Monday, 31 December 2018

2018, out with a bang!

A post-op checkup was a success and they gave me the green light to drive, so once again I am mobile! I headed from the doctors to the Castle in York to see if I could spy the Waxwing that was present this morning.

Within minutes of arrival (and Waxwing seemingly AWOL), the phone beeped to let me know that a drake American Wigeon had been discovered on Bubwith Ings! Change of plan, and off I went like a twitching rocket, south down the A19. I had no coat or scope, but hey, I could drive and I was birding- fab!

A little later I arrived on site. The Wigeon flock were distant and tightly packed and anxious, having been buzzed by a Peregrine. Another birder was present and had already seen it, but then lost it in the frenzy as the birds evaded the hunting falcon. I couldn't add much to the search as the ducks were too far off for my bins. Instead I scanned the fields, looking for raptors. Soon, a Peregrine appeared, a big immature female, along with a Marsh Harrier. Chaos ensued as the Peg made repeated sorties after the duck flock which swirled around over the floods in terror. The Marsh Harrier hung overhead, presumably hoping the falcon would do the dirty work and she could drop in and steal the prey. Both were to be disappointed and they went off empty-taloned.

The attack proved to be useful for us, however, as the flock then pitched back on to the floods much closer, giving us a better chance of finding our quarry. Another birder had arrived and the pair now went to work searching the throng, although struggling a bit in the buffeting wind. After a bit, one of the birders generously offered me his scope to see if I could fare better, and this paid off, as shortly I picked up the dapper male American Wigeon. The bird looked pristine, with no hint of yellow in its cream crown stripe, a nice peppery head with dark green eye mask, and pure pink-gin body and big bold black and white rear end. The duck had a neat black ring around the bill base too. What a fab bird, and perhaps last winter's drake. I took a few speculative shots with my DSLR and almost unbelievably, you can actually pick the bird out. No sign of the Smew, but a handsome duck to end the year with. Happy New Year folks!



Distant ducks on Bubwith Ings. Teal, Wigeon and Pintail, with one corking drake American Wigeon.

Long live Askham Bog


Me and my team objecting to the proposed development, December 2018

...

A dead crow floating face down in a ditch. That is my first memory of visiting Askham Bog Nature Reserve on the outskirts of York, made hazy by the passing of time. It would have been the mid 1980s, and I attended a guided walk with my Mum and Dad, led presumably by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, down a muddy, woody track along a ditch. We didn't see much, apart from the rather sad crow.

Born and brought-up in Bishopthorpe, Askham Bog was a place we occasionally visited, but not often: there wasn't much in the way of access and it wasn't clear whether we were actually allowed in! Roll forward to 1989, and we upped sticks to Woodthorpe, where my folks still live. As a young teenager, reliant on lifts for indulging my birding passion, I would often be 'grounded' through lack of transport, so I would don my boots and snake across the fields, along flailed hedgerows, spooking 'chikking' Yellowhammers as I went, trying to avoid the gaze of the angry farmer (who I never did see) into the northern side of Askham Bog. Here I found tranquility, peace and BIRDS! I rarely saw a soul in there - there was no car park, no boardwalk, no information, so very few people visited. I had it to myself, mostly. And if I ever did see somebody, I would sneak away, wraith-like, along paths I felt only I knew.

Water Violets grow in profusion along the ditches


The plants and insects for which the Bog is nationally renowned were a mystery to me in those days - my focus was on birds. Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, which have virtually disappeared from the Vale of York, could be found, and I had some of my best experiences of this tiny, charismatic bird here in the Bog. One April dawn, I discovered a male, using a broken Willow to drum, advertising his territory to would-be rivals and to woo amorous females. His crimson crown shone in the early morning sunshine. Stunning. Nearby, I found a female, creeping up a Silver Birch stem, probing the bark for bugs. Cool. Come winter-time, I would check out the damper patches of ground under thick bushes to see how many Woodcocks I could discover. At dusk these birds flew out of the wood, mainly to probe the soft ground in the fields to the north, for worms.

Another memorable sighting came in 1996. I had, by then, departed York for university, but would still visit the Bog when I returned during the holidays. On 1st November, I was back in York and had a few hours spare so retraced familiar steps into the Bog. Shortly, I bumped into a trilling, purring flock of Long-tailed Tits, a frequent sight in the Bog. As I looked through them, I suddenly heard the distinctive call of a Yellow-browed Warbler. Surely not! Back in the mid-90s, Yellow-brows were not as common an autumn migrant as they are today and there were not that many inland records in Yorkshire at all. A few tense seconds later and the stripy little bird appeared on the edge of a large Hawthorn, where I drank in its features. This was the first YBW for the York area - wow!

