Monday, 17 September 2018

York Birding Trip: Frampton Marsh and Fairburn Ings, Sunday 16th September 2018

Frampton Marsh RSPB

Frampton Marsh, viewed from the seawall.

After a hassle-free journey down to deepest Lincolnshire, we met up with the York Birding gang in the car park at Frampton Marsh. It was dry, but blowing a hoolie from the southwest; not too conducive to good birding unless you are seawatching in Cornwall! Anyway, we made our way to the big lagoon by the RSPB centre. One of the star attractions, an adult Long-billed Dowitcher had been present for over a week and had been reported already, so we started grilling a huge flock of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, hoping to find this Snipe-sized Yank wader. After a while it became obvious the bird was either hidden in the middle of the flock, or was elsewhere, and the latter was confirmed when Jane got some gen from the site staff a little later. A solitary Bar-tailed Godwit was with the Blackwits, but soon flew off, presumably to find some more closely-related friends. Lots of other birds were present, including a brief Little Stint with some Dunlin, a few Ruff, distant Spotted Redshank, Ringed Plovers and Snipe. A Cetti's Warbler sang from a reed-lined ditch adjacent to the car park, and a few migrants headed over - Yellow Wagtail and Meadow Pipits. We headed towards the seawall following our Dowitcher Gen.

We carefully checked every patch of water we saw and this soon paid off when I picked up the distant Dowitcher, busy probing the water in a small creek. It showed well, but distantly and viewing was made a little more complicated due to the strength of the wind!

 Long-billed Dowitcher, looking rather short-billed...

York birders.

We carried on the circuit having admired a flock of spangly Golden Plovers, looking stunning in the early autumn sunshine. I was keen to look for Sea Aster bee. It was certainly warm enough and there was certainly a lot of flowering Sea Aster, but the gale was presumably keeping the bees in more sheltered places, so we drew a blank. This was amply made up for with some great birding and a lively Stoat. A Merlin whipped across the marsh, evading many of the group but a few sharp eyes picked the bird up. A Marsh Harrier hunted across the saltmarsh (Saltmarsh Harrier perhaps?) flushing Spotted Redshanks and Teal. From the seawall the Long-billed Dowitcher was a little closer and we enjoyed further views.
The Long-billed Dowitcher watches coyly as a juvenile Black-tailed Godwit wades in deep.

Nearby, a flock of 12 Spotted Redshanks gave great views, along with a couple of gorgeous Greenshanks, several Little Egrets and a flightly flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers.

 Greenshank and Spotted Redshank

 Elegant Spotshanks

A single Barnacle Goose of dubious origin dropped in from high up, and later we picked out a solitary Pink-footed Goose, which may have had more genuine wild credentials. Three Pintails were among freshly-arrived Wigeon and a cute juvenile Little Stint showed well from the 360 Hide. A rumour of a Curlew Sandpiper was perhaps more wishful-thinking than reality however!

Part Two: Fairburn Ings

We felt we had given Frampton a good grilling and decided to head back north. A few good birds had been seen over the weekend at Fairburn back in 'God's own' so that's where we headed. With a bit of gen, we met up at Lindike and were soon scanning New Flash looking for the reported Cattle Egret. Plenty of cattle, but no sign of any little white herons. Not to be deterred, we headed round to the hide. A fine juvenile Spoonbill was cavorting in the water and a Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Pintails and Black-tailed Godwits were on the flash. A Marsh Harrier flew past. Emanuela suggested that we would have a chance of spotting the egret from up the new trail which goes up the side of a large hill, so we headed up there. True to her word, after a long uphill slog, we reached the path along the hill and after a few minutes, Emanuela nailed it, spotting the Cattle Egret distantly back at New Flash! Eleven Spoonbills were impressive, but we didn't linger as we were keen to get a closer look at the egret.

The result of a successful breeding season at Yorkshire's only Spoonbill colony. Awesome scenes!

Our first view of the Cattle Egret. Good eyes Emanuela!

Back down to Lindike and the egret had obligingly moved on to a gate post, where it posed nicely, enjoying the evening sunshine. Close-by, four Whinchats were flycatching from the weed tops, giving great views.

It turns out it is not easy phone-scoping white birds in bright sunlight against a dark background!

This turned out to be the grand finale to a lovely day out with the York Bird Club. For more info about future trips, check out the website.

