20th March, before lockdown occurred, lifted the spirits. No signs of yesterday's Garganey. Good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits were still feeding or roosting on the refuge together with six vocal Whooper Swans. Both of these species are heading for Iceland where they will breed. My first four Sand Martins hunted flies in the lee of the willows round the pool. As I walked back in the gathering dusk, the Whoopers flew past me, heading on north. Iceland is calling them home.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Nature Cure

Troubling times we find ourselves in. My escape, nature, is always there for me and today was no exception. It gave me width to reflect; not just on the Coronavirus chaos, but on my lovely colleague Don Vine, who suddenly died this week. A massive tragedy. He will be greatly missed by a huge number of people. I remember dancing with him in the wee hours to The Clash in some grimy nightclub in Leeds a couple of years ago. We talked endlessly that night and some since, about great and lousy bands we'd both seen over the years. Another big love was rivers and wetlands. He would have liked the walk I had down the Derwent at Wheldrake Ings. Bye Don.

Wheldrake Ings had spring coursing through it's veins. A trio of dapper Garganey ventured out briefly from the reedy edge of Swantail Ings. The male stopping long enough to be phonescoped. Over 100 Black-tailed Godwits were sleeping on the refuge, a good number for here. Overhead three groups of Fieldfares headed into the east wind, Scandinavia-bound. Our winter has been kind on them this year.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Alpine Pipit Encounters

Neil Cooper found three Water Pipits at Thornton Ings just north of Melbourne on Friday, so I headed out first thing yesterday morning for a squizz.

Duncan Bye was present on arrival and after a bit, I picked up a Water Pipit feeding in a muddy grass field to the north. We walked round for a closer look and discovered all three birds were still present. It was interesting to compare the trio which were all in different stages of moult. Water Pipits moult their head and body (and a few other) feathers at this time of year, acquiring their distinctive summer plumage. This is what they look like when they finish their moult!

One bird was quite advanced, with only a few remaining streaks on the underparts, but otherwise, showing off a grey head, a contrasting brown mantle, striking white supercilium (eyebrow), peachy underparts, detailed with two white wingbars and tertial edges. With the gusty wind, the white outertail feathers were occasionally displayed as the bird spread it's tail to maintain balance.

The contrast between brown mantle and grey head and nape along with the warm brown rump and white outer tail ruled out Scandinavian Rock Pipit which is also possible at this time of year, as both species are passing through on their way back to their breeding grounds. But these guys were Water Pipits, on route to the Alpine regions of Europe. Class.

Another bird was still pretty much in winter plumage; a plain brown and white pipit, with similar striking white 'super' and wingbars, and diagnostically, the warm brown rump, eliminating Scandinavian Rock Pipit. The third was somewhere in between the other two! Really good birds, and a great find in the York area. Also present, a small herd of Whooper Swans, a Dunlin and plenty of Lapwings.

Today was Sunday 15th March, and with brighter conditions, I wanted another look, so headed back to Thornton Ings. To my dismay some prats were busy shooting stuff from the other end of the field, so the floods and field were comparatively devoid of birds. Nevertheless, two of the three Water Pipits were still present and a bit closer than yesterday- sensibly keeping their distance from the guns. One was the bird in winter plumage and one was the summer-plumaged individual. Craig had seen three here this morning and two on the adjacent Seavy Carr, so clearly a little movement going on through the York area.

 Water Pipit - well on the way to acquiring it's dapper summer plumage.

 Winter-plumage Water Pipit. Note the plain (unstreaked) brown mantle.

Above two videos, the summer plumage Water Pipit- the grey nape and brown mantle look almost Fieldfare-like occasionally.

 Winter plumage Water Pipit.

After my Alpine Pipit Encounter, I headed down to Aughton (45 Pochards, two Goldeneyes) and then Bubwith and North Duffield Carrs (Marsh Harrier, Barn Owl, c150 Whooper Swans), with the highlight being a nice Rainbow over Bubwith Bridge. A Chiffchaff was singing by the Geoff Smith Hide and Curlews were bubbling over the flooded ings that was bathed in spring sunshine. Gorgeous!

