Friday, 14 June 2019

British White Storks?

White Stork, Spain, August 2018.

The reintroduction of White Storks at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex has been grabbing the headlines in recent weeks, see here and here.

Knepp is well-known for (re)wilding and is an exemplar of what can be achieved by allowing natural processes to return. The impact on biodiversity of the Knepp project has been huge and Knepp has become a leading light for other estate and landowners to follow.

Knepp's latest venture, to 'reintroduce' White Storks is a little troubling to me and feels like an attempt to secure a USP that will generate publicity and income. I don't have a problem with that per se, as the owners of Knepp have to bring in income to support their estate and to pay their bills, but from a nature conservation point of view, the arguments seem weak. Why should I care? Well, this is important as conservationists must maintain their integrity and our work as a movement must stand up to close scrutiny.

The reasons for my troubled feelings are as follows: Firstly, White Storks are not under threat (IUCN Least Concern), so why put effort into this species? Well, perhaps it is because they are big, showy and attractive - easy to for visitors to spot and don't really create any enemies in the wider landscape. They build massive great nests and seem to be happy living alongside people.

Second, and perhaps the main contention in my mind is that they were never really part of our native avifauna. Sure, storks turn up each year as overshoots on their return spring migration from Africa, but did they ever breed here regularly?

The oft-cited record of a pair on St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh in 1416 supports the point. If storks had been a common part of the scene, this record would not have been that special and would have long been forgotten. This must have been a remarkable, possibly unique record at the time, suggesting that storks had not nested in the UK at least in spoken history at that time. Other quoted evidence is the connection in place names. This is also seems dubious; historians have stated that in the early part of the last millennium, there was little differentiation in the names of long-legged wetland species and references to storks could well have been to herons or egrets. Therefore, place names linked to storks may be a red herring, as they could have been named after the local herons. An example of this is near my local patch, Wheldrake Ings. Adjacent to the Ings on higher land, is Storwood, presumably named after the presence of 'storks'. But look closer and it seems strange that on the other side of the ings, again on slightly higher ground is a large heronry, in a wood, which thrives to this day. No storks, Grey Herons (and recently Little Egrets!). Records of heronries in this area go back to the early 1400s, a similar time to the Edinburgh White Stork nest. But there are no records of White Storks at Storwood or anywhere in the Lower Derwent Valley area. Now, if people recognised the White Storks at Edinburgh, surely they would have identified them if they were in the Lower Derwent Valley too? So to me, the name Storwood is far more likely to refer to the Grey Herons nesting in the wood than to the presence of storks. And the same could be true of other place names linked to storks.

Sadly for White Storks, like virtually everything else, they were included in feast menus, records of which were often meticulously kept. However, written analyses of these accounts have found it hard to prove the source of the birds and other animals provided at these lavish banquets. Storks may well have been imported from the continent for food. Mediaeval feast records from the LDV area reference Spoonbills, Grey Herons and Bitterns, but no White Storks.

My last point is linked to folklore. Across the native range of White Storks, there are many cultural references to White Storks. Even us Brits all know the folktale of White Storks carrying babies in their beaks! And this is partly due to the previously mentioned close ties to people. Storks benefitted from woodland clearance for agriculture and exploited buildings as nesting sites, something that was often actively encouraged, as storks were seen as omens of good luck in many places. I could go on, but a quick internet search will show you all the cultural references. So if White Storks were widespread in Britain, why are there no such similar references in British folklore?

I am therefore surprised that Natural England licensed this project as a 'reintroduction' when the evidence of White Storks being anything other than a scarce spring overshoot is scant. Nevertheless, in a climate where wildlife needs every bit of help it can get and as many advocates as possible, maybe the bigger picture shouldn't be ignored. If the presence of storks inspires people to get into nature or at least appreciate it a little more, then it is a good thing I guess. I applaud Knepp for their ambition, it could even lead to a Victorian-esque game of oneupmanship among the large estates, all vying to have the wildest estate, and hopefully the habitats and less sexy species will benefit on the back of the storks - carried in their beaks perhaps... So, good luck Knepp, I hope your project works, but just be a little more honest in your narrative!

