Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Dawn 'til Dusk Part Two: Into the Valley

Welcome to the second installment of the Team Nevermind the Woodcocks Mike Clegg Memorial Bird Race adventure. 

First stop, Adam Firth's house in Elvington where we had a tip off that he had Bramblings visiting the feeders in the field behind his house. And sure enough, within a short while, Rich picked up a bird in flight which fortunately landed atop a distant tree allowing us all to get on it. Even better, two birds dropped in much closer in a bush by the feeders, allowing us to gorge on tangerine orange and white and dark chocolate. This was a good species to see as I knew they were thin on the ground round York this winter. Thanks Adam!

Nevermind the Woodcocks at Melbourne, early afternoon.

Next, the valley proper, with our first stop Church Bridge, Melbourne. A stunning Red Kite was  a great spot over the road as we approached the village - nice work Emanuela. Lesser Redpolls were in the Alders near the bridge, just as Craig Ralston had instructed - nice one Craig! But sadly, the ethereal Kingfisher failed to fly along the Canal as we stood atop the delightful humpback bridge. Nearby, our Jack Snipe site from last year also failed to produce anything more than one Common Snipe. Things were starting to go wrong! Down to Field Lane, and things picked up a little with a sizeable flock of Corn Buntings flying around over the kale field, and a good flock of Tree Sparrows jumping in and out of the adjacent hedge. We saw Tundra Bean Geese here last year along with some Pink-feet, but despite our wishing history to repeat itself, we couldn't turn any of the Greylags into anything better.

We had high hopes for East Cottingwith, where we would look over the southern edge of Wheldrake Ings. The water levels were really high but there was a large number of Wigeon and other wildfowl present, so we soon added Shelduck, Pintail and Shoveler. A flock of Ruff flew strongly past, accompanied by some comparatively tiny Dunlin. Rich and me grilled the Wigeon flock for our American friend, but sadly, he remained aloof, failing to give himself up. The light wasn't helping and time was pressing. A Peregrine or Marsh Harrier would help right now, but all was tranquil over the reserve.

Adam arrived and we left him to it. Ellerton was devoid of birds indicating either a sea-eagle (unlikely) or a dog walker (likely) had flushed everything. Only a small herd of Whooper Swans had the grace to offer themselves a place on our list, whereas the Ruddy Shelduck had seemingly departed with every other living thing. The Barn Owl had left plenty of signs of recent presence in the church porch, but the Sunday worshipers had long since flushed it from its roost.

Aughton is always worth a look, and Rich pulled a fine male Stonechat out of the bag as it fed from the tops of reedmace on the edge of the marsh. A good scan of the distant ducks revealed little, so we moved on quickly. North Duffield Carrs was our next target. Things were beginning to feel a bit out of reach now. We were unlikely to see Willow Tit now. Kingfisher seemed impossible. We had no more sites for Jack Snipe and not enough time to nip on to Skipwith for a crack at Green Woodpecker. My mind span. What to do! We still could see the remaining 'possible' waders such as Redshank, Curlew and Golden Plover at North Duffield and Barn Owl was a dead cert. We could score raptors here too. Should we take our feet off the gas and just enjoy the last hour of light at North Duffield, rather than continuing the chase? We would spend more time birding at least, rather than driving. But to do so, would be to concede and give up on the birds we could still see.

Let's get to the hide and think.

Shortly after arrival, a superb Marsh Harrier came in, a juvenile bird in immaculate plumage. It flew the full length of the ings, straight towards us, passing within 20 metres giving us all amazing views in the soft late afternoon sunshine.

This was a magical moment and reinvigorated us. We came to a decision simultaneously. We had to keep going. With Marsh Harrier, we were on about 88. With three owls up for grabs, a couple of waders and a gull or two coming into roost, we could just match last year's total. We could do this! We headed up through the valley to Thorganby. As if to prove a point, within moments of arriving at the platform, Rich picked up a Barn Owl quartering the ings, apparition-like in the failing light. Within a minute, I had jammed a roosting Little Owl in a Hawthorne near the farm, close to where I saw one a couple of weeks ago. Game on!