Monday, 2 March 2020

Osprey Nest To Let!

Today we created a bit of prime real estate for Ospreys and Barn Owls at Bolton-on-Swale Lake.
A bit speculative, but you never know, we might just attract a pair of Ospreys following the Swale north. Top work by Dave building the nest in his shed, and then Coxon Brothers for erecting the pole.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Wykeham Goshawks

Due to the incessant stormy weather, February weekends have been a bit of a write-off in terms of looking for Goshawks up at Wykeham. Today was forecast to be very windy - it was - and reasonably clear - it wasn't! I had a look at Castle Howard which was quiet, apart from a few Mandarin and a solitary drake Goosander.

Mandarin and Mallards, Castle Howard Great Lake.

I pressed on to Wykeham, noting a nice flock of c60 Bramblings near Snainton. I stood for an hour at my first spot and saw two Buzzards and a male Sparrowhawk, along with a few flyover Crossbills and Siskins. I heard a Gos calling unseen in the forest, but that was the nearest I got. Maybe the weather was just too grim for Goshawks. On to my second spot, where I had a brief view of an adult male Gos, gliding across the pine canopy, before dropping in to the forest and out of sight. Despite my layers (though lacking a woolly hat - big mistake), I was beginning to get nithered. I should have gone to the watchpoint as I would have been more sheltered! Live and learn...

At my third stop I was forced to hide in the car out of a horizontal icy shower that flowed down the valley like a liquid glacier straight into my face. Whilst sheltering, I noticed a big female Gos sitting in a spruce opposite where I had parked. I jumped out into the galeforce southwesterly and attempted to phonescope her majesty, as she surveyed her realm. Always spectacular, always impressive, the Wykeham Goshawks never fail to take my breath away, no matter how many times I see them.

Leap Day Larids

29th February 2020 - Wheldrake Ings

Wheldrake Ings is very flooded! Donning the chest waders, I paddled into the flood at the bottom of the lane, only to discover the right boot had a leak, so my foot was soon bathed in icy river water. Great. Not a problem, I was carrying my wellies and spare socks, so stumbling on to the bridge, I changed foot attire and warmed my numb toes.

 Wheldrake Lake

The ings looked like a lake, holding a huge quantity of floodwater. A few grassy strips were crowded with Curlews and Wigeon, with ten Black-tailed Godwits and a pair of Pintails on another. In the distance, the gulls were gathering, so I sploshed on. A large stretch of the track was in active flood, with water flowing freely across on to the meadow. After a bit, and with wet jeans, I arrived at Tower Hide.

 The riverside track, looking not too unlike the River Derwent to it's right!

Black-tailed Godwits with Pintails.

The gulls were pouring in, but sadly onto Swantail Ings, so in the strong wind, were quite tricky at the distance. Nevertheless, a fine first-winter Iceland Gull dropped in after a bit of a fly around.

Above: Iceland Gull. Note the pale bill with black sub-terminal band and pale tip, unlike the later bird.

After a while, the pale ghost headed off down the valley with other large gulls. Next up, a fine first-winter Caspian Gull appeared in the roost. After watching it from afar it took off and to my delight, settled much closer.

Above: First-winter Caspian Gull

Shortly, an adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in with the distant flock on Swantail - see below.

Adam joined me in the hide. I picked up two further Med Gulls; an adult with a full black hood - see below, and a third bird with half a hood, somewhere between the two others. The Iceland Gull reappeared, this time much closer. It wasn't until sorting my videos that I realised that this was a different bird, with a much darker bill and more coarsely-marked plumage. A possible third-winter Yellow-legged Gull appeared, though refused to reveal it's wings. Three Lesser Black-backed Gulls, including a displaying pair, hinted at spring as did the distant bubbling songs of Curlews drifting across from the Low Grounds.

