Saturday, 30 September 2017

Mega Scops

I met Tom Middleton on his patch today, a small coastal valley at Ryhope, just south of Sunderland on the Durham coast.

On Wednesday, he had done his usual walk round his patch, full of expectation due to the easterly wind that was blowing in across the North Sea. He hadn't seen much before a fast-moving warbler caught his attention- he hoped for a Yellow-brow. As he raised his bins, a movement in the middle of the Elder bush caught his eye, and he found himself looking straight at a small owl. Having only seen Tawny Owl on his patch before, this was going to be a patch tick.

He got some photos and then the bird's head turned to face him revealing ear tufts - a Scops Owl! His hands began to shake and the net photo completely missed the target! He had found the first Scops for Durham - cracking! (The warbler was a Chiffchaff).

This tiny owl showed well to several hundred visitors that day, and again the next day, although it had moved roost and was difficult to see. Yesterday, the bird was not seen and I assumed I had missed my chance to see this cracking little vagrant; it had either moved on, or died, I assumed. Remarkably, today it was refound back in the original Elder bush.

I had an unexpectedly free afternoon, so hooking up with Chris and Paz, we cruised up the A19 to Ryhope. A short walk under the railway and the assembled birders were clearly still 'on it'. After a little bit of searching, there it was - lovely. What a super little bird. It stretched a bit, yawned and half-opened it's eyes, before going back into a doze in the dappled shade of the Elder. A little later, the sun came out and it seemed to not like the light, so turned it's head away - very cute.

Nearby, a Spotted Flycatcher performed, a beautiful migrant, accompanied by a skulking Barred Warbler, from Eastern Europe. Wow! A little later, we had a look at the sea, where a Red-throated Diver, complete with a mostly-red throat loafed offshore and a few common waders were roosting on the rocks as the tide rose. We bumped into a young lad who we chatted to - he then mentioned he had found this bird - this was Tom, and he generously told us the story of his mega find. Good work Tom!

 Barred Warbler, skulking
 Spotted Flycatcher
Paz, Chris and on the right, a very happy Tom Middleton

Friday, 29 September 2017

Goth Puffins and friends

Another YCN whale and seabird trip and sadly no whales, despite excellent views by Rich's trips recently. Nevertheless, a great day out with plenty of seabirds, including Bonxies, Manx Shearwaters and Puffins, one of which was clearly heading for the Whitby goth festival. The wind went back round to the west and consequently very few migrants among the resident Stonechats on the cliffs near Cowbar.

Manxie and Kittiwakes, Goth Puffin and Stonechat.

Boggled: 26-27th September

Two days with work at Boggle Hole on the North Yorkshire coast in an easterly, always promised to be good! After my morning's presentation, headed north along the clifftop and was rewarded with a smart juvenile Red-backed Shrike feeding from the hedge surrounding one of the paddocks. With the assistance of a colleague I managed a couple of digi-binned shots with my phone:

The shrike was still present the next day, along with a Yellow-browed Warbler just by the Youth Hostel. Very nice! Also, a strikingly blue toadstool which apparently is a Blue Roundhead:

Flamborough: YCN/YWT/FBO Migration Workshop, 23rd September

Our first migration workshop of the autumn was hampered by westerlies, but nevertheless, Tony pulled in a few smart birds including a couple of Bullfinches and a Goldcrest. Later, Ian turned up with an enormous Convolvulous Hawkmoth:

We did the Old Fall loop which was great fun despite the lack of migrants which consisted of one Pied Flycatcher in the plantation.

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.