We checked out the ferryboat, but the water was too high and we couldn't see anything from there. We moved on quickly, time was critical now. Up the road to Bank Island, and up the steps on to the platform. It was all or nothing time.


The Bank Island tower.

Gulls were cruising over. We checked each one. Boy, we needed a white-winger right now. Suddenly, Rich announced Golden Plover, and we all got on a flock of these fast-flying waders, heading in a V over the ings. 91. Emanuela and me then heard a Curlew call from the direction of Wheldrake, but alas, Rich and Paul missed it, so we couldn't count it. Damn!

Peregrine! We all looked up to see an adult Peregrine leisurely flying straight over us, catching the last rays of the sun. No wonder the incoming flocks of Black-headed Gulls were coming in low and fast - they looked palpably nervous. They clearly didn't want to be dinner. 92.

Still no white-winger. The light was failing. A strange trilling call was heard. What was that? Snow Bunting I offered. Surely not! It wasn't right to be honest. But what was it. Tired minds, it had been a long day. It called again, seemingly from the same place. I had to check this out. I legged it down the steps and through the field. There in a ditch was a Little Grebe. I had not heard this call before. We'd all learned something today!

It was getting too dark now to do the gulls. Stoical smiles and tired eyes replaced enthusiasm. But then we remembered that we could still get Woodcock if we could only get through the flood on to the bailey bridge at Wheldrake Ings. And Tawny Owl should be easy. So we could get to 94 at least....

Down the lane we went. Duncan, Adam and me had waded through the flood the other day in wellies, with about 1 centimetre to spare. The water was much higher today, surely? Rich wasn't put off and waded confidently/recklessly out into the water. As he did so, he flushed a Woodcock from the edge of the road. Damn it! nobody saw it properly except for Rich, although I did hear the noise of it breaking cover. As luck would have it, as we waited for Rich to sink into the flood, or make it, another Woodcock came over, this time silhouetted beautifully against the inky blue sky, allowing us all to get a view. 93. Out of the darkness, Rich shouted 'Curlew! There's a Curlew calling!' We couldn't hear this one, but adding to our 2/3 earlier, we could now count it - 94! Rocking. Two minutes later, the three of us had started to tentatively wade across. Rich shouted again 'Tawny Owl hooting', but we couldn't hear it. Pressure! We made it across the flood in virtual darkness. Straining our ears one last time, I have never been so pleased to hear the eerie, wavering hoot of a Tawny Owl. 95! We felt elated after the lows of earlier. We had matched last year's efforts. Great stuff.

Woodcocks wading

We headed to The Wenlock Arms in Wheldrake village where we met up with the York Upstarts (Chris Gomersall, Ollie Metcalfe, Georgia Locock and Paz Fletcher) who had scored a handsome 94, and the Chairman's Pick (Peter Watson, Rob Chapman, Duncan Bye, Masha Sitnikova) who had achieved a commendable 89. Incredibly, we had won! But only just. Wow! We never once thought we would beat the Upstarts. This was amazing!

A big well done to all the teams that raced this year, to the organisers, and to all the sponsors. Money is going to build a Sand Martin bank at Kilnsea Wetlands. Great stuff.

And lastly, a big thanks to Emanuela, Rich and Paul for sharing the highs and lows, the thrills and spills of this bird race. Bird racing is not for everybody, but is a real test of stamina, courage and persistence, as much as it is a test of birding skill.

Post script.

So it turned out we scored 96. Firstly, we felt gutted when Emanuela realised she had counted Hawfinch twice, so our score slipped to 94. Then, she noticed that she had not included Little Egret or Mandarin, so we went back up, but this time to 96! So we had beaten our last year's total, and also recorded the highest number of species of any Yorkshire team. Result!

