Saturday, 17 March 2018

Signs of Spring?

Work trip to Ripon City Quarry yesterday, to look at some restoration works and boundary issues. The weather was dreadfully cold and wet, as the 'Mini Beast from the East' started blowing in. Nevertheless, the hardy shapes of two Sand Martins fluttered low across Canal Field lagoon and nearby, a single Little Ringed Plover hunkered down on the Silt Lake, heralding the spring. Also seen, were two Green Sandpipers, a Ringed Plover, two Dunlins, c30 Tufted Ducks and five Teal. Adam, the quarry manager reported an Avocet on the Silt Lake a couple of weeks ago.

 This was how RCQ looked a couple of years ago. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will be given the central part of this photo to manage as a nature reserve next March. Restoration works are well underway.

The silt lake, with blue boundary marker denoting the line of the boundary fence to be installed shortly.

Saturday, 10 March 2018


Headed down to Wheldrake Ings once family duties complete. The two female Scaup reported earlier were still showing well on the flooded main meadow, their white-faces brightly marked, while an adult male and immature female Peregrines cavorted noisily around. Four Oystercatchers were piping maniacally and Curlews were displaying - all very spring-like. Another female Scaup appeared among the Tufties on Swantail. I wondered if these could be the Hes East birds, so I decided to head down the river to check the refuge for the remaining two. Sadly, the flooding Derwent stopped me short of the old Riverside Hide so I had to turn back. Other birds of note today c43 Dunlin with c300 Lapwings, 5 Golden Plover and 8 Goldeneye.

In other news it has been a bit of a media week. My butterfly article got published in Yorkshire Life magazine, I am on the Paul Hudson BBC weather show this weekend talking about winter, spring and the sealife wreck on the east coast, and my feature on the Champions of the Flyway Bird Race was released in the York Press today. Not sure how any of this has happened but all good fun!

 Tiny Treasures... Yorkshire Life mag March 2018

Meanwhile, the new day job has been quite exciting with trips in the past week to Appleton Mill Farm on the edge of the North York Moors, and then yesterday, I went up to Mealbank Quarry near Ingleton in the Yorkshire Dales. This former limestone quarry will shortly be leased to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, once I have sorted the lease conditions out! Graham and myself had a walk round and had great views of two Ravens in the spring sunshine, along with a pair of Kestrels which look like they will breed on the cliffs. It is a great place and we are looking forward to starting work on site, with a focus being on trying to sort the habitat for Northern Brown Argus and the limestone plants that inhabit the area.

A view north up Mealbank Quarry towards the snow-capped Ingleborough in the distance.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

#SNOWMAGEDDON 5 - The thaw comes

Milder air finally arrived from the south and the temperatures got above freezing for the first time in three days. The snowmelt began in earnest and Frank 1 departed first thing, with Franks 2 and 3 having a quick bit of fruit for breakfast before heading off strongly. They didn't come back. I picked up Emanuela again and we headed up to Castle Howard, where it began snowing again!

The lake was partly frozen and seemingly bereft of birds, although as we walked down the piping of unseen Teal hinted that there were some birds still present. We headed down the lake pausing to check the ducks. Shortly, Emanuela pointed out a smaller duck that we had flushed from the lake edge - a female Smew! Cool! It flew along the lake and landed in the northeast corner. We headed down and found the smart little duck cavorting with the local Goldeneye. She didn't seem impressed with the drakes head-tossing efforts and headed off on her own. Four Mandarin and six Shoveler were the only other birds of note.

Smew, the epitome of winter ducks. Today, a true snow duck.

The snow began to come down heavily so after a while, we felt we better get out of dodge before the road became impassable. As it turned out, the snow had turned to rain by the time we had walked back so the road was fine. We headed back to the LDV, checked Aughton - frozen - before going to North Duffield Carrs. No sign of the Rockit, but stacks of ducks, plus one Whooper Swan.

#SNOWMAGEDDON 4 -Gull Blindness!

With all this weather, I had a hunch that there could be some birds around and with the report of some Scaup at Hes East and a Rock Pipit at North Duffield Carrs, it was time to get out. Family stuff done, I headed out in the afternoon, picked up Emanuela and headed for Hes East. Large grassy patches were clear of snow among the buildings on campus, and a mixed flock of Meadow Pipits, Redwings, Fieldfares and Blackbirds were feeding. We watched one Redwing which managed to get a large worm. Great stuff!