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Tiny bees

Maybe the reason I had never seen a Common Yellow-face Bee was that they are so tiny! Philip noticed several sitting around on leaves in the garden this morning so I got a couple of pics. I am going to charge my drill and go out and make a load of holes in the tree stump to help them out. Also, nearby a tiny Ruby-tailed Wasp sp was lurking, possibly a parasite of the Yellow-faces?

Common Yellow-face Bees.

The Spring that keeps on giving!

I have never had the chance to go looking for a Black-headed Bunting in Britain as they have always tended to turn up in private gardens, or on remote islands off the west or north coast of Scotland. So, when Craig Thomas found a handsome male BHB along Old Fall hedge at Flamborough on Friday afternoon, I realised I had a chance to finally see one. My old mate Philip was visiting for the weekend and although he had seen dozens in Armenia the week before, he too had never seen one in Britain, so with positive early news on Saturday morning, we headed east for Flamborough.

Old Fall hedge, east side.

We joined a small group of birders standing on the road verge scanning down the east side of Old Fall hedge and to our delight, our colourful quarry was happily sitting on a Hawthorn bush about 50 metres away. Great stuff! A chunky bunting, with bright yellow underparts and black head, and a surprisingly bright rufous nape and mantle.

Having missed this species in Cyprus a few years ago, this was a world tick for me and thoroughly appreciated. After enjoying good views and helping arriving birders to see it, the bird suddenly flicked off the bush and disappeared.

Black-headed Bunting. Smart dude.

A little later and despite some rather selfish and impatient photographers walking down the hedge (which risked flushing the bird) the bunting popped back up, this time much closer and head on, enabling us to enjoy the golden yellow underparts and jet black head. Again, the bird chilled for a minute or two, and then dropped back into the crop field, presumably to feed. He reappeared further along the hedge where for a while he interacted with a male Yellowhammer, seemingly getting the better of the local bird.

News that the Subalpine Warbler had been seen again at the golf course willows prompted our departure and we headed down there, where we bumped into a few of our friends.

Golf course twitch. Spot two Yorkshire Terriers, me and Mark P at the left hand end. Also note Craig Thomas having a sit down. It's clearly hard work all this rarity finding!

We hung out and soon saw the little grey Subalp feeding through the rose bushes, Willows and the large Sycamore. It was very actively feeding, alongside Chiffchaff and Lesser Whitethroat. Try as I might, I couldn't see the white in the tail very well, which would be essential to help with specific identification (Moltoni's vs Western vs Eastern) so thought I'd try and video it with my phone. This was successful, though sadly didn't help matters as it kept it's tail closed most of the time. Nevertheless, the bird showed well every now and again and it was enjoyable birding with good mates in warm June sunshine.


Female (presumed Western) Subalpine Warbler. Other photos by Trev Charlton revealed the tail pattern, making Western the most likely species.

Across the head, the rainclouds were piling up ominously and we noticed many Burnet Moth sp chrysalises in the grassland, along with a few Northern Marsh Orchids. We had a short seawatch, from the new hide, with the most noticeable thing being the large numbers of Painted Lady butterflies moving across the headland, presumably part of a large immigration. 

Flamborough lighthouse, Northern Marsh Orchid, Burnet moth sp chrysalis

Later on, the family arrived and we headed to North Landing to check out the caves and the intertidal stuff, noting a tiny Bee Orchid in the grassland next to the slipway. Razorbills, my fave auk, gave good views, but Puffins were sparse. Thoroughly soaked - the rain had arrived - we finished the day at the YWT Living Seas Centre, where the kids did some marine-themed activities as part of World Ocean Day.

 Puffin, plus Razorbills, North Landing.

A great day at the Great White Cape in the Spring that keeps on giving!

Garfish skull, courtesy of Ant Hurd, Living Seas Centre. Found on South Landing beach today.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Redneck and the Great Creak

After a week in Derbyshire with no birds and a handful of moths, I had a few hours to kill today (Saturday 1st June). After finishing my jobs, I decided to go to Wykeham to have a look for the Honey Buzzards. Sadly, I was defeated by rain and traffic on the A64, so I  span round and headed west instead, to Fairburn Ings.