Our Final List:


Species, site of first record    (Castle Howard - CH, Heslington East - HE, North Duffield Carrs - NDC, Yorkshire Arboretum - YA, Wheldrake Ings- WI)  
                            
  1. Mute Swan, CH                                        
  2. Whooper Swan, Ellerton
  3. Greylag Goose, CH
  4. Canada Goose, CH
  5. Egyptian Goose, East Cottingwith Farm Pond
  6. Shelduck, WI
  7. Mandarin, CH
  8. Gadwall, CH
  9. Wigeon, CH
  10. Mallard, Bishopthorpe
  11. Shoveler, WI
  12. Pintail, WI
  13. Teal, Bishopthorpe
  14. Pochard, HE
  15. Tufted Duck, CH
  16. Goldeneye, CH
  17. Goosander, CH
  18. Red-legged Partridge, Rufforth
  19. Grey Partridge, Bishopthorpe
  20. Pheasant, CH
  21. Little Grebe, HE
  22. Great Crested Grebe, HE
  23. Cormorant, CH
  24. Grey Heron, CH
  25. Little Egret, HE
  26. Marsh Harrier, NDC 
  27. Sparrowhawk, Askham Bog
  28. Red Kite, Melbourne
  29. Common Buzzard, CH
  30. Water Rail, HE
  31. Moorhen, Bishopthorpe
  32. Coot, CH
  33. Golden Plover, Bank Island
  34. Lapwing, Thornton
  35. Green Sandpiper, Rufforth
  36. Curlew, WI
  37. Ruff, WI
  38. Dunlin, WI
  39. Snipe, Elvington
  40. Woodcock, WI
  41. Black-headed Gull, CH
  42. Common Gull, CH
  43. Herring Gull, Rufforth
  44. Great Black-backed Gull, Rufforth
  45. Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon, York ring road
  46. Stock Dove, CH
  47. Woodpigeon, CH
  48. Collared Dove, CH
  49. Barn Owl, Thorganby
  50. Little Owl, Thorganby
  51. Tawny Owl, WI
  52. Great Spotted Woodpecker, CH
  53. Kestrel, Claxton
  54. Peregrine, Bank Island
  55. Jay, YA
  56. Magpie, CH
  57. Jackdaw, CH
  58. Rook, CH
  59. Carrion Crow, Claxton
  60. Skylark, Rufforth
  61. Marsh Tit, Askham Bog
  62. Coal Tit, CH
  63. Blue Tit, CH
  64. Great Tit, CH
  65. Long-tailed Tit, YA
  66. Nuthatch, CH
  67. Treecreeper, CH
  68. Wren, CH
  69. Goldcrest, YA
  70. Cetti's Warbler, CH
  71. Robin, Bishopthorpe
  72. Stonechat, Aughton
  73. Blackbird, CH
  74. Fieldfare, YA
  75. Redwing, YA
  76. Song Thrush, Melbourne
  77. Mistle Thrush, YA
  78. Starling, CH
  79. Dunnock, CH
  80. Grey Wagtail, WI
  81. Pied Wagtail, Rufforth
  82. Meadow Pipit, HE
  83. Yellowhammer, CH
  84. Reed Bunting, CH
  85. Corn Bunting, Thornton
  86. Chaffinch, CH
  87. Brambling, Elvington
  88. Bullfinch, Askham Bog
  89. Greenfinch, CH
  90. Lesser Redpoll, Melbourne
  91. Siskin, CH
  92. Goldfinch, CH
  93. Linnet, WI
  94. Hawfinch, YA
  95. House Sparrow, Elvington
  96. Tree Sparrow, CH
Sites visited: Bishopthorpe Cycle track and Ings, Castle Howard, Yorkshire Arboretum, Rufforth Tip and Airfield, Askham Bog, Heslington East, Elvington village, Melbourne/Pocklington Canal, Thornton Field Lane, East Cottingwith/Wheldrake Ings, Ellerton Church, Aughton Church, North Duffield Carrs, Thorganby/West Cottingwith Ings, Thorganby Ferryboat, Bank Island, Wheldrake Ings car park.


