Saturday, 4 November 2017

Hornbeam Grosbeaks

There has been a colossal invasion of Hawfinches in the UK in the last month or so. Whilst mostly down south, there have been lots turning up in Yorkshire in the last couple of weeks and it was only a matter of time before some were pinned down in the York area. First, a small flock, now numbering nine, were found in Gilling East and yesterday, 50+ were discovered in Yorkshire Arboretum near Castle Howard. I hadn't seen Hawfinches in the York area since I was a teenager as they have declined greatly in the county, so the presence of these birds tempted me to gather up Team Leadley and head east.

We soon found the birds, at first showing poorly against the light and hidden in the branches of a large Hornbeam, where they were quietly feeding. More birds arrived gradually, and besides the usual ticking call, were also heard to make a rather Redwing like 'seep'. With the afternoon sunshine peeking out, the birds became more obliging. At least thirty were seen, but with many more over near the visitor centre it was likely that there are 50-60 on site which must be one of the biggest ever flocks recorded in the York area. Some really creacking adults present, along with some drab juveniles with very little black below the bill and plain grey lores. Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Redpoll and Chiffchaff also noted, plus lots of familiar York and Yorkshire birders!!

 These two photos are of a juv. Much paler, drab beige in colour, with tiny black bib and no black around the eyes and on the lores.

Duncan Bye and Chris Gomersall enjoying the Hawfinch action

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Loop Guru

This autumn I have mostly been enduring westerly winds. For weeks on end. This week, a glimmer of hope in the forecast, and on cue last night it went easterly. As luck would have it, I had today (and tomorrow) booked off work, just in case this happened, so I headed off to Flamborough early doors. Parked by Old Fall and walked down towards the lighthouse. As soon as I got out of the car, a small gang of Bramblings wheezed overhead and a Chiffchaff called in the hedge. This showed promise. The loop didn't quite live up to expectations, although plenty of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Bramblings and Chaffinches overhead, along with small groups of Blackbirds, Redwings and here and there a Song Thrush. Very few Goldcrests were in evidence, but a few more Chiffchaffs and a Wheatear in the lighthouse car park. A Weasel scurried across the Bay Bramble steps in front of me.  It was fun birding, mainly because I have barely been out to the coast this autumn!

I went round the (Old Fall) Loop twice, but besides a late-ish Willow Warbler in Old Fall Plantation, failed to add anything new.

After lunch, I decided to head to the northside, to try Holmes Gut. A few more thrushes seemed to be coming in off, including this Song Thrush (below), so perhaps I would get lucky.

On falling out of the car, I immediately heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the sycamores by the Yorkshire Water compound. Cool! Right choice. Then the phone beeped and news of a Radde's Warbler came through from Bempton. Back in the car! A few minutes later and I pulled into the car park at Bempton, and headed for the nature trail. I followed two guys along the trail and soon came upon the finder and two other birders. Apparently the bird had showed but then got flushed by a family. As we waited, other birders arrived. After 15 tense minutes, it appeared behind us, so we spread out in the adjacent weedy field and grilled the hedge and weeds. A few brief glimpses by other birders suggested the bird was moving back up the hedge. I got two brief views of a dark shape in the last bush...tantalising!

It became apparent that it had flicked across into a bramble patch on the field edge. We gathered at the corner and suddenly there it was! A flicking olivey-yellow sprite with mahoosive supercilium and big orange legs. Corking! It flicked into the brambles and disappeared. I moved positions and shortly it bobbed out again, this time in full view on the barbed wire! Nice. It played hide and seek for a few moments and then reappeared again on top of the brambles long enough for me to attempt a photo, although the pic I got was just as the bird raised it's wings to fly off. During its sojourn in the bramble patch, I could heard it calling occasionally, a quiet and rather liquid 'chet'. Sadly for arriving birders, it then made it's way further along the field edge and over the brow and out of site. A male Blackcap showed briefly while we waited but our Rad friend did not reappear.

I decided to finish the walk I had started at Holmes Gut, so drove back to Flamborough. The Yellow-brow was in the Willows on arrival with a couple of Chiffchaffs, before flicking into the Elders. Plenty more Redwings and Blackbirds dropping in, and a few Goldcrests. An enjoyable day all told, with a bonus pair of Sibes to whet my appetite for the big day tomorrow!

Yellow-browed Warbler, Holmes Gut YWT. I never tire of seeing these little stripy dudes.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Mega Scops

I met Tom Middleton on his patch today, a small coastal valley at Ryhope, just south of Sunderland on the Durham coast.