The diminutive Red-necked Phalarope, a relatively drab male, was watched from the roadside platform swimming about around the islands in the main bay. A typical late spring migrant it was incredible to think this bird could have spent the winter off the Peruvian coast, before heading back across the Central American isthmus, over the Atlantic to Fairburn Ings, West Yorkshire! I watched the bird which stayed close in to one of the islands, occasionally spinning around to stir up critters. The Avocets nesting on the islands had a few chicks and two migrant Dunlins were also present.

Redneck. Always against the light so not great for phonescoping.

Next up, I decided to head down to Wintersett to have a look for the Great Reed Warbler.

The giant Acro was audible on arrival clanking and creaking away in its favoured reedbed. After a bit, I managed to pick the bird up, sitting close to the water's edge on swaying reed stems, singing away. His song seemed a little half-hearted; perhaps he realised there were no female Great Reed Warblers at Wintersett.


Great Reed Warbler. My first in Britain since one at Paxton Pits in 2016 (see here) and my first in Yorkshire since 5th May 1990 which I watched in a ditch at Sammy's Point, Spurn.

Two Hobbies were catching damselflies, of which there had been an immense emergence and I heard and saw a Cetti's Warbler.

I finished the day on a Yorkshire heath listening to Nightjars churr. Gorgeous!

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Baikal/Bakewell/Toytown Teal

A stunning drake Baikal Teal had arrived in Yorkshire on Friday, after spending a few weeks on the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire. The bird showed well at Kilnsea Wetlands before heading north again to Hornsea Mere. I convinced Duncan Bye to leave Wheldrake for a few hours this morning and we headed east to have a look for the bird.

After failing to see it from the south side of the Mere, we headed round to Wassand Hide and saw the bird with three Wigeon on Decoy Bay. A stunningly handsome duck, if accepted as wild, it will be only the eight record for Britain and the second for Yorkshire, so a level of rarity only surpassed by its beauty.

I dipped the previous Yorkshire bird, at Flamborough Head in spring 2013, so this was especially pleasing to see and in much better plumage than the bird I had seen at Minsmere back in 2001. We also saw Hobby, Marsh Harrier, Teal, Goldeneye and plenty of Swifts. Several Cetti's Warblers sang too.

Baikal Teal. Difficult to phonescope in poor light and a fresh westerly wind.

Back at Bank Island, a drake Garganey dabbled about, along with a Little Ringed Plover, Little Egret and three Oystercatchers.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Goshawk Nest-cam

This New Forest Goshawk nest-cam is fantastic and well worth a watch!

There are four happy chicks in the nest and if you watch for a bit you have a good chance of seeing one of the adult Goshawks coming in with food or just to check up on the chicks.

Yorkshire Record Breakers: an epic May day!

It's 1.30 am and pitch black. I'm stood shin-deep in rain-soaked grass in the Lower Derwent Valley, near York, straining my ears for the nasal rattle of a drake Garganey. I know this handsome duck is here somewhere – I saw him several hours earlier – but he's done a bunk and I feel gutted, though I don't let on to my team mates. Suddenly, an unexpected call pierces the darkness: "Common Sandpiper!" exclaims Mark instantly. Game on: a good bird and one we knew we couldn't expect to see later (as it turned out, we didn't!). Our collective spirit lifted, our soggy trousers and wet feet were soon forgotten as we piled back into the car and headed off on our Yorkshire Big Day.

To read the full write-up from Team Dirty Habicht's Yorkshire Big Day - check it out on the Birdguides website

To view our full record-breaking list, see here.

Garganey, North Duffield Carrs last year

Friday, 24 May 2019

Going plastic free, bit by bit!

We have all seen how the production of plastic waste, particularly from single-use sources is not only causing huge ecological damage in our oceans but is also using lots of fossil fuels to produce in the first place. We should all try and reduce our useage, particularly of single-use plastic and definitely where there is a simple alternative.