I did a headcount of large gulls: 205 Great Black-backed Gulls, 420 Herring Gulls. I also estimated 5,000 Common Gulls and about 10,000 Black-headed Gulls. Six Pochards and c100 Pintails were the only other birds of note. We paddled back through the floods, giving my right foot another icy dousing, but headed home very happy with our Leap Day gull haul.

Below: Med Gull #2, with full black hood. An interesting-looking first-winter gull floats past at the front, hinting at Bonaparte's, with a nice grey shawl, small dark bill...shame I didn't notice that in the field!

Above: Second first-winter Iceland Gull

This dark-mantled gull could be a third-winter Yellow-legged Gull, albeit a small one, perhaps a female. I didn't manage to see the spread upperwing, so didn't manage to clinch it.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

North Yorkshire Egret Fest

Went up to Bolton-on-Swale Lake YWT on Tuesday afternoon to have a look at the tree felling that has been done as part of our project and to check out the egret fest. Things were looking great, with over 200 Wigeon feeding on the grass, with c60 Goldeneyes on the lake, interspersed with a mix of other ducks. Hopefully, the more open aspect at the south end of the lake has improved the suitability of this area for ducks and waders.

After a bit, I noticed a male Scaup hanging out with some Pochards across from the hide; a smart bird. Nearby, an always-gaudy male Red-crested Pochard added a taste of the bohemian to proceedings. As dusk approached, one of the three Great Egrets appeared, having been hanging out in the outlet channel earlier. It decided to do a spot of fishing, or actually frogging, in the adjacent reedbed, dwarfing a nearby Little Egret. About 20 Little Egrets had arrived along with over 70 Cormorants by the time the dainty Cattle Egret dropped in to the lakeside trees to roost.

Unlike the serene Little Egrets, the Cattle Egret clambered around in a rather awkward manner before settling down. My second Yorkshire Egret hat-trick in less than six months, following my first, in West Yorkshire in mid-September. It turned out the Ring-necked Duck had been showing earlier but had flown back towards Ellerton a little while before I arrived. A fantastic mix of birds at a super site.

Good to see 22 Oystercatchers using the newly created islands, along with a pair on the main island we've cleared of scrub.

 Great Egret, with its smaller cousin

Island life.

Cattle Egret bottom left, with four Little Egrets and a Cormorant.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Here comes Dennis

Before Storm Dennis arrived, I nipped out for a bit of birding. A Barn Owl greeted me by the gate at Castle Howard, pausing briefly on the battlements. It was out hunting quite late, possibly having been struggling to find food in the recent blustery conditions.

Down at the Great Lake, relatively small numbers of wildfowl were about, with numbers of Wigeon well down on previous winters. Six Grey Heron nests were active, with birds sitting on eggs. 32 Mandarins were sheltering on the banks, with 42 Goldeneyes, two Pochards and two Pintails on the water, with a solitary drake Goosander. I was pleased to hear the Cetti's Warbler was still present, calling from the reedbed near the road.

Storm Dennis arrived, so after a quick look at Aughton (lots of water, few birds) I headed to North Duffield Carrs where I sought shelter in the hides. On the field behind Garganey Hide, a big flock of waders were facing down the storm, with 52 Ruff my best count of the winter, plus a handful of Dunlin among 200 Lapwings. From the hide, a single Black-tailed Godwit was with 12 Redshanks. The wildfowl were huddled up on the bank in front of the hide, sleeping out the storm.

 Storm Dennis arrives at North Duffield Carrs


Top - Wigeon, Teal and Lapwing
Centre - Mute Swan
Bottom - Whooper Swan

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Weekend Birder

The days are drawing out gradually and the noise of the natural world is responding, with Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Great Tits and Dunnocks all singing at dawn now. Nevertheless, it is still too dark before and after work to do any birding during the week, so birding is limited to the weekend.