Life then took me away from the Bog as following a stint in Norfolk, I settled firstly into Bedfordshire and then Cambridgeshire. When I next came to visit the Bog, I could not believe the change that had taken place. A circular boardwalk had been built around Middle Wood; Near Wood had been 'opened up' with a large amount of felling and scrub clearance, and the pond where I had watched dragonflies had been dug out and extended. The Bog had had a facelift  - superb! The plants, some of which I now knew the names of, had responded by flourishing. The Bog looked amazing. Well done Yorkshire Wildlife Trust!

Middle Wood

Fast-forward a few years and I managed to land a dream job, with said same Trust, heading up their fundraising and communications team. To be working for the organisation responsible for this wonderful place and other much-loved sites like Wheldrake Ings, Flamborough Cliffs and Spurn, was a huge honour and privilege, not to mention very exciting. However, this is when I became aware of the darker side of conservation, that of the developers and others, continually trying to chip away at sites like Askham Bog, trying to destroy these incredibly diverse havens for wildlife, in the name of progress. We had to remain vigilant.

In my spare time, I took my tiny kids for a walk around that lovely boardwalk, where they could get close to wildlife and enjoy the calmness of the Bog. That calmness was beginning to dwindle as the Bog had been yet again challenged by the construction of the huge Park and Ride scheme on the rough field on the other side of the railway line. This was a place Kestrels hunted voles during the day, and Barn Owls quartered at night. All under tarmac now. When the City of York Council launched its draft local plan in 2015, we were all shocked to see the remaining open side of the Bog (land to the north) included as a vast housing allocation. This would be disastrous for the Bog. This had to be stopped! For the next few months, the Trust embarked on an intensive campaign to raise awareness of the potential impacts on the Bog if this allocation was included in the plan. We pounded the streets of Bishopthorpe, Copmanthorpe, Dringhouses and Woodthorpe, to let people know about what they could lose and what this could mean for them. The response was incredible, with thousands of people standing up with us in support of the Bog and in objection to the allocation. The Council, to their immense credit, realised their mistake, and removed the allocation from the draft plan and designated the land as Green Belt. Superb!

Towards the end of the campaign was the Trust's 70th birthday and our celebrations were made all the more memorable by Sir David Attenborough, who joined us for what turned out to be a magical experience. To our surprise he offered to come along for the full day, so we put together an agenda which would include a visit to Askham Bog, the birthplace of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, ahead of the evening event at York University. I had the honour of accompanying Sir David for the day, and when the BBC were called away to cover the dreadful assassination of MP Jo Cox in West Yorkshire, I had to be stand-in interviewer. It was incredible to be in this unassuming little reserve with Sir David, one of the most famous people in the world. I could not have possibly imagined as a spotty teenager wondering around on my own that one day this would happen! Anyway, Sir David was very impressed with the site, one he was well aware of, and explained how the people of York had a clear duty to care for it and no development should ever be allowed, that could risk damaging it....

Prof Alastair Fitter, Sir David and me, Askham Bog, June 2016


The next chapter in the story was that the Local Plan was thrown out and we were back to the drawing board. We feared that without an approved plan, the developers may well 'have another go' and sure enough, in a rather cynical move, began lobbying the people of Woodthorpe to try and buy their support. This did not involve residents of Moor Lane who were strongly opposed to the scheme. Being selective of the recipients of your survey is a little underhand, to be honest, but that's developers. Barwoods then held fire until a few days before Christmas to try and sneak their application in under the radar. This showed that they are well aware of how unpopular their plans are and wanted to try and get things through without anybody noticing. In a recent statement by their head honcho (presumably in response to the huge backlash), they had the audacity to say that their development will actually enhance the Bog, which is unbelievably arrogant and misguided. Their plan is to build a big lake along the edge of the Bog and then install a 3.5m high wall as a barrier to prevent animals or people from the new estate accessing the land. How they think this will have no impact on the wildlife of the Bog is simply baffling.