On Wednesday, he had done his usual walk round his patch, full of expectation due to the easterly wind that was blowing in across the North Sea. He hadn't seen much before a fast-moving warbler caught his attention- he hoped for a Yellow-brow. As he raised his bins, a movement in the middle of the Elder bush caught his eye, and he found himself looking straight at a small owl. Having only seen Tawny Owl on his patch before, this was going to be a patch tick.

He got some photos and then the bird's head turned to face him revealing ear tufts - a Scops Owl! His hands began to shake and the net photo completely missed the target! He had found the first Scops for Durham - cracking! (The warbler was a Chiffchaff).

This tiny owl showed well to several hundred visitors that day, and again the next day, although it had moved roost and was difficult to see. Yesterday, the bird was not seen and I assumed I had missed my chance to see this cracking little vagrant; it had either moved on, or died, I assumed. Remarkably, today it was refound back in the original Elder bush.

I had an unexpectedly free afternoon, so hooking up with Chris and Paz, we cruised up the A19 to Ryhope. A short walk under the railway and the assembled birders were clearly still 'on it'. After a little bit of searching, there it was - lovely. What a super little bird. It stretched a bit, yawned and half-opened it's eyes, before going back into a doze in the dappled shade of the Elder. A little later, the sun came out and it seemed to not like the light, so turned it's head away - very cute.

Nearby, a Spotted Flycatcher performed, a beautiful migrant, accompanied by a skulking Barred Warbler, from Eastern Europe. Wow! A little later, we had a look at the sea, where a Red-throated Diver, complete with a mostly-red throat loafed offshore and a few common waders were roosting on the rocks as the tide rose. We bumped into a young lad who we chatted to - he then mentioned he had found this bird - this was Tom, and he generously told us the story of his mega find. Good work Tom!

 Barred Warbler, skulking
 Spotted Flycatcher
Paz, Chris and on the right, a very happy Tom Middleton

Friday, 29 September 2017

Goth Puffins and friends

Another YCN whale and seabird trip and sadly no whales, despite excellent views by Rich's trips recently. Nevertheless, a great day out with plenty of seabirds, including Bonxies, Manx Shearwaters and Puffins, one of which was clearly heading for the Whitby goth festival. The wind went back round to the west and consequently very few migrants among the resident Stonechats on the cliffs near Cowbar.

Manxie and Kittiwakes, Goth Puffin and Stonechat.

Boggled: 26-27th September

Two days with work at Boggle Hole on the North Yorkshire coast in an easterly, always promised to be good! After my morning's presentation, headed north along the clifftop and was rewarded with a smart juvenile Red-backed Shrike feeding from the hedge surrounding one of the paddocks. With the assistance of a colleague I managed a couple of digi-binned shots with my phone:

The shrike was still present the next day, along with a Yellow-browed Warbler just by the Youth Hostel. Very nice! Also, a strikingly blue toadstool which apparently is a Blue Roundhead:

Flamborough: YCN/YWT/FBO Migration Workshop, 23rd September

Our first migration workshop of the autumn was hampered by westerlies, but nevertheless, Tony pulled in a few smart birds including a couple of Bullfinches and a Goldcrest. Later, Ian turned up with an enormous Convolvulous Hawkmoth:

We did the Old Fall loop which was great fun despite the lack of migrants which consisted of one Pied Flycatcher in the plantation.

Monday, 18 September 2017

A taste of the autumn to come

Yesterday I had my first visit of the autumn to the Great White Cape. It has been predominantly westerly for the last few weeks apart from a Greenish-tinged day when it went east momentarily, so poor for the east coast, but great for seabirding on the west coast.

Yesterday, things changed and the winds went light and from the north with a bit of an easterly airflow across from Scandinavia, and this change certainly did the trick. I gave seawatching a go early doors, managing to be the one in eight who managed to miss the fly-by Sabine's Gull! Nevertheless, stacks of stuff was heading north, with flocks of Red-throated Divers heading south. About a dozen Sooty Shearwaters joined double that number of Manxies, plus several Bonxies, plenty of Arctic Skuas and lots of wildfowl. I headed off after an hour as the allure of the bushes was too strong.
Early morning at Flamborough Head. Never get tired of this view...

Two Lesser Whitethroats and a Willow Warbler in the bushes by the lighthouse was a good start and gave early promise. The air was alive with Meadow Pipits, and flurries of Swallows flicked past. A Peregrine cruised over and a black-bellied Golden Plover flew around calling. Round the Outer Head to Old Fall where Craig and Lee instructed me on where the Yellow-browed Warbler - the first Flamborough bird of the autumn - was lurking. It called on cue from the southeast corner of the plantation but was elusive in the strengthening wind. It appeared briefly in the tops of the sycamores twice, before melting away, teasing us from the depths of the spinney with more calling. Little else of note during completion of the loop but an enjoyable morning nevertheless. Elsewhere, that hint of east dropped a fine selection on Fair Isle, an Arctic Warbler at Spurn, whilst Burnham Overy in Norfolk pulled in a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler....More to come hopefully!