Monday, 8 January 2018

Dawn 'til Dusk - The York Bird Race 2018 (Part One)

For the last two years, Team Nevermind the Woodcocks, consisting of Emanuela Buizza, Paul Brook, Rich Baines and myself have raced round York competing in the Mike Clegg Memorial Bird Race, trying to see or hear as many species as possible within the York Recording Area. Last year, we scored a healthy 95, landing us second to the epic efforts of the York Upstarts who smashed the York record with a colossal 105! So, to this year....

My day started with a mild hangover and heavy cold, suppressed by a heavy dose of excitement for the day ahead. The team assembled in the cold, dark dawn, silent and focused, ready for the off.

Our first sighting was, unexpectedly, of a probable burglar lurking on the corner of the street, but he could have been a worker on the early shift, waiting for his lift. We decided to move on. Nearby, my faithful Grey Partridges called right on cue, as the tentative light of dawn silhouetted the line of oaks to our east, along the Acaster road.

On through the gathering dawn to Castle Howard. It seemed like only hours since I was last here, probably because that's all it was. A conveyor of Common and Black-headed Gulls snaked out of the mirror-like lake in a sinuous belt heading off into the lightening sky. Among them, my lovely Med Gull slipped away unseen. The air was alive with duck and geese calls; we strained half-awake ears for the unusual. A Yellowhammer called, and it gained its place on our growing list.

3/4 of Nevermind the Woodcocks (Emanuela, Rich, Paul) ready for grilling Castle Howard in the half-light

On round the lake we soon found two of our targets for this site, Goosander and Mandarin. Small birds were beginning to stir, mostly unseen in the scrub along the lake edge, but letting us know they were awake, with a repertoire of calls. Rich and me called out the species in succession and did our best to get Paul and Emanuela on to things, which given the cacophony, was not easy. A Meadow Pipit went over calling thrice, sadly, it got away before I could announce it to the team. A Marsh Tit called - great -one of our targets, but no, it was a Great Tit, mimicking the characteristic, explosive 'pitchew'! of a Marsh. No! This wasn't fair! I had seen two Marsh Tits in this very stretch of hedge yesterday. We had to move on, so lacking in Marsh Tit, we started to walk back, adding further birds to our list, including useful ticks such as Treecreeper.


As we rounded the corner of the lake, I was half-distracted by a Great Spotted Woodpecker that I thought I'd heard, so only partly processed the liquid 'chet-chet-chet' coming from the lake-edge. As we got nearer it called again and then it suddenly clicked what we were hearing: a Cetti's Warbler! Boom! This was very unexpected and a great bonus bird. It is the only about the 12th record for York and the first one away from the LDV! I felt we would have no chance of seeing this vocal but skulking little guy, but as Paul had not seen one, we thought we'd have quick look. And luck was on our side, as the bird flew past us landing in full view on a twig. It then carried on flying into the reed swamp and disappeared, although we could still hear it calling. This more than made up for the lack of a Marsh Tit!

Next stop was the Yorkshire Arboretum, to which Rich had managed to obtain access. Soon, we were watching stunningly beautiful Hawfinches  - at least 72! - grubbing about under a copse among comparatively drab Greenfinches and Chaffinches.

A shaky, early morning shot of a Hawfinch.

We added a few other good birds, such as Jay, Redwing and Goldcrest.

Still hoping for a Marsh Tit, we walked out of the Arboretum....