Fortunately, my colleagues at the Trust were prepared for this and we hit the ground running as soon as we got wind of the application going in to the Council. The response from the public was incredible and within 24 hours we had logged over 1,000 objections. The Council, realising how underhand Barwoods had behaved, extended the consultation deadline to February, to give people and organisations plenty of time to respond. Good work. Ironically, it seemed that this was unnecessary as by Christmas, over 4,000 people had objected! This is over 2% of the entire population of York, although some of the objections will have come from people outside the area. This is unprecedented and surely there is no way the Council can approve this application in the face of such fierce public opposition. If you are reading this and haven't signed, please do. Visit the Trust's website and follow the link on the homepage, it only takes a minute.

Despite the huge opposition and the Council having already allocated this land as Green Belt, we can not relax until the planning decision is made. Until then, we will fight on. Even if we win this battle, this will not be the last time we will have to fight for this unique place, but then, the Trust has been fighting for this place for over 70 years and rest assured we will continue to do so for as long as it is under threat.The support of local people and visitors from across the UK has been breathtaking and humbling and shows what high regard Askham Bog is held. At the time of writing 4,330 people have objected through the Trust's website. Time to walk away Barwoods!

Let's all hope that the Council make the right decision and continue to repel these insensitive and greedy planning applications, giving Askham Bog the best chance of flourishing far into the future. It is a cathedral of nature conservation (to quote Rob Stoneman), home to a stunning range of wildlife including some rare species and some very rare assemblages of wildlife, as well as a haven for commoner species that are increasingly under threat too, as we lose more and more natural corners of York to development and agricultural improvement. If we can not protect places like Askham Bog, the very best of wildlife sites, then we have lost all hope.


One last visit

Following my op before Christmas, the pain relief finally seemed to be getting the upper hand yesterday, so I asked Vicky to drop me at Wheldrake Ings for a few hours (I am still unable to drive). It was such a relief to be outside after being cooped up for the past ten days or so. The conditions were comfortably clement as I slowly made my way down the riverside path. Squadrons of Lapwings headed over towards the teeming throng on the water's edge in the distance, while noisy gaggles of Greylags lifted off clumsily to head on to the Low Grounds. The flood, which has extended a little since my last visit, was peppered with ducks, thousands of them and the air was full of the whistles of drake Wigeon and the musical piping of Teal.


I spent the next couple of hours enjoying the sights and sounds from Tower Hide, carefully checking through the ducks for a rarity, switching to the growing gull roost as dusk began to creep along the ditches, spreading out across the meadows. Nothing unusual reared its head, despite my perseverance, although three Black-tailed Godwits were nice among a mixed flock of Ruff, Dunlin, Golden Plovers and Lapwings. A Peregrine surveyed the scene from a lofty perch atop a Willow along the Canal and caused panic when she decided to have a fly around.



As I walked back, a tight flock of yapping, dark geese headed over the main meadow and descended on to the Low Grounds, presumably to roost. White-fronts; a group that has been hanging around for a week or so now. The sunset was gorgeous, glowing gently in the silky surface of the Derwent as it meandered through the Willows on the edge of the reserve.


With moderate flooding in the Lower Derwent Valley, the area really is now at its best,  with thousands of wildfowl thronging the shallow waters on the ings, countless waders and always the chance of a rarity of two. Stunning stuff. Hopefully I will be fully mobile soon so I can get out and about more widely.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Saturday afternoon gloom

A gloomy end to the afternoon as rain arrived from the west, brightened by the presence of large flocks of birds on the rapidly flooding Wheldrake Ings. Swantail Ings has a large amount of standing water now, and nearby, Bank Island has submerged and is inaccessible.

An hour in Tower Hide with Duncan and Craig produced a fine adult male Peregrine, drake Goldeneye, six Whooper Swans flying south along the canal, plus c1000 Lapwings, several Ruff, a smidgeon of Dunlins and a decent number of the standard ducks. With more rain overnight, I am keeping my fingers crossed for more flooding by first light. We'll see!
...
Sad news came from Craig who said he has found several dead or dying Whooper Swans who have succumbed to lead poisoning. X-rays have shown dozens of lead pellets in their gut which has proved fatal to these majestic travellers. Lead shot isn't used in wildfowling, which does go on in the LDV, but may be a legacy of the past or the shot landing on the ings from the countless Pheasant and Partridge shoots around the valley. Pretty awful and this needs to be stopped.

 My favourite tree at Wheldrake. A large fan or scallop-shaped Willow near Tower Hide.