Today, I headed down to Allerthorpe Common to have another look for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. It felt mild and blue sky pushing in from the west was encouraging the birds to sing, so I felt optimistic. However, not a single woodpecker of any species put in an appearance, but it was nice t spend some time in the woods. A single Redpoll, several Siskins, Marsh Tits and a Nuthatch were the highlights.

On to the LDV and I passed a cream-crown Marsh Harrier circling over a field just south of Thornton. As I drove by, it folded it's wings and stooped causing an explosion of panicking Wood Pigeons from the field. The sky cleared nicely by the time I reached East Cottingwith and nine Whooper Swans stood out, stark white against the blue flood. Lots of birds present on the refuge, with nine Black-tailed Godwits flying about with the Lapwings when another Marsh Harrier flushed the resting throngs. The wintering male Cetti's Warbler was still in 'his' reedbed, proffering several abrupt bursts of song. Hopefully, he will find a mate come spring.

Ellerton was unusually bone dry, so I missed out Aughton and went over the Derwent to North Duffield Carrs. The two drake Scaup were looking smart among thousands of ducks and plenty of Whoopers. Over on Bubwith Ings, c750 Golden Plovers dropped in, with a handful of tiny, scurrying Dunlin. A third Marsh Harrier quartered the grassland to the rear of the reserve.

I headed to Riccall to check out the gulls feeding in the field by the A19. I immediately picked up the smart first-winter Caspian Gull, but despite a thorough search could not locate the Iceland Gull, which had been reported earlier. It wasn't easy phonescoping from half a mile in strong wind, but you can just about pick out the Casp in the middle.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Wheldrake Ings: World-class Wetland!

I was tired and it was windy, but an hour at my favourite wetland, Wheldrake Ings, was enough to clear my head and ease my soul.

Today was all about looking harder. A big gang of geese, were roosting in the grass in front of Tower Hide. Four birds set back from the pack could have easily been passed over, but something caught my eye. With heads tucked up, breast towards me into the wind, were they anything other than Greylags? They looked smaller, with darker heads, but I couldn't see much. After a few minutes, one lifted it's head, validating my hunch - a smart Tundra Bean Goose, with shiny black bill and a crisp tangerine band across near the tip. I kept watching and the others occasionally lifted their heads too. They had a variable amount of orange on the bill, as is typical in this species, and one bird had a bit of white feathering around the bill base- also reasonably typical. This is the best view I have had of this wintering quarter; they seem to head off before light to feed in nearby fields and then return at midday to loaf about for the rest of the day and night. Smart birds.

There were a lot of ducks to scan through, but perhaps not as many as the other day, though many were tucked up in the emergent vegetation, keeping out of the wind. I couldn't find the Green-winged Teal, but was convinced it could still be here as it had been reasonably regularly seen in front of Tower Hide during the week. I redoubled my efforts and in among a near group, a white vertical stripe caught my eye. There's the boy!

He showed gloriously well, busily feeding with loads of his Euro cousins, Shoveler and Wigeon: a smart bird. c50 Golden Plovers and c500 Lapwings on the Low Grounds were also of note.

Green-winged Teal. Almost an annual visitor to the LDV.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Dapper American

A tough weekend emotionally, as my Grandma passed away yesterday morning while I was out birding at Allerthorpe. My Grandma always asked me what I'd seen when I'd been out birding, and delighted in telling me what she had seen on her garden feeders. It has been a few years since we'd chatted about such things as dementia had set in, but I will treasure those memories.


At Allerthorpe Common, Emanuela and me failed to find Friday's Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but it was nice to hear birds reacting to the lengthening days and singing their hearts out, including Song Thrush and Great Tit. I carried on to Wheldrake Ings for a quick look, before heading home. A Peregrine was cruising about and the four Tundra Bean Geese dropped in just after I had left, so I u-turned and scoped them from the bridge.


Today, I wasn't planning to go birding, but a tweet from Lee Johnson to say he'd found a drake Green-winged Teal in front of Tower Hide lured me out. Good to see some birding mates in the hide, and shortly Duncan picked up the teal, mooching about with it's Euro cousins. It was quite flirty with a female Teal, with quite a bit of display noted. A lovely bird as ever. Nice one Lee!

