Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Great Grey Days

Had a quick lunchtime visit to the airfield again, to see if the shrike was still about. Despite no news and the disconsolate body-language of a few wandering birders who didn't appear to have seen her (I have decided, probably incorrectly, that she is a female!), I soon found the bird atop a Hawthorn by the entrance to the yard just south of Ebor Trucks. She again allowed close approach but sadly the light wasn't great for photography.

After scanning around in that Shrikey way they do, she flew into a young Ash where the light was better. She didn't seem too happy perching amid slender, swaying stems as this wasn't befitting a northern tyrant, so after a few moments she bounded across the road and off across the grassy field alighting atop a large bush, with commanding views. Much more suitable! I left the other birders to it and headed off to walk to dog.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

York Gull Watch and Shrike Seconds

Helped with the York Birding Club Gull Watch at Rufforth this morning. A great turn out of about 25 birders. Sadly, the gulls were not behaving with the majority remaining on the Tip. Nevertheless we picked out two first winter Glaucous Gulls and a second winter Lesser Black-backed Gull among the hordes of Herring Gulls. Not many Great Black-backs about, presumably many have headed back north and east. A large flock of c50 Fieldfares went north late morning.

The second Glauc hiding in the flock.
Chris, Emanuela and me then headed down to Acaster Airfield and after a walk, Emanuela relocated the Great Grey Shrike at a distance. She was very pleased as this was a tick for her. It hunted along the hedge to the south of the truck depot and came pretty close. At one point it caught a vole which it immediately flew off with in its beak into the thick scrub near the Ebor Trucks entrance. It disappeared into the bushes and then a few minutes later flew back out without the vole. It had presumably cached it in its larder. Cool. It then carried on hunting. Quite a few birders turned up to see it and it was good to see some familiar faces.

Phone-scoped Shrike.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Northern Sentinel

A rumour of a local Great Grey Shrike came true today down at Acaster Airfield when it was relocated near Ebor Trucks. The lure of lunchtime twitching was too much so three of us shot down there from the office at lunch. Sadly the few birders on site had not seen it for a few hours so we spread out to search. The air was full of the spring song of Skylarks and Yellowhammers, it was a joy to be away from my desk. No sign in the usual area we headed south down the road to check more bushes. The sinking feeling set in - this wouldn't be the first time I had dipped a GGS in this area!
Scanning back towards the truck depot and there it was, sitting sentinel-like on the very top of an Ash! Fab! Quick scope views all round then we drove back up the road to get a closer look. The shrike was not at all concerned by our presence and I managed to get a couple of shots. Something was clearly attracting it's attention in a nearby patch of scrub and after a couple of minutes of intense staring, it dived groundwards into the blackthorn patch and vanished. The other birders who I had whistled arrived and soon I picked it up again more distantly on top of an Oak at the back of the field. It continued to move around and after a few minutes came back towards us, perching on a Spruce and then a Birch. Lunchtime twitching rewarded, smiles all round and back to the office to carry on working for Yorkshire's wildlife. Well done Alan Swain for relocating the bird today.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Craving blue sky

Enough of this dreary, cold, wet weather it is doing my head in! Nevertheless, spring is just starting to peek through, with Skylarks, Song Thrushes, Dunnocks and the odd Blackbird now adding their voices to the Great Tits and Robins that are already singing. Winter aconites are blooming here and there, splashing glorious mustard yellow along the foot of the hedge.

Yesterday, 11 Waxwings were trilling away from a treetop outside the petrol station near St Helen's Road junction in York, a nice surprise on a lunchtime walk.

Today, accompanied by Sol, I headed up to Castle Howard mid-morning, to see what the east wind had blown in. Pretty dire weather, but reasonable birding, with one Tundra Bean Goose on the water with four Pinkfeet, plus two female Scaup (first winter and adult by the looks of it), 12 Goosanders, four Mandarin (3 males, 1 female), one lonely-looking female Pintail, and a pair of Shovelers, besides the usual cast. A couple of Great Crested Grebes were back on territory, plus several noisy Nuthatches and nest-building Cormorants added to the spring feeling in spite of the parky climate. A Marsh Tit and Redpoll (Lesser or Mealy, now in doesn't matter apparently) showed close by. Most frustratingly, a small skein of nine dark grey geese flew off into the distance and failed to reveal themselves. They could have been the rest of the Beans that have been around but I wasn't sure. The five geese flew into the field and after a bit, sat down and went to sleep.

From Top: Sol and the Mute Swans, Scaup duo, Goosander trio and sleepy Tundra Bean Goose, minus legs.

