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.

Centennial Park Frogmouth Fest

Having dipped Papuan Frogmouth up on the Daintree, my last chance of one of these freaky birds came along on our last morning down under. Centennial Park in Sydney is a known site for Tawny Frogmouth, but it is a big place and they are cryptically-marked and roost motionless during the day up against a tree trunk, pretending to be a bit of bark.

As luck would have it, I bumped into Biggles, a local birder, as I arrived and he had seen four Frogmouths the day before. Great! He spent a few minutes explaining to me how to find the roost site before realising how confused I was, and very kindly he offered to show me. After a ten minute walk, we got to a large patch of Paperbarks, where there was a collosal roost of Grey-headed Flying Foxes - cool!

A little further on, and Biggles asked me if I could see the Frogmouth - of course I couldn't. But as he pointed, I made out a grey bulge on the side of a tree about five metres away, and there was my first Tawny Frogmouth! Fantastic! The bird casually half opened an eye to check us out, but other than that didn't move at all, relying on its camouflage to avoid detection.

Awesome Tawny Frogmouth

Biggles carried on a little further and found a second bird. It was a bit more obscured but was facing us, so we could see its underparts. Again, it casually opened an eye to check whether we were a threat or not, before dozing off again.

Really cool birds. We couldn't find the other two of the family group, but I didn't mind. We went our separate ways and I wondered around for an hour before heading back to meet the family. I managed to add a few new birds to the list including Long-billed Corella, Australian Darter and Brown Goshawk.

Black Swan glancing at a Hardhead. Nice to see these guys in their native country for once, rather than on the Ings!
 Immature Brown Goshawk causing absolute panic in the park. Trailing a leg, bizarrely.

 Crested Pigeon. Dead common in Oz, but always cracking to see.

 Dusky Moorhen
 Grey Teal. Very similar to Chestnut Teal.

 Hardhead. A pretty cool Fudge-like Aythya.
 Little Black Cormorant
 Long-billed Corella
 Aussie Darter
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Black Tern 2

Out birding locally again, albeit briefly. The east wind continues, but has lightened and the sun shone. The tern and wader passage has eased, but many Black Terns are still around. One or two drift migrants are arriving on the coast now, notably a Wryneck at Buckton.

The Black Tern was still knocking about at Heslington East at lunchtime and came close occasionally. As ever, a really lovely bird.

Tricky to photograph into the light and when you don't really know how to use a camera!

On to Wheldrake, where three Whimbrel dropped in early afternoon in front of Tower Hide. A Hobby was hawking about, and a hunting Marsh Harrier flushed up the ducks - c170 Teal, c50 Wigeon and c40 Gadwall. Red Kite and Garden Warbler also noted.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Down Under Part Five: Birding Queensland 4 and New South Wales

From the Tablelands we headed southeast to Townsville and on to Magnetic Island to look (successfully) for Koalas. A few new birds added to the list, notably Bush Stone-curlew, which were common on the island, especially once it got dark.

Magnetic Island. Viewed from the Forts Walk, near where we saw Koalas.

Pied Cormorant, Magnetic Island

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - nesting in a broken-off palm in Townsville.

Back on the mainland, we drove up to Etty Bay, pausing briefly at Tyto Wetlands, where we added Green Pygmy Goose to the trip list. We had got a tip-off that Etty Bay (just south of Innisfail) was a good bet for Southern Cassowary, and sure enough as we drove in, Addie suddenly shouted "there's one!" and sure enough, one of these incredible, prehistoric-looking ratites was casually strolling along the edge of the beach!

Etty Bay. A little cove backed by a campsite and surrounded by rainforest. The local Cassowary pair seem to walk a circuit and so every hour or so, they wander along the beach, oblivious to any people that happen to be hanging out. Birding was good in and around Etty Bay, with Rose-crowned Fruit-doves noticeable.

Rose-crowned Fruit-doves
After a brief visit to Cairns, we headed north up to Port Douglas where we went out on the Daintree River. We managed two of our main three targets, Little Kingfisher and Great-billed Heron, but missed Papuan Frogmouth.  We saw one big Saltwater Crocodile sunbathing in the morning sun, and added a bonus bird in the form of a Pied Monarch. A number of other good birds were seen including Grey Goshawk, Radjah Shelduck, Wompoo Fruit-dove, Shining Flycatcher and Azure Kingfisher.

Great-billed Heron- the last time I saw one of these shy and rare herons was on Flores in 1997, Azure Kingfisher and male Shining Flycatcher.  I would really recommend Murray Hunt, the Daintree Boatman, who knows the birds and other wildlife.