Green-winged Teal. There had been a large influx of ducks since yesterday, perhaps from elsewhere in the valley, or maybe from further afield such as the Humber. There has been a GWT at Blacktoft Sands on the Humber, perhaps this bird.

Tremendous Numenius

I absolutely love Curlews. On the 12th January, this little group dropped in at Wheldrake Ings, right in front of Tower Hide. Such amazing birds. These birds will no doubt head back to the uplands of Britain come March, with one or two pairs returning to nest in the big meadow.

Dawn frost and the webbed hordes

19th January

It has been an incredibly mild winter. Today was unusual in that there was a light dusting of frost, and a few of the shallow puddles on the riverside track at Wheldrake Ings were frozen. I arrived at dawn and the light was magical as it grew in the east, silhouetting a quintet of Whooper Swans that flew in and landed on the refuge. Later, with lovely sunlight, I waded through hordes of ducks, but couldn't pick out anything unusual. As I walked back, 21 White-fronted Geese flew along the canal and east back towards East Cottingwith, and the four Tundra Bean Geese came in and landed on Swantail.

The webbed hordes

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Yorkshire Yank Duo

After Park Run and Bishy scout paper collection, headed up to Nosterfield to have a look at the Lesser Yellowlegs, which apart from my rejected bird from Wheldrake Ings a few years ago (no, I'm not bitter) is my first record in Yorkshire. This bird had been found at Scorton late in 2019 and had turned up at Nosterfield earlier this week, still hanging out with the Lapwings. A typically elegant Tringa, the bird showed the usual long-legged, long-winged jizz. When all the waders flushed. it was cool to watch it flying around, complete with projecting feet hanging out the back.

Lesser Yellowlegs

It was great to meet fellow Woodcock, Emanuela, on site along with James Robson and Mark and Ellis Lucas. After a look at the redhead Smew and female Scaup nearby on Lingham Lake, Emanuela joined me to head north to have a look for the Ring-necked Duck near Bolton-on-Swale. The viewing was tricky until another birder said we could look from the car park, which we did. A handsome bird as ever, the Ringo was very active, swimming about, preening and diving. Makes a change from the usual sleeping posture!

Ring-necked Duck

After a bit the wind got up, so we drove down to Bolton-on-Swale Lake YWT as I was keen to see the results of the project I designed and secured funding for in my day job. It is looking good and it was great to see lots of birds sitting on the new gravel islands. Hopefully, Little Ringed Plovers will find them to their liking when they return in spring. The contractors had done a good job scraping the bank too, so hopefully Sand Martins might colonise. c400 Pink-footed Geese heading west, two Goosanders, 17 Little Grebes and nearby, c600 Curlews (!!!!) were the highlights.


Yorkshire Bird Race 2020

5th January was the Mike Clegg Memorial Bird Race here in Yorkshire, and this year, the recipient of the proceeds would be Jean Thorpe at the Ryedale Wildlife Rehab Centre. Jean is absolutely amazing and a one woman defiance of the disgraceful criminals who continue to persecute our beautiful birds of prey and other wildlife. Jean is not alone; we, in the birding and wildlife community stand with her and we were proud to support the fundraising efforts with our team, Nevermind the Woodcocks. The Young Upstarts, Jack Ashton-Booth, Tim Jones, Ollie Metcalfe and Chris Gomersall put together a fundraising campaign and the response was fantastic. Hopefully all the money raised will help Jean continue her fab work. As the Crowdfunding page will close imminently, if you wish to make a donation, check out Jean's blog.

Nevermind the Woodcocks, from left: Paul Brook (driver), Rich Baines, Emanuela Buizzi, JL.

So, to the Bird Race...