It was time to head back to York. As we drove, a heated debate grew hotter as we proposed a change to the plan. As we were ahead of schedule, we felt we could add in Rufforth for the chance of some scarce gulls; Iceland and Glaucous were here yesterday, followed by Askham Bog for another chance of a Marsh Tit. But as Emanuela pointed out, the pesky Rufforth gulls had wasted a large amount of time last year, adding nothing to our tally. The chance of Marsh Tit swung it as we were unlikely to see one of these once we got into the Valley (the Lower Derwent Valley to be precise). So, Rich leaned the truck into the York ring road, and we headed round anti-clockwise. I could feel the tension coming from the back seat! This could be a big mistake.  And to my dismay, shortly I realised the gulls were not going to be easy. Fortunately, unexpected birds saved things, with both Skylark and Red-legged Partridge adding themselves in to much needed blank spaces on the list and then, as we clambered back into the truck, Rich yelled 'Green Sands!' and we all literally fell back out to see these black and white yodelling waders heading over the road towards the tip. Epic! What a moment. We went from feeling pretty down, to super high, in the space of a moment.

Listening for the Pitchew!

We got to Askham Bog, which looked gorgeous, drenched in crystal clear January sunshine. Plenty of birds about, but no Marsh Tit. Even my magic swamp failed to provide my regular Woodcock. Things were teetering on the down again, when suddenly a female Sparrowhawk appeared overhead, moments after a Buzzard. This was a good bird. Common, but sometimes very difficult to track down on a bird race. And as we watched, a Marsh Tit called behind us! Awesome! Time to go.

Heslington East (university campus) was our next stop, where Emanuela had done a reccy yesterday and had pinned down some potentially tricky birds. Our luck held, and our bogey bird from last year, Great Crested Grebe fell, thanks to Paul's sharp eyes, preceded by Pochard and Little Grebe, and a surprise fly-by ghostly Little Egret. A Water Rail fed out on the grass, Moorhen-like, though Paul and me missed it, having to console ourselves with a second bird, calling nearby. We hightailed it back to the car, ignoring the strange looks from bewildered students.

Glorious scenes at Hes East

No Linnet or Kingfisher at Hes East. These two birds were top of the list of species I was beginning to fear we might miss. Every year there are a couple of 'easy' species, species you would feel are 'bankers' which decide to play hard to get. In previous years, these pesky nemesis birds have been Grey Wagtail and Great Crested Grebe. Others have struggled with Long-tailed Tits and Mistle Thrushes. There are always a couple to increase the stress levels. I already knew we wouldn't be adding Green Woodpecker as we didn't have time to fit in one of the York heaths....things were getting tense. Time for a Cherry Bakewell.

It was midday and we were on 73. Time to head into the Valley....






Saturday, 6 January 2018

Meditation

This afternoon, I have been reccying round York in preparation for the Michael Clegg Memorial Yorkshire Bird Race which takes place tomorrow. Our team, Nevermind the Woodcocks are taking part again, so I thought I better check out a few sites and pin down a few tricky species.
A write-up of the 2017 bird race is on the York Birding website.

As it is all top secret at this stage, I won't let on where I went, save to say that I ended up at The Great Lake, Castle Howard, doing the gull roost!

The gull roost was quite spectacular! Mostly Black-headed and Common Gulls, it was probably several thousand strong. There were a handful of Herring Gulls in the mix too. Slowly scanning through felt quite therapeutic, losing myself in the subtlest of greys and white, whilst the sky above turned from ash to gold, and bruised purple as the weak sun set.



My mind was set on finding a Ring-billed Gull, but they have been pretty rare nationally this winter, so I didn't fancy my chances. Anyway, definitely worth a try! Whilst panning through the gulls, carefully checking beaks and eyes, mantle colour, tertial crescents etc, I noticed a slightly chunkier Black-headed Gull, with a nice bandit mask.... A Mediterranean Gull!