Down at the lake, the wind was very cold and we found large numbers of Fieldfares feeding on the grass along with five Dunlins and a Golden Plover. We soon found the five Scaup, which seemed to be three adult females and two first winter females, the latter with smaller white face patches and more uniform brown plumage, lacking the adult's more mottled grey and buff flanks. Smart birds. Around the lake were several Snipe, a Redshank and plenty of common ducks.

The bottom photo shows the five with a female Pochard third from the left.

Next to North Duffield Carrs where old mate Alan Whitehead picked up the Rock Pipit feeding on the ice. This was a smart bird, a Scandinavian bird as expected, with a decent white supercilium and greyish cast to the head. Overall a smoky, dark bird, with dark legs and bill, sullied underparts and greyish outertail.Shame my photo is rubbish! Two Barn Owls were flying about, one of which nearly flew into the hide!

Scandinavian Rock Pipit on the frozen ings.

Last, we headed for the snowbound Wheldrake Ings where we met up with Duncan to do the roost. After a bit, we did the long muddy slog to Swantail Hide where views were much better. The gull flock was huge and it was easy to get Gull Blindness! The blizzard like throng sat tightly packed on the ice and it was hard to focus on individuals. After a bit, Duncan called an adult Med Gull, and I soon picked it up. However, on comparing scopes we realised we were looking at two separate birds! Both were smart with good black hoods and bright red beaks, although 'mine' still had white on the forehead, when it woke up for a spot of preening. Meanwhile, Craig had found a Little Gull over at Bank Island but we had no chance of getting back there quick enough. Nothing much else of note, apart from three squealing Water Rails and plenty of Mink tracks along the boardwalk.

 My Med Gull - centre left, asleep with a black head.

Duncan's Med Gull, same pose, but 20 metres to the left of the first!


No more snow today, but still bitterly cold. Frank and Frank 2 were still defending their territories from first light. More apples were supplied. I am not sure what the cashiers in the nearby Co-op must have thought of me buying so many! Further excitement came in the form of a pair of Lesser Redpolls in the birches and then on the feeders. The male was incredibly brave, taking on a Greenfinch that was much bigger than he was.


Dawn on Friday revealed more snow. I cleared another patch of snow on the small front lawn and put more apples out. Cue more Fieldfares. In the back garden, a single feisty Fieldfare was now defending the food and was chasing off all comers. This was pretty heart-breaking to watch as small flocks of thrushes dropped into our trees and took it in turns to try and descend to feed, but 'Frank' was having none of it and chased each one off fearlessly. Within twenty minutes, another bird, which the kids dubbed 'Frank 2' started to defend the new patch on the front lawn. This was hard to watch so I snook more apples across the road and next door on to neighbour's gardens. These were found immediately by Blackbirds and, yes, Fieldfares. A Pied Wagtail was feeding on the back lawn, an unusual sight in the garden. Plenty of common stuff on the feeders but nothing unusual.

Frank 2 atop his lookout tree in the front garden.


By Tuesday last week I was beginning to feel like the media were over-reacting somewhat, as flurry after flurry of snow melted weakly on the pavements and grass verges outside the office window. By Wednesday morning (28th February) the 'Beast from the East' had arrived, a severe east wind straight out of Siberia, bringing heavy snow showers and freezing temperatures. The next two days it snowed heavily and the thermometer got down to -9 degrees, the lowest here since winter 2010-11. On Thursday morning I walked out of the house with Lunar at 6.45am and immediately saw flocks of Fieldfares in the estate. They were clearly getting desperate. After my walk in an eerie white out I cleared a patch of snow on the back lawn and put out half a dozen apples. By the time I had showered, a flock of 14 Fieldfares had descended to feed in our little garden! Wow! They really were hungry.

After taking a few pics, work beckoned. The snow was too bad to cycle to work, so I opted to walk although a mate with a 4x4 picked me up part way - thanks Jon!

I put a tweet out about what was going on, and soon many people were replying saying that they had lots of Fieldfares and Redwings coming into too, along with Woodcock and even Snipe!

My 3 mile walk home in the near-dark was pretty chilly with a biting east wind blowing heavy snow in my face.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Stop Killing Our Migrants!