Friday, 8 September 2017

Whale of a time

First Yorkshire Coast Nature Whale and Seabird trip of the season for me today. Sadly, no Minke Whales showed up, though we got good close views of Harbour Porpoise, plus Red-throated Divers, Bonxies, Arctic Skua, Common Scoters, Peregrine, Puffins - including a couple of Pufflings and best  of all, a Gurnard, caught and released by skipper Shaun. A great group and we had a lot of laughs. Bring on the next trip!

Puffling and Bonxie, off Staithes, North Yorkshire.

Staithes and the plucky YCN gang, with skipper Shaun on the left of the cabin.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Carrot face

Two months has whizzed by. Not sure where the time went. So what's happened? Lots of good plants, a few moths and butterflies and finally added Storm Petrel to my Yorkshire list. Dipped the Black-browed Albatross again.

Today, had a pre-work twitch to St Aidan's near Castleford to look for a Caspian Tern. I have been pretty lucky with twitching these monster carrot-faced terns in the past, but I had to be in luck today as I would only have about 40 minutes on site before dashing back to work. Fortunately, the bird was showing on arrival, and I legged it down the hillside from the car park to Astley Lake where the bird was loafing on an island. Shortly, it flew around and plunge-dived, Gannet style, into the water three times, with success on each occasion. It seemed to be a full adult and had a red ring on the leg. A very smart bird and my first for Yorkshire.

View south towards the visitor center, St Aidan's RSPB.

Caspian Tern. Corker.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Whitendale Pallid

Spent the day walking up the stunning Whitendale Valley with the whole gang. It was a long walk for the kids, but the gradual ascent, fine weather and beautiful river to splash in helped with the trek. Birding was great at this slow pace, with my first Pied Flycatcher, a showy singing male, adding to the woodland chorus. Common Sandpipers skittered along the rapids, where Grey and Pied Wagtails chased about. No sign of any Dippers surprisingly. A bit further on, an unseen Cuckoo gave away his presence, calling forlornly.

After a couple of hours with my stress-levels building, we took the last turn and Vicky kindly said I could rush on ahead. Typically, the first guy I asked said the male Pallid Harrier had flown off about twenty minutes previously. Atypically, whilst chatting to him, the bird came straight back in; I picked it up behind his head, coming back across the valley, against the blue sky.

It proceeded to float, ethereally, almost skimming the top of the heather as it hunted as if in slow motion. With the glorious May sunshine illuminating the vivid lime green of the Birch leaves amid the dark of the heath, the harrier floated slowly along. The harrier, rakish and svelte, paid us no heed as the birdo collective stared in admiration across the valley. It was unbelievably white, whiter than the previous male I had seen all those years ago at Elmley in Kent, when they were still, oh, so rare. Perhaps it was the purity of the upland air in the May sunshine, or the contrast with the deep mauve heather background. Either way, it was a dream-like moment. The black wingtip wedge was striking, seemingly made up of jet black 3rd to 5th primaries, with only a black tip on the second. The tail was lightly barred grey, and the upperparts flashed silver, mirror-like in the sun.

Shortly, the kids arrived and lunch was served. The gang were pretty hot - the only hats we had brought were woolly, and no sun block was to hand. Sunburn later perhaps. Mid-sandwiches and the harrier came back, carrying a long piece of bracken, almost looking almost like a tropicbird! It circled up over the hill, seemingly showing off to a nearby Buzzard. It eventually dropped in and settled on the bracken, allowing me to get the scope on it for the kids.

After a bit, the bird got up and flew around the valley for a while, did a bit of sky-dancing, including some epic stoops, before settling on a fence post to preen.

Heat haze didn't make photos too easy.

The family headed back down the road, after saying hello to fellow York birder Adam Hutt. I watched the bird cruising about for another half an hour or so. Also noted were a few Buzzards, two Peregrines, Sparrowhawk, Stonechats and a couple of Ravens.

I last saw the bird heading up the valley into the distance. What a privilege.

I walked down the hill with a birder from Accrington, which made me realise I had been 'over the border' for far too long; it was time to get a wriggle on. I caught up with the kids near the river and after a cool-off (it was proper baking) we had ice creams and then headed back to Yorkshire.