Whale-fest and Gannet Log Party

Mega YCN Whale and Seabird trip out of Staithes on Saturday.22+ Minke Whales gave numerous encounters over the course of the day, sometimes coming very close. At times we were surrounded by the sound of their explosive breaths as they surfaced, and the stinky smell of cabbage drifted across the sea (Minke breath is gross!). One young whale hung out with our drifting boat, at one point swimming straight under the hull much to our clients' delight. Seabirds were good too, with 6+ Bonxies, a dozen Manx Shearwaters, Arctic Skua, 10 Puffins and plenty of common stuff. Two weird things happened. Firstly, we came across a drifting log that had clearly fallen off a boat fairly recently. This had attracted a gang of Gannets who were clambering about on it, falling off, cackling hysterically and seemingly having a great time. Later, a cry of  'dolphin' went up and to my surprise, not a dolphin but a Harbour Porpoise leaping clear out of the water - not the usual behaviour! What was more remarkable was that there was over 15 individuals in this super pod, leaping around, chasing each other and coming alongside the boat. I have never seen porpoises behave like this, they are usually in twos and threes and rather shy of the boat. Never stop learning! The season is ending soon and there may still be some places left, so check out the Yorkshire Coast Nature website soon if you fancy seeing whales off the Yorkshire coast. It really is ace!

 The shot I have always wanted - Minke Whale with Staithes in the background.

Fulmar, a regularly seen seabird, but the light looked cool on this one.


Gannet log party. Unbelievable scenes!

Juvenile Bonxie on the prowl.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Winning Roseates

South Gare was heaving with birds and besides our friend the Pomarine Skua, there were lots of terns, waders and gulls to look through. A gang of Linnets and a single Whitethroat in a small bush were the only small birds of note.

We had a look through the terns on the rocky breakwater and picked out three adult and three scaly juvenile Roseate Terns- a real treat! The adults were still remarkably pink on the breast and with wholly black beaks, although one was developing a deep red base. They had mostly lost their long tail streamers. The compact, scaly young were very distinctive and spent most of the time harassing the nearby adults, which were presumably their parents. As the tide covered the rocks, the terns moved on to the beach and some of the Roseates gave great views, despite the onset of the rain. These are really gorgeous birds and I am pleased to hear they continue to increase at their only English breeding colony, Coquet Island in Northumberland. As autumn approaches, they will head off down to West Africa for the winter.

How many species can you see in this photo? Should be four...

Roseate Terns with Common Terns on the South Gare breakwater.

 Adult Roseate. Note how pale it is compared to the nearby Common Tern.

 Adult and juvenile.

Pomarine Menace

There's something cool and just a bit menacing about Pomarine Skuas. Like a large, more powerful version of an Arctic Skua, they are notorious for being the skua that will go for the bird rather than steal its food. I have seen plenty of Poms in my time, mostly flying past east coast headlands in stormy October northeasterlies, or cruising past the Outer Hebrides on their spring migration back to the Arctic (see here) and they always inspire an awe and just a touch of menace.

Skuas of all four species begin their southbound migration in August, and sometimes they may linger for a while along the coast if the feeding is good. A little over a week ago, a Pomarine Skua was found on the beach at South Gare, on the south bank of the River Tees' mouth and proceeded to hang out stealing fish scraps from the local anglers, and occasionally having a pop at the loafing terns. With a fairly free Saturday to play with and westerlies meaning few migrants would be on the east coast (ignoring the Icterine Warbler at Flamborough of course!), I decided to head north to pay homage to the Pom. I picked up Rich and headed up there, racing ahead of the rain band spreading in from the southwest.

The bird was present on arrival, loafing on the beach, completely unconcerned by the nearby presence of birders. After a bit it got up and flew about, attracted to the activities of the anglers on the seawall. As it cruised back along the beach it caused utter mayhem among the roosting gulls and waders, and attracted a steady stream of angry parent terns that noisily divebombed the skua, trying to keep it away from their young. With a heavy spotted breastband and flank markings, I suspect this is a female, and with plain dark underwing coverts, seemingly an adult. She had pretty good spoons, but certainly not as impressive as the spring males I have seen. Despite the ever-present menace, she was pretty chilled and didn't seem that interested in murderous pursuits. If I was a young tern, I would certainly take no chances though!

Mrs Spoons. At the bottom, eyeing up an adult Roseate Tern standing on the tideline.