Skipwith Common at Dawn. Despite the mild weather, no singing Woodlarks, and no Green Woodpeckers. We did score with a Brambling, the only one of the day and plenty of Siskins zipping about, plus potentially tricky birds such as Long-tailed Tit and Bullfinch. A Woodcock flew close by as the first light illuminated the eastern sky, lifting our spirits in the chill air. We headed for Menthorpe Lane where the struggle continued and then up the east side of the Lower Derwent Valley.

Melbourne Lock. We had had some bad fortune, missing several birds by lunchtime and we could feel the race slipping out of our grasp (although to be fair, it was never in our grasp!). Two of the team forgot to take their lunch down to the lock too, so were feeling doubly low, especially as neither Cetti's Warbler or Stonechat was ticked. Shortly, Rich picked up the missing skein of eleven White-fronted Geese which had been flushed by a farmer from a field near East Cottingwith and this improved our mood.

This was followed by a comedy incident, whereby Paul managed to get his car stuck in the mud. The Young Upstarts arrived and offered a hand. It was incredibly difficult even with seven of us pushing, until Paul realised it was easier without the handbrake on! Much mirth and we added Kingfisher courtesy of Chris's sharp eyes, who noticed a bird sitting on a fence half a mile away.

After adding Marsh Tit and Nuthatch (not always easy), we headed for Wheldrake but had to double-back for the pair of Bewick's Swans which had been refound on Bubwith Ings. Paul was happy as this was a lifer for him.

Meanwhile, across the road, Rich seemed just as pleased to add Dunlin to the list! With lifted spirits we shot down to Riccall/Barlby to look for yesterday's Iceland Gull which had been refound by the Upstarts. Sadly, minutes before we arrived, it was flushed. We gave it half an hour, but it failed to return, so we headed for Wheldrake for dusk.

Our total had reached a modest 86 and from the spanking new bridge at Wheldrake Ings, we added Curlew and Coot. We tried in vain to find Little and Barn Owls as the light dimmed,  but to no avail, and the Wenlock Arms seemed like a place to relax and admit defeat, with our lowest score to date, 88.

Well done to all the teams, and especially the Young Upstarts for smashing their previous York record, with an amazing 108, and for all the teams for taking part and raising valuable funds for Jean.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

From Iceland to the Caspian!

Ever since the closure of Rufforth landfill site, large gulls have dwindled considerably in the York area. Only a few hundred come into roost at Wheldrake Ings now, so the chance of one of the scarcer species has really reduced.

The news that Tim Jones had found a first-winter Iceland Gull in a field near Barlby (feeding on abbatoir waste, delightfully!), was, therefore, very unexpected and exciting, so once I'd left Sol in the capable hands of a mate and his Dad (they had pre-arranged to go indoor climbing) I shot down the A19 from York.

Chris Gomersall had seen the bird most recently in a different field, but the flock had flushed and moved back to where Tim had originally seen the bird. We gave it a good twenty minutes but there was no sign in the dense loafing flock, though many birds were obscured. A couple of adult and one first winter Lesser Black-backed Gulls were a welcome sight - hopefully a straightforward addition to tomorrow's York Bird Race list. A covey of six Grey Partridges in the adjacent field were nice too. Meanwhile, many of the gulls were heading over to the original field where they were feeding, so we decided to head back round.

After a few minutes and as more and more gulls descended, Chris announced that he'd found the Iceland. Excellent! The bird showed well, feeding with the flock, getting a fair bit of hassle from the larger species.

Iceland Gull - nice find Tim!

A little later and shortly after discussing how a flock of this size (500+) should really hold a Caspian Gull, and Chris did it again, stating he'd found a first-winter Casp! It was a real corker and proceeded to show well for the next half and hour or so, until we gave up due to cold and the gathering gloom. Strangely, the bird seemed to have nervous tick, where it frequently flicked it's head up. It may have been swallowing something, although it seemed to do it even when it hadn't been pecking at the floor. I never did make it to Wheldrake for the roost!

First-winter Caspian Gull, at the back of the flock on the left.