Going entirely plastic free is very hard living in Britain, but it is not all or nothing. If everybody just reduced their use/purchase of single-use plastic just a bit, collectively it would have a HUGE impact! This year, our family resolution was to take some simple steps to reduce our single-use plastic and to be honest it has been pretty easy! Here is what we have done so far:

  1. Always carry a water bottle so we don't have to purchase water while out and about.*
  2. Always carry a drinks container just in case we fancy a coffee on the go.*
  3. Get our milk delivered in glass bottles to our door. This has been great as we very rarely run out of milk these days!
  4. Buying dry goods (eg rice) from Bishy Weigh in York to avoid plastic packaging.
  5. Getting a weekly organic veg box delivered to our door.
  6. Taking containers to the supermarket deli so that they don't put your cheese in a bag.
  7. Stopped using plastic bags to put your fruit in at the supermarket.*
  8. Recycling ALL recyclable plastic products at St Nick's in York via Bishy Weigh.
  9. Never use single-use carrier bags - we take our own bags with us when shopping.*
  10. Never use plastic drinking straws when out. If there is no paper straw alternative, we drink from the glass. Like adults. 

(*we were doing some of this stuff already to be honest, at least some of the time, we now just do it all the time!)

None of these things are particularly difficult. Milk and veg delivery is a bit more expensive than buying the same wrapped in plastic from supermarkets, but what cost the Earth?

Please do what you can. As somebody once said, every little helps!

Monday, 20 May 2019

Easington Collared Flycatcher

Two big Yorkshire rarities turned up during our Yorkshire Big Day attempt on 11th May. The first we were fortunate enough to connect with, a delightful female Collared Flycatcher at Easington Cemetery, whilst the second, a singing male Brown Shrike at Cowden, was tantalizingly close, but sadly just out of reach.

Collared Flycatcher is a first-class rarity and a spring male certainly takes some beating for handsomeness (and I do have a thing for black and white species...). The story of my first British Collared Flycatcher can be read here. This female was very enjoyable too, not least because it was a huge bonus bird for our Yorkshire Big Day but also because it is a potentially tricky identification, so getting some, albeit brief, experience with this species is always good. We were fortunate to arrive on site not too long after it had been identified and the little lady performed beautifully, flicking about in roadside trees and at one point descending to a puddle on the edge of the road.

Note the greyish collar and broad white primary patch almost reaching the wing-edge

I was sad not to have a longer look, but the Big Day called us away...

Black Gold

Friday 10th May:  The last gasp of reconnaissance for our Yorkshire Big Day the following day - more to come on that later! With easterly winds and a little rain during the week, I initially headed out locally, to Bank Island and then onto Wheldrake Ings.

At Bank Island I was pleased to note the Pintail pair and a drake Garganey - these would both come in handy tomorrow as both are scarce Yorkshire birds. On to Wheldrake Ings, noting several Garden Warblers singing along the way down to Tower Hide, their chattering melodic ramble reminiscent of and yet different to the fluting notes of nearby Blackcaps. To the right of the Tower Hide, 25 humbug-headed Whimbrel were probing the meadows. This felt a little unusual; they usually frequent fields near Storwood, only flying to Wheldrake to roost. Perhaps the recent dry weather has meant foraging is more rewarding here in the damp herb-rich meadows.

Round to Swantail and I picked up the dusky form of an adult Spotted Redshank, tailing a Common Redshank, an elegant slender shadow. Spotshanks are a pretty scarce bird in the York area, with only a small handful of records every year, so this dusky bird was true patch gold.

Always distant, the Redshank's shadow.

After drawing a relative blank at North Duffield Carrs, I headed west to the Aire Valley to pin down some key species for the next day. Greenshanks flew over, Green Woodpeckers yaffled, Spoonbills bounced around in the trees and Bearded Tits flew in to greet me - I doubt it would be this easy in 24 hours' time!

Little Owl, St Aidan's RSPB. Little did I know how important this owl would be the following day...

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Yorkshire Big Day Record!

Yesterday (11th May 2019), I spent 23.5 hours birding in Yorkshire, with three great mates: Rich Baines, Mark Hawkes, Dunc Poyser. We drove 353 miles and clocked up 156 species in some of Yorkshire's most iconic landscapes. As far as we are aware, the previous Yorkshire 24 hour Big Day record was 155, set on 16th May 1998.

I will write more about this adventure once I have recovered! A number of birding mates have asked for the full list, so here it is. I expect that the list of what we didn't see is just as interesting! We are not going to share our route, but you will be able to figure it out!