The Humpback Ghost

Last Saturday, we had a great Yorkshire Coast Nature whale and seabird trip out of Staithes. We saw about 15 Minke Whales, a Sooty Shearwater, some Manx Shearwaters and lots of common seabirds. Best of all, we saw a large whale, presumably a Humpback blowing in the distance. Sean, our skipper, spotted this first looking back towards the shore. I saw a large bushy blow three times, before the animal vanished. We chugged over but there was no sign. The atmosphere on the boat was electric as we scoured the sea looking for the leviathan. Ten minutes later, we found it again. It blew four times and this time some back was visible, but it was facing away so the fin was hardly visible.It then disappeared, like a ghost. The blow was large c6 feet and bushy. I suspect this was a Humpback Whale, but sadly I could not clinch it. There was debate on board about whether Minkes could ever behave like this, but I have never seen it if they do. Hopefully somebody will see it again and clinch the ID. Whatever the result, it added to a very exciting trip, with stacks of great Minke Whale sightings and a boat full of happy clients.

Minke Whales, off Staithes. With the variety of dorsal fin shapes on offer, it should be possible to track some of these individuals.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Spain #2: Parc Natural del Aiguamolls, Empuriabrava

Spent an evening and then from dawn at the Parc Natural del Aiguamolls wetland near Empuriabrava, south of Roses. At 4,800 hectares, it is a big reserve, second only in a Catalonian context to the Ebro Delta, with freshmarsh, saltmarsh, dunes and beach. It seems to be actively managed for wildlife, with horses being used for grazing the fresh marsh, which was interesting, together with herds of Fallow Deer and escaped Coypu. Visitors are well catered-for, with an impressive viewing platform atop a high grain silo-esque tower, several hides and some education buildings, loos and car park. Details here.

 Early morning view from one of the hides.

 The watch tower. Pretty impressive.

One of the exceptionally tame Coypus.

Mid-August gave only a hint of what the site had to offer, with much of the site dry. On the couple of pools still present and adult Little Stint was the highlight, along with Little Ringed Plovers, Black-winged Stilts, Green and Common Sandpipers and Water Rails. A few Marsh Harriers patrolled and a smart ringtail Montagu's Harrier vied for bird of the morning. That accolade goes to a most unexpected Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, my first since the day my daughter was born, calling and showing well in an ash in the middle of the marsh!

Plenty of Zitting Cisticolas, Cetti's Warblers, Reed Warblers and Nightingales were present in the reedbeds and scrubby areas, and a fine Woodchat Shrike appeared as the day warmed up. Good numbers of White Storks, Grey and Purple Herons, Little and Cattle Egrets were seen, most heading inland from their roost. A few Bee-eaters were noted along with Red-backed Shrikes and Serins. This site is well worth a look if you are in the general area. Plenty of dragonflies were seen, but most were not identified, apart from a couple of Southern Migrant Hawkers.

White Storks and Southern Migrant Hawker.

York (moderate) Wader Fest!

The southwesterly wind was up and waders were on the move, so with a couple of hours to spare, I headed to Hes East to see what might have dropped in. In spite of the long dry spell, the water had not dropped much, and only a thin shingle and mud drawdown was in evidence. Nevertheless, two Dunlin and a Common Sandpiper had dropped in. A good gang of c50 Aythyas were mainly Tufted, but five Pochard were present. 

 The east end of Hes East
A fine Greylag Goose...look closely, there are two Dunlin on the lake shore!

An abrupt 'Too-lee' got me frantically scanning -surely a Ringed Plover! And there, a fast-flying fivesome, heading straight down the lake. They got as far as the Sand Martin bank, then went up at 45 degrees, over the trees and away. Class migration in action. Where was the accompanying Sanderling? Not to be today, but a quintet of Ringos was a great autumn record for the York area. Clearly, waders were on the move. Duncan messaged to say a Ruff was on the Pool at Wheldrake, a new bird too, but sadly nothing else. I stayed for an hour scanning with ears and eyes, but sadly nothing else happened, save a few Swifts overhead and a couple of Yellow Wagtails.


After tea, headed down to the Pool, which is continuing to dry up - see below.

The Wheldrake Ings Pool, with water rapidly receding into the distance.

Nevertheless, it was alive with birds. 23 Snipe were busy probing the remaining wet, around the feet of stationary Grey Herons. Nearby the juvenile Ruff was feeding with the lingering juvenile Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit. No less than ten Green Sandpipers were present, one of which, a juvenile, was very noisy, calling continually the entire time I was there. So, 35 waders of four species. A wader fest, albeit a moderate one!

A fine adult male Marsh Harrier enlivened proceedings briefly. I went round to Swantail (the hide is now in the process of being removed) and added two Shovelers to the list. No sign of the Whinchat I saw yesterday or the Water Rails.

 Snipe and Grey Heron.
Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit

Juvenile Ruff.
Green Sandpiper. Juveniles are starting to arrive now, in very dapper plumage, among the moulting adults.

c100 Swallows and a few House Martins were feeding over the riverside, pre-roost.