I took a day off today as I knew we would have had a late night last night, as our band, Our Enemies, was in the studio recording an EP. Dropped off the kids and then decided to head north to check out the River Rye near Nunnington, a stretch of river that used to be one of the only places Dippers bred in the York Recording Area. Admittedly, none had been reported for 20 years, but I decided that perhaps nobody had looked recently, so it was worth a try! As I would be passing Castle Howard, it seemed rude not to have a look, to see if a Smew or something had come in with the cold snap on the continent. A big pile of geese were in the fields by the lake, so I stopped and had a look. Nothing but Canadas and Greylags, but a pair of singing Nuthatches chasing round the roadside Limes gave the cold air a springlike feel.
Castle Howard was rammed with birds. Surely there had to be something good here somewhere! The creamy glow of a drake Goosander shone across the water; his drab partner followed in his wake. Grey Herons sat on their newly refurbished nests. Hundreds of Wigeon whistled and dozens of Teal peeped, and among them at least forty Goldeneye in a range of plumages, including some cracking drakes busy tossing their heads back to impress the rather unimpressed females.
Among the willow roots I picked out the rather surreal form of a male Mandarin, sailing along. Nearby four more - two drakes, a female and a first winter male, sat on a log. Later on, two males and a female were on the grassy bank, so eight in total, a good count.
Several Pochard looked handsome in the early morning light and I scoured the Tufties looking for a Scaup or something rarer. A Wigeon grabbed my attention, with a very pale crown stripe and some yellow on the lores -wierd! Maybe a bit of American in there some where. I started thinking about American Wigeons and how they are still ssuprisingly rare in the York area despite the collossal herds of Wigeon that winter in the area. It seems strange that American Wigeons turn up annually somewhere in Yorkshire but often on gravel pits and reservoirs, which doesn't seem to be ideal compared with the hectares of prime Wigeon feeding in the Lower Derwent Valley!
I walked down to the end of the lake to scan through the hordes of ducks down there. Looking through the Wigeon, I glimpsed a very white-looking crown stripe. Surely not?! The tight flock of feeding Wigeon concealed something good, I was sure of it!
The Wigeon parted and out swam a cracking drake American Wigeon!
Was I imagining this? No, it seemed I wasn't! I looked at the photos hastily taken on my phone to check I wasn't losing my marbles- no, it was an American! I checked the crown stripe from all angles, noted the fine black line around the bill base, the peppery grey head with broad green stripe through the eye, fully pink body and black and white rear end. OK, I hadn't seen the white axillaries, but this looked perfect for a pure Yank Wigeon, only my second in the York area and the first for Castle Howard.
On the way back, I was treated to a beautiful full-on courtship display from a pair of Great Crested Grebes. I sat down and watched them. Simply stunning, they did the weed dance and everything, the best bit being where they dramatically threw the weed away like a pair of passionate tango dancers.
Onwards to West Ness. I flushed a Kingfisher by West Ness bridge and this turned out to be the best bird. I walked the couple of miles up the River Rye past Nunnington Hall to the boundary of the York Recording Area, but sadly no Dippers were in evidence. Nunnington bridge looked reasonable as a nest site (it certainly used to be) and I suspect when the water drops, it would look pretty Dipper-friendly. But not today. I headed back, noting more noisy Nuthatches and c500 Fieldfares and c100 Redwings feeding in sheep fields. Along with some very curious sheep, who behaved like they had never seen a birder before.
Into the Valley
I headed south to see what the south end of the LDV had to offer. I soon located the drake Scaup from the other day, but couldn't see the others. I picked up three of the four redhead Smew and pointed them out to some other birders who had been looking for them. Round to the Geoff Smith Hide and my first spring Oystercatcher was feeding along the edge of the flooded ings.
Next stop Thorganby: Ruff, 35, Dunlin, 30, Bar-headed Goose, 2 (!), Whooper Swan c100 in the distance and a Little Owl calling.
A quick look from Wheldrake bridge, for I was running out of time, revealed a meadow full of Lapwings, plus 132 Golden Plovers and 10 Dunlin.
Not a bad start to my birding weekender. Shame my car looks a bit worse for wear!