To be honest, I have found locating Med Gulls pretty hard in the York area. Despite increasing as a breeding species elsewhere in Yorkshire, and numbers wintering on the coast, they are still pretty rare round here, and I see probably one a year at most. I do wonder whether they are just overlooked with most birders focussing on the larger gulls. Anyway, just over a week ago I jammed a first-winter in the roost at Wheldrake. Then, on the 2nd, an adult graced the roost there. So I couldn't believe I was looking at my third York Med in three days! And a second-winter too, completing the plumage set. I probably see second-winters the least as they are most Black-headed-like, due to the small amount of black on the primaries, but today, I got lucky.

Anyway, reconnaissance over, I headed back west to York. Come on the Woodcocks!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Champions of the Flyway 2018!


Please make a donation to support the Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers in their quest to raise money to stop the illegal persecution of migratory birds in the eastern Mediterranean. Thank you! 


As a young teenager I recall hearing about an amazing place in Israel, an avian wonderland, where migrant birds literally dripped from every bush, Wrynecks hopped about, shoulder to shoulder with Bluethroats on traffic islands, Little Bitterns stalked the edges of hotel swimming pools, whilst  a steady stream of Steppe Buzzards and Steppe Eagles cruised overhead. Along with colossal numbers of migrants, Middle Eastern species such as Palestinian Sunbird, Black Bush-robin, Arabian Babbler and several species of Sandgrouse made this place high on virtually all British birders' wishlists. This seemingly mythical place was called Eilat. Sadly, I have never been!


And then one afternoon in December, I answered the phone to Mark Pearson from Filey. My mouth fell open and I nearly fell off my chair when he asked me if I would like to join his team of three applying to take part in the Champions of the Flyway Bird Race taking place in Eilat, in March! Wow! I had followed the Champions of the Flyway Bird Race (COTF) since its inception on the back of the Eilat Bird Festival in 2014 but never thought I would get the chance to participate. Mark had taken part last year and I thrilled at reading his blog posts about it. This bird race has become legendary, with teams of birders from all over the world descending on Eilat to take part, including many well known characters from the birding world. Mark had already secured the support of Zeiss and had recruited artist Darren Woodhead and my mate Rich Baines (of Yorkshire Coast Nature and Wold Ecology) to join his team! Awesome!

So, of course my answer was 'yes'! OMG I'm going to Israel!

Our team has been named the Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers and we have had a logo and artwork kindly drawn up by artist Jo Ruth.  Super job Jo!

Here is a YouTube video about the 2017 race, featuring our very own Mark!

Steppe Buzzard, by Mark Pearson - see Mark's blog about these birds.

Fundraising

And now the toughest task, to get fundraising. Because this isn't just about birding, it is about raising money to help NGOs working on a shoestring, fighting to protect our migrant birds from illegal persecution. Each year, COTF has raised tens of thousands of pounds for specific organisations that are tackling this dreadful issue. You can see the projects that have been supported here. This year, the money raised will help stop illegal hunting in Serbia and Croatia.


Quail, illegally killed using tape lures

I am delighted to say that Steve Farley of Ark Display Graphics, of Leeds, are the first Yorkshire company to step up in support of the Yorkshire Terriers. Massive thanks to them! Steve is a mega keen Yorkshire birder and I know this issue is close to his heart, so we will do our best to make him proud. 

The COTF takes place on 26th March 2018. We are seeking the support of everybody we know. Every pound will make a difference, so please step up, champion the Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers as the underdogs and help us make a difference.

You can make your donation through the team's Just Giving page by clicking here. Thank you!

If you happen to work for a company that might like to support our Yorkshire team, please drop me a line and I can send you some info.  @birdingdad on Twitter is the best way to contact me.

Also, please follow us on Twitter @ZeissYorkshireTerriers
and like our Facebook page - Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers

Oh, and please make a donation - did I mention that? 






Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Hei måke!

Found out today that the colour-ringed Common Gull I saw on the ice at Wheldrake on 30th December, had been rung in Bergen, Norway on 27th April 2017, so presumably is a Norwegian-born bird. It was last reported from the same site in July and then not reported until I spied it at Wheldrake Ings. This is 506 miles southwest, a relatively short distance for a bird to travel, but still pretty amazing! Birds are cool.