You will be well aware of the illegal (and in some cases legal) hunting of migratory birds that takes place throughout the Mediterranean each spring and autumn.

BirdLife International, in their document, The Killing, estimate that 25 million birds are killed each year as they pass through. 25 million! That is mind-blowing and devastating. These birds – song thrushes, robins, skylarks, quail, turtle doves, golden orioles etc are caught in mist-nets (like the ones used for ringing), stuck on sticky lime sticks, shot and trapped in spring traps. Some are eaten, many, such as bee-eaters,nightjars and swallows, are shot for sport. This is one of the causes of the rapid decline of turtle doves, which are rapidly disappearing from our countryside – and yet, one million turtle doves are still killed in the Med each year. This has to stop.

For the last five years, the Israeli bird festival has been celebrating migration and running an event to raise money to stop this slaughter – the Champions of the Flyway. This event is a 24 hour bird race. I have been invited to join the team representing Yorkshire, which is a real honour. Our team – Mark Pearson, Richard Baines and artist Darren Woodhead have no chance of winning the race, but there is a prize for the most money raised, and that is the one we want to win, as to us, that is the most important thing. Given Yorkshire’s infamy as Britain’s worst county for illegal raptor persecution, our team is really keen to show the world not everyone in Yorkshire wants to kill stuff.
The money raised is used primarily to support enforcement of lawbreakers in Mediterranean countries – as mostly the laws are there, they are just not enforced – and also, to educate young people, to try and break the link between current hunters and future generations of potential hunters. This has proven very successful elsewhere, with young people celebrating the migrants passing through and no longer killing them. 

Bee-eaters, golden orioles, turtle doves, shot for sport

Our fundraising has gone well so far and we are grateful to those of you that have already made a donation. If you would be willing to support our team and help us raise funds which will go to BirdLife’s partners to help them stop The Killing, that would be brilliant.
 You can donate on our Justgiving page here:
 And you can read more about the conservation programme here:
 You can read The Killing here:

But if you aren't in a position to make a donation, please give us a like on Facebook or Twitter- thanks!
Thanks for your support!

The Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers

Sunday, 25 February 2018

What no Glaucs?

A bitterly cold easterly made 0.5deg C feel like -5 this afternoon at Wheldrake Ings. What a great day to forget my gloves! Fortunately, the ever-prepared Duncan had a spare pair which saved me from frostbite and meant I was able to withstand the full force of the biting wind blowing straight in our faces until dusk. Andy Walker pulled the best bird out of the bag, a first winter Iceland Gull, which I am sure was the same bird I saw a few weeks ago. Stacks of Common and Black-headed gulls again, though not many large gulls, so the Iceland was a surprise. Still no Glaucous Gull, I am beginning to worry I won't get one this winter. Most of the time, all the gulls were arse-on, facing away into the east wind, so not easy to look through. Other bits; c200 Dunlins, 9 Ruff, 10 Shelduck, 1 Goldeneye.

Distant first-winter Iceland Gull out on Swantail from Tower Hide.

I don't take plastic

My afternoon trip to Wheldrake Ings was diverted to North Duffield Carrs thanks to Mark Coates letting me know a birder had found a female Red-crested Pochard. This would be a new York area bird for me, so worth a look. I messaged a few people and soon joined global birder Andy Walker in Garganey Hide where we soon picked up the duck. Disappointingly, the bird was leucistic and hanging out with the local Mallards, so presumably was not long out of captivity, and not quite the grade to make it on to my York list. A bit plastic, in other words.

Nevertheless, I spent an enjoyable hour or so at NDC chatting to Andy, with good views of a juvenile Peregrine, stacks of Pintails and my first LDV Oystercatchers of the spring. I tried out my new phone with a bit of phonescoping, which worked well. I have made an adaptor using my lens hood superglued to a cheap phone case. This worked well, particularly when combined with the voice commands, meaning I didn't have to touch the phone at all to take a pic. Sadly, the distance of most stuff undermines the quality of some of the potential, but the Chaffinch pic I took in the garden this morning demonstrates that this could be pretty cool.

 Phone scoped Chaffinch, using Samsung A5 down a Ziess 60 Scope, on 20x.
 Plastic fantastic RCP.
Distant Peg
Oyks, Curlews etc enjoying the late winter sunshine.