The list

  1. Pink-footed Goose
  2. Greylag Goose
  3. Brent Goose
  4. Canada Goose
  5. Mute Swan
  6. Egyptian Goose
  7. Shelduck
  8. Gadwall
  9. Wigeon
  10. Mallard
  11. Shoveler
  12. Pintail
  13. Garganey
  14. Teal
  15. Pochard
  16. Tufted Duck
  17. Common Scoter
  18. Goldeneye
  19. Goosander
  20. Red-legged Partridge
  21. Grey Partridge
  22. Pheasant
  23. Red Grouse
  24. Red-throated Diver
  25. Black-throated Diver
  26. Great Northern Diver
  27. Little Grebe
  28. Great Crested Grebe
  29. Black-necked Grebe
  30. Fulmar
  31. Gannet
  32. Cormorant
  33. Shag
  34. Bittern
  35. Grey Heron
  36. Little Egret
  37. Spoonbill
  38. Marsh Harrier
  39. Sparrowhawk
  40. Goshawk
  41. Red Kite
  42. Buzzard
  43. Moorhen
  44. Coot
  45. Avocet
  46. Oystercatcher
  47. Grey Plover
  48. Golden Plover
  49. Lapwing
  50. Ringed Plover
  51. Little Ringed Plover
  52. Common Sandpiper
  53. Wood Sandpiper
  54. Redshank
  55. Whimbrel
  56. Curlew
  57. Black-tailed Godwit
  58. Turnstone
  59. Knot
  60. Dunlin
  61. Purple Sandpiper
  62. Snipe
  63. Woodcock
  64. Great Skua
  65. Guillemot
  66. Razorbill
  67. Puffin
  68. Kittiwake
  69. Black-headed Gull
  70. Mediterranean Gull
  71. Common Gull
  72. Herring Gull
  73. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  74. Great Black-backed Gull
  75. Little Tern
  76. Common Tern
  77. Arctic Tern
  78. Sandwich Tern
  79. Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon
  80. Stock Dove
  81. Woodpigeon
  82. Turtle Dove
  83. Collared Dove
  84. Cuckoo
  85. Barn Owl
  86. Little Owl
  87. Tawny Owl
  88. Long-eared Owl
  89. Swift
  90. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  91. Kestrel
  92. Hobby
  93. Peregrine
  94. Jay
  95. Magpie
  96. Jackdaw
  97. Rook
  98. Carrion Crow
  99.  Raven
  100. Bearded Tit
  101. Skylark
  102. Woodlark
  103. Sand Martin
  104. Swallow
  105. House Martin
  106. Marsh Tit
  107. Coal Tit
  108. Great Tit
  109. Blue Tit
  110. Long-tailed Tit
  111. Nuthatch
  112. Treecreeper
  113. Wren
  114. Dipper
  115. Goldcrest
  116. Cetti's Warbler
  117. Willow Warbler
  118. Chiffchaff
  119. Sedge Warbler
  120. Reed Warbler
  121. Blackcap
  122. Garden Warbler
  123. Lesser Whitethroat
  124. Whitethroat
  125. Spotted Flycatcher
  126. Robin
  127. Pied Flycatcher
  128. Collared Flycatcher
  129. Redstart
  130. Whinchat
  131. Stonechat
  132. Wheatear
  133. Ring Ouzel
  134. Blackbird
  135. Song Thrush
  136. Mistle Thrush
  137. Starling
  138. Dunnock
  139. Pied Wagtail
  140. Grey Wagtail
  141. Yellow Wagtail
  142. Meadow Pipit
  143. Tree Pipit
  144. Yellowhammer
  145. Reed Bunting
  146. Corn Bunting
  147. Chaffinch
  148. Bullfinch
  149. Greenfinch
  150. Crossbill
  151. Redpoll
  152. Siskin
  153. Goldfinch
  154. Linnet
  155. House Sparrow
  156. Tree Sparrow
Collared Flycatcher, Easington. The best bird of the day and mind-blowingly unexpected!

Friday, 3 May 2019

Old Red Eyes and the Spaniard

I have had the busiest week, with the launch of Ripon City Wetlands on Wednesday and various other things going on with work. It's not over yet, as we throw open the gates at RCW tomorrow and I am lined up for a series of guided walks. Not the worst job in the world though, I have to admit.

Night Heron by the water's edge.