Of the seven colour-ringed Herring Gulls I saw the same afternoon, none had been reported from anywhere other than Rufforth Tip where they were caught, apart from one which had been seen in Leicestershire, about 100 miles south, in July.

Thanks to Mike Jackson and Craig Ralston at Natural England for the details.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

What is it about the 2nd January?


The 2nd January proved to be a pretty good day for local birding last year, when I found a Great White Egret at Wheldrake Ings. Today, I was lucky enough to have the day off work and my Mum and Dad agreed to entertain the kids in the afternoon, freeing me up to get down to Wheldrake.

The snow on the North York Moors had melted and the water levels had gone up in the valley meaning it wasn't so easy to get on to the Ings. Fortunately, Duncan had arranged to borrow some chest waders off Craig and so neoprened-up, we waded through the flooded car park to get on to the site. And boy, was it worth it! Wheldrake seems to be at it's best when the floods are coming up, possibly as invertebrate prey is in abundance. Today was no exception, with over 1,000 Lapwings and 300 skittish Golden Plover scattered across the ings. At least 1,000 Teal and the same of Wigeon meant game on for trying to find a Yank duck before the gulls started to arrive for the roost. We both spent a long time scanning through the hordes of loafing ducks and miraculously, the sun came out - briefly.

Despite a lot of effort, nothing was doing, and the antics of a hunting immature Peregrine was a welcome distraction, as it made repeated stoops at a lone Lapwing, which managed to repeatedly avoid being clobbered, along with a Wigeon and a Woodpigeon, which momentarily caught the falcon's eye. The gulls started to arrive, so we switched our attention to them, pausing as 20ish Whooper Swans came in from the south and pitched behind the willows on to the refuge. After satisfying myself there was nothing interesting in with the gulls, I turned my attention back to the ducks which had been stirred up by the Peregrine.

A bird with a large white flank spot caught my eye, but it turned head-on....hang on, yes, it's the American Wigeon! It was sleeping out the back towards Storwood, but sure enough it was the Yank! The bird had it's head tucked in, but was swimming rapidly, and after briefly thinking I'd lost it again, I managed to get Dunc on to it - phew! It then put it's head up and swam back the way it had come - cool! Sadly, it was too far for pics, and it soon went back to sleep. A good year tick! This will be the same bird present in December, which I don't think has been since the 12th, when it was on the river at Ellerton. It has also been seen down at Bubwith. Let's hope it is still around for the bird race on Sunday!

Back to the gulls, and a stack of Black-headeds and Common Gulls had now come in and we both started to go through them. Not so many large gulls were arriving, so despite the presence of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls over west, I decided to focus on the small stuff again. This proved a good move as after a bit I got lucky with a fine adult Mediterranean Gull hanging out at the back of the flock. I got Dunc on it and shortly it woke up and got it's head up, revealing that lovely heavy red bill. It had a decent amount of black on the mask and over the back of the head. It went back to sleep. Sadly, the light was failing and so my pics were dreadful - not for the first time!

So, the 2nd January turned out to be a good day again. Not much else of note, save a Barn Owl flying across the field north of the lane on the way back.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Whitby Desert

With a remarkable lack of a hangover, the annual New Year's Day visit to the coast was on, so we headed up over the Moors to Whitby. The location was nothing to do with the fact that a rather showy male Desert Wheatear had been found a few days previously....A short walk from the Abbey Car Park and we located the buff and black desert sprite hopping about in a grassy field, looking quite at home, despite being thousands of miles off course. After showing it to the kids - nice tick for them! - it made it's way closer, feeding actively from the barbed wire fence and then a dry stone wall. A very smart male bird and only the second I have seen in Yorkshire. A nice start to 2018 too. We then went on to Sandsend beach to give Lunar a swim and the kids the chance to blow off steam. Great scenes!