It started raining again and Sol got bored after a bit, so we headed home.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Owls about

My daughter and wife reported seeing a Barn Owl near the south end of Naburn Sewage Works yesterday afternoon. This was quite exciting news as it was close to where I had assisted Yorkshire Water in putting a Barn Owl Box up on an old abandoned building on their land and adjacent to the rough grassy field. I bobbed down there as the light began to fail and sure enough at 5.05pm the ghostly shape of a hunting Barn Owl floated in to view. It didn’t appear to come from the box, but it may have got out without me seeing it. The bird did a circuit of the field and I watched with my bins from the footpath. Amazingly, it flew straight towards me, coming so close that I couldn’t focus my bins. I lowered them to look and in doing so revealed my face, which startled the owl, which did a quick u turn and went back the way it came. It is always a privilege to see one of these beautiful birds and I am delighted there is one around here that might just use that box. On the walk back, a couple of Tawny Owls were hooting loudly from the large Willows by the river and the usual Grey Partridge was creaking away in the fields near Bridge Farm.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

After the Rain

The rain stopped by lunchtime so I headed out for an hour at Rufforth with the gulls. Two first winter Glaucous Gulls lumbered over the tip and nearby an advanced first winter Iceland Gull was sitting in a field. The bird had a dark eye and quite a lot of brown markings on the upper parts, so I assume I aged it correctly... Later, a Glaucous Gull was in the field just across the road from the tip which may have one of the earlier birds. Another gull looked quite interesting, with a dark eye and weedy green-yellow bill, although I decided it wasn't a Casp as the head shape just didn't look right.

Glaucous Gull with a dirty beak.

Iceland Gull with an advanced beak, like a Glauc!

On Dringhouses Pond a Great Crested Grebe was present along with 14 Coots. No sign of the former on the bird race three weeks ago.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Icelandic Monster Trio

Bit of time to kill between party drop off and pick up, so popped down to Rufforth to see if any gulls were about. There was a flock of c300 in the field across from the tip, so I parked up on the airfield and walked back. I just love birding from the road verge and getting beeped at. It's such fun. Quickly found a rather monstrous juvenile Glaucous Gull at the front of the flock and nearby a second bird showing slightly more advanced plumage. Smart. I couldn't pull anything else out and there was no turnover so to avoid freezing to death, I headed off to Poppleton to see if anything was doing there. Almost immediately found another young Glauc though this bird was quite a bit darker than the previous two. I didn't manage any photo as it was a bit distant but pleased to score the hat-trick. No sign of any Waxwings in Acomb in a quick search. The Pine Bunting continues to show sporadically down at Dunnington and is attracting the crowds.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Waxwing Winter

It has been a Waxwing Winter, with a wave in late autumn, followed by a bigger wave between Christmas and New Year. Three popped up as I walked Lunar on 7th January just round the corner from my house but soon departed. This was a hand-held phone pic. Lovely birds.


When Chris Gomersall rang me at work yesterday, I knew he must have found something good. I was assuming it would be a gull of some sort, as Chris spends a lot of time with the gulls at Rufforth. American Herring Gull was what sprang to mind, so when he told me he had had brief views of a male Pine Bunting at Dunnington, I nearly fell off my chair!

Pine Bunting, courtesy of Francesco Vernosl, Flickr Creative Commons. It looked like this!

This is still a mega rarity in the UK although it has been a superb autumn for this species in Europe with some small groups having been found wintering. Local birder Terry Weston had reported a large flock of Yellowhammers on Thursday and Chris decided to check them out. I am glad he did. He saw the bird only once and for about five seconds but was confident enough with the identification to release the news. I was stuck in work and wouldn't get chance to try for it today. Saturday is my son's football practise, #birdingdad, so following an anxious night, I had an even more anxious couple of hours before I could get to the site. My wife substituted me early, at 9.20, forty minutes earlier than I had expected, so wasting no time, I jumped in the car. As I departed, Chris rang to say they had just seen the bird - FANTASTIC! It was still present. I raced to Dunnington.

A little later I arrived, slightly surprised to see only a dozen birders on site, most of whom were familiar local faces. They were all in high spirits having just seen the bird. The field was alive with Yellowhammers, with Reed Buntings, Chaffinches, Tree Sparrows etc for company. The angle of view made things difficult as birds flicked out of the stubble - where you couldn't see them - into the hedge where most landed out of sight. After a few tense minutes, I suggested we all walk round on to the footpath, where we could view straight across the field into the hedge and trees where the buntings were perching when  not feeding.

Scoping the Pine Bunting with Chris Gomersall, the finder (right) and Tim Jones (left).

Early doors. The twitch assembles...

This proved to be a good move, and shortly I picked the bird up, sitting side on in an Ash tree. What a corker! It had a lovely rufous face, with a bright white cheek stripe. The underparts were largely orangey red. I was so stunned by this stonking bird I could barely get the words out. After ten seconds or so, it dropped back into the field. Most of the birders had got on it, although most of those present had seen it at 9.20 anyway. Minutes later and a birder called it again. It was perched up in the same tree on the top. After half a minute, it flew off with Yellowhammers and perched in the top of a large Oak in the hedge two fields away. It stayed here for a minute or so and I risked a bit of video, although I needn't have bothered as it was distant and in poor light and my hand was a bit shaky.

Birdguides photo of the week

Shortly, it flew off. Something had clearly upset the flock - a Kestrel as it turned out - and the birds flew around high up in a flock before dispersing. We spent the next two hours walking around but failed to see it again. I left at midday, heading home for #birdingdad duties, elated. This is the rarest bird to ever have been seen in the York area. Well done Chris!

More fog

Guided walk at Wheldrake Ings, hampered by ice, fog and rain. Half the folk didn't turn up, but the brave dozen followed me round the hides. The fog lifted a bit at the far end so everybody managed views of Whooper Swans down my scope. On the way back, I heard the trilling of a Waxwing and looked up to see one heading over west. Bonus. On the drive back through Wheldrake, three birds were sitting in a roadside tree as I entered the village.