I decided to leave work early afternoon to catch up on a bit of lieu time and this worked out well. Firstly, I paid the (Black-crowned) Night Heron a visit at Fairburn Ings. Dodging the showers, I watched this lovely little heron from Charlie's Bridge whilst it chilled out on the large island off the village, occasionally preening. I love Night Herons with their immaculate black, white and grey plumage, topped off by two great white plumes on the rear of the head, sprouting like a forked antenna. I am always entranced by Night Herons' ruby-red eyes, glowing like coals in a rather gentle face.

Old Red Eyes

Across the water a multitude of martins, swallows and swifts pelted after water-hatched insects as the clouds built angrily overhead. Sadly, I didn't jam any Arctic Terns; all those hawking for insects over the lake were Common Terns. I decided I should do a bit of reconnaissance for our impending bird race (on the 11th), so I headed up the Aire to the visitor centre. However, I suddenly remembered about the Iberian Chiffchaff just down the road at South Kirkby, so I immediately turned round and shot south.

I arrived at the end of Carr Lane and heard a Cuckoo calling from the scrub - perhaps a good omen! I picked myself through the puddles, dog crap and litter and up the slope, surrounded in the vivid green hawthorns by the sound of Willow Warblers and Blackcaps. The rain had lifted and things were brightening up. I strained for the sound of an unfamiliar warbler, that up to now I had only heard online. Shortly, the distinctive, three-part song came loud and clear from a nearby tree. Fab! But I couldn't see it - how frustrating. The bird sang three times and then was gone. Ten minutes later and I heard the song again, back down the hill. Sneaky thing!

The Spaniard's domain

I crept down the bank as the Iberian Chiffchaff continued to sing. After a few minutes it flew towards me and landed nearby in a Ash tree allowing me to finally see it. For the next minute or so, it perched out in the open, singing it's heart out. A very subtle bird, though with a nice lemony-wash on the face and supercilium and under the tail, along with brighter green upperparts and little in the way of an eyering like you would expect on a standard Chiffchaff. The bill looked long as did the wings, but still a very subtle bird which I would probably struggle with if silent! 

Iberian Chiffchaff, South Kirkby

A Common Chiffchaff nearby seemed to be giving his Spanish cousin some grief and moved it on quickly. Another birder turned up and together we birded the hillside, eventually refinding the IC, singing from his favourite trees. A rather unassuming yet educational bird.

A Cuckoo flew past just before I escaped the gathering rainstorm and headed back north.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Immense Swift!

Sometimes things work out perfectly. Not often, but sometimes. Today was one of those days.

I spent the morning immersed in the marine environment, learning all things cetacean, as part of a course run by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Living Seas Team and Seawatch Foundation. The course is aiming to inspire people to get involved in a new project to monitor whales, dolphins and porpoises on the Yorkshire coast.

After a fascinating morning, I checked the Flamborough Whatsapp messages and was excited to hear that an Alpine Swift had been seen by Trevor Charlton just ten minutes earlier at Bempton Cliffs, but had disappeared, possibly over North Dykes. Being one of my favourite birds, this was pretty thrilling news and as we had broken for lunch, I thought the lighthouse must be worth a shot, in case the bird had followed the cliffs along the headland. Margaret Boyd (fellow Yorkshire Coast Nature guide) was keen to come with me, so we fired up the Kia and headed down to the lighthouse.

Parking up in a cloud of dust and tumbling nylon-clad tourists, we jumped out and I immediately saw a bird up over Bay Brambles, not much above our eye-line. Raising my bins, I was confronted by an immense swift! "There it is!", I exclaimed, as surprised myself as Margaret was by my sudden shout. I put a somewhat garbled message on the Whatsapp group to let other birders know it had reappeared. Random members of the public came over, wondering why I had got so excited, leaving disappointed when they heard that the source of our excitement was a bird...

The Alpine Swift circled round and then slowly made it's way north along the clifftop. We watched it through the scope and got glimpes of it's white belly patch and throat as it glided round. Awesome!! It disappeared over the brow towards North Landing. Amazing. A tick for Margaret and my first in Yorkshire in over 20 years! Strangely, my first Yorkshire bird was at Hornsea Mere in May 1997 and I have a feeling that might have been found by Trevor Charlton too...I will check. Craig Thomas arrived and after a few tense minutes, he picked the bird up high over the sea. It came in, slowly flapping straight towards us and spent the next ten minutes gliding round over the cliffs in front of us, against an angry looking sky. Craig got some amazing pics, despite the bad light:

Alpine Swift, Flamborough Head, by Craig Thomas

I attempted some phonescoping but it was too close really. I got some fairly dodgy handheld phone video as it cruised past:

 Handheld smartphone videos, complete with 'hilarious' commentary...