 A very picturesque twitch, in thelee of Whitby Abbey.





Stay Wild - Happy New Year!

So, that was 2017! Australia was the clear wildlife highlight for me, with stacks of superb wildlife seen, including many new birds, mammals and marine critters, awesome scenery and fun times.


Closer to home, York birding was excellent, starting with Chris Gomersall's epic Pine Bunting and ending with Duncan Bye's equally awesome Glossy Ibis at Wheldrake. I peaked very early with a Great White Egret at Wheldrake Ings on 2nd January, although added Spotted Redshank and Quail to my York list too.



Two cracking local birds: Glossy Ibis at Wheldrake Ings in December, and Spotted Redshank in May.


It turned out to be the first times since I started birding that I failed to see a new British bird during the year! This was largely due to the pathetic autumn on the east coast which was a huge come-down from the amazing autumn of 2016. I did see a few good birds, including my third Pallid Harrier, a  stunning, displaying male in the Forest of Bowland, my third Radde's Warbler, at Bempton, third Caspian Tern which was a Yorkshire tick, at St Aidan's, and best of all, a stunning Scop's Owl at Ryhope. This bird just shows what is awaiting discovery  - you really must keep an open mind!


So, what will 2018 bring? Happy New Year to all my friends!



Saturday, 30 December 2017

Mediterranean Christmas

My last visit to Wheldrake Ings for 2017 was a success, with a hunting Peregrine the highlight. Good to bump into Duncan on the way too; he has seen 146 species here this year - brilliant! Surely 150 is possible?! The Willow clearance done by the YOC volunteers and Natural England has made viewing much better - nice work folks! I had a good look through the huge numbers of Wigeon and Teal but couldn't find anything American. Four Goldeneye were on the deep water.


As the gloom gathered, hordes of gulls came in to roost, many of which decided to settle on the ice to the south of Tower Hide. I spent a while trying to read colour ring codes on Herring Gulls, all of which were presumably birds rung at Harewood Whin tip at Rufforth by Craig and his crew. Among them, I also found an adult Common Gull with a white ring on. I am not sure if this is a locally-rung bird or not. Towards dusk, my grilling of the smaller gulls revealed a fine first-winter Mediterranean Gull, with heavy black bill and slick bandit mask. Also, a white Black-headed Gull was quite smart, similar to birds I have seen at Grafham Water in the past. A good end to a fine York birding year.

 A very white Black-headed Gull.

 Not easy to find and still pretty rare in the York area, this is my first York Med Gull this year.



First-winter Med Gull. A bit easier when it turns it's head!


Razorwreck

Spent a couple of days in North Norfolk to wind down from Christmas chaos. Our main day was beautiful, with azure skies setting off whispering reeds, distant windmills and large flocks of Pinkfeet and Brents. We did a long walk east from Burnham Deepdale to Holkham Gap, enjoying the solitude, and the sight of Marsh Harriers hunting the ditches. A Red Kite hung over Burnham Overy Dunes and a Merlin zipped past. Later, we headed to Titchwell, where a huge wreck of marine life had attracted hordes of waders along with probably ten thousand gulls- including at least three adult Mediterraneans, and offshore a smorgasboard of seaduck, including several handsome Long-tailed Ducks, Goldeneye, Eider, Common Scoter and a few Red-throated Divers. The main species involved in the wreck were Razor Clams, many of which were still alive. Among these were lots of Common Starfish and a smattering of Sunstars and Brittlestars, along with Dog Whelks and various other molluscs. Whatever stormy sea or tide had scoured this lot out of the sea had done so with devastating effect, although the local birdlife was quick to home in on the banquet.

Bunrham Overy Dunes and freshmarsh

 Razor wreck, complete with Common Starfish and Sunstar among the thousands of Razor Clams.


 Titchwell, late afternoon