After some spectacular flypasts, accompanied by our 'oohs' and 'aaahs', it headed back around the cliffs and out of sight, leaving us euphoric. What an immense bird!!


We finished the course with a couple of hours seawatching in the brand new hide near the fog station. As it chucked it down, we were glad for the shelter. It really is a super building and the views are great. Big thanks and congratulations to Flamborough Bird Observatory for developing and delivering this project and Green Future Building for the excellent construction.

I picked up eight Manx Shearwaters heading south, two drake Common Scoters going north and a light northbound passage of Swallows, plus two Harbour Porpoises to get us back on track with our cetacean course!

The immense Alpine Swift was never seen again.

View from the new hide.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Little Drummer Boy

Apart from brief views of a female in Spain last year, I haven't seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker since the day my daughter was born, in April 2008. On that day, I chanced upon a pair displaying in a dead tree next to the car park of Hinchinbrook Hospital. New Dad duties called, however, and I had to walk away from these gorgeous birds. In my youth (dim, distant memories), I used to watch Lesser Spots frequently around York, in Askham Bog, Knavesmire Wood, the Palace Grounds in Bishopthorpe and at Wheldrake Ings. Sadly, this species is faring badly and there are few sightings in the York area these days. The decline is linked mainly to low productivity, but why that is the case is unclear, though could be linked to habitat change.

Yesterday, I was thrilled to be shown a drumming male Lesser Spot which flew in right on cue, to drum on a bark-less section of tree right in front of us. He continued for two minutes, before flying off to his next drumming spot. I heard him call just the once, a shrill falcon-esque 'kee-kee-kee...'.

After several minutes, he was back on his original spot, where he showed beautifully. His drumming was very distinctive, as you will see in the video, being longer and repeated very frequently, unlike Great Spotted. I hope this little drummer boy finds a mate and helps this great little bird remain part of Yorkshire's birdlife.

Also noted, one male Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and one yaffling Green Woodpecker, completing the woodpecker hat-trick.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Fiery Imps!

Recently, Craig Thomas saw and photographed a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins off Flamborough and his pics enabled folks at Aberdeen Uni to identify them as being part of the Moray Firth group. This is the first time these dolphins have been confirmed this far away from their home range. Fantastic stuff! To help out a colleague, I popped over to Flamborough yesterday lunchtime to do a piece for BBC Look North about the sighting and to promote Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's cetacean survey this summer.


After doing the interview down by the super new Seawatching Hide, I took the opportunity to walk down to Old Fall to see if I could see the reported Firecrest. The skies had cleared and the sun was beautiful and once out of the wind behind Old Fall hedge, it felt lovely and springlike. A couple of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests were feeding in the sunny lee of the hedge, but no Firecrest. A little further on, I thought I heard a Firecrest call, so I crept into the plantation and momentarily spotted a tiny bird in the dead weeds beneath the trees. The silvery white underparts contrasting with the vivid lime green upperparts immediately identified this fiery imp as it worked the stalks of last year's willowherb, seeking spiders and aphids.

In the sunlight, the Firecrest positively glowed; so different from the comparatively drab Goldcrests nearby. I watched this imp working the bare stems of Sycamore, carefully picking aphids from the green leaf buds. It zipped off and I refound it right up in the canopy of a Sycamore. The striking head pattern really shone out, giving the bird real character.

A little while later, the 'crest dropped down into a Bramble patch just inside the southern edge of the wood. It started calling repeatedly, alternating between a slightly nasal Goldcrest-like call to a more pure note and then a second bird popped up on the Brambles: another Firecrest! The two birds then worked through the tangle of briars, sometimes coming within a metre of me, giving lovely views. They were frequently hidden in the middle of the patch or on the ground beneath the Brambles, where only the occasional call betrayed their presence. Super birds!