 A distant Peg watching the comings and goings of the various birds, presumably thinking what he fancies for his tea.


 The restored Swantail Hide, viewed from Tower Hide, showing flooding on Swantail Ings.



Sunday, 2 December 2018

Avian Cascade

I don't get down to YWT Potteric Carr as much with work these days, due to my focus being on North Yorkshire. It was, therefore, a treat to visit this afternoon and to show the kids the breathtaking Starling murmuration down at Huxterwell Marsh. It was certainly worth the walk. Gangs of Starlings piled in from all points of the compass, assembling into a sinuous, living airborne leviathan, which snaked across the treetops, balling up into twisted shapes, before reaching out across the reeds like smoke from a winter bonfire. The BBC's Strictly has nothing on nature!




If you want to see this spectacle, head for the East Scrape Screen, about half an hour's walk from the visitor centre, at the end of the blue trail. Today, the Starlings began their dance about 3.30pm and performed well until c3.55pm when they poured into the reedbed like an avian cascade. It was still light and we got back to the centre by dusk.

Little Egret, fishing for Hawthorn berries. Apparently.


Plenty of other stuff about including a Peregrine, two or three Cetti's Warblers, three Little Egrets, several Lesser Redpolls and Siskins and a fine male Marsh Harrier hunting on Piper Marsh (below).




The water is coming

After the summer drought, it is taking a while for things to get wet in the Lower Derwent Valley. With some rain, Bank Island and the Low Grounds have now partially flooded, and birds have poured in. Hopefully with more rain, Wheldrake Ings will flood too, and winter birding will kick off proper. Great scenes at Bank Island this morning, with 1,000 Lapwings, 17 Ruff, c60 Pintails, c500 Wigeon etc. Great to hear the evocative calls of these birds on a still morning, the soundtrack for the next four months of local patch birding. Awesome.




Guano


What have Donald Trump, Medway Council, The Maltese Government and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust got in common?

Trump, leader of the world's biggest superpower, as if you didn't know, is a climate-change denier, sex pest, racist, mocker of the disabled, hatred inciter, and is systematically ripping up environmental and wildlife protection legislation in the States; the second is a local authority supporting the destruction of Britain's largest Nightingale breeding site; the third is a government failing to stop the slaughter of thousands of migrant birds, and the last, my employer, is a nature conservation charity, dedicated to protecting and promoting Yorkshire's wildlife. You could argue that one of these four is slightly out of place among those others mentioned. But, according to Birdwatch magazine, they are all worthy of nominating for an award for the environmental harm they cause.

Let me explain...

Birdwatch magazine/Birdguides runs its own X Factor style Birders Choice Awards to celebrate the achievements of unsung heroes, memorable birding events, best rarity etc. They also have the amusingly titled 'Guano Award for Environmental Harm'. To include Yorkshire Wildlife Trust on this list is disgraceful.

YWT have been included by the editors of the mag for the following reason:

"For going ahead with the controversial siting of the new visitor centre at Spurn, despite local objections." 

So, ok, Birdwatch, where is the evidence of environmental harm here?


I have never written about my feelings about the Spurn Discovery Centre, as it is now known. I was involved for most of the life of the project through my previous role at YWT, but have little to do with it now, having taken a new role midway through last year, which means my focus is elsewhere.
But when I look back on the four years or so I was involved, it is with sadness. I have been passionate about birding and nature conservation all my life. I have worked hard to get a job in a wildlife charity and every day feel privileged to work in the sector, being able to do a tiny bit to help that which I care so much about.

  • I never thought I would be directly threatened on email because of who I worked for.
  • I never thought my mugshot would appear on a stranger's blog, threatening me with violence.
  • I never thought I would witness colleagues around me almost having nervous breakdowns because of the intimidation they were facing daily.
  • I never thought I wouldn't be able to go birding somewhere because I wouldn't feel safe to do so.
This hasn't been a happy time and especially because elsewhere in Yorkshire I could see the real threat to Yorkshire's wildlife. Intensive agriculture; the continued illegal slaughter of our birds of prey; developments such as Hedon Airfield which would destroy a very important Curlew roost site, the Hellifield Flash destruction in the Dales, the proposal to build thousands of houses next to Askham Bog, or next to the Tilmire SSSI at York, and so on. These are the real threats to our wildlife. This is the time where we need to stand strong and together. And YWT has stepped up and fought for these places, sometimes in the absence of much support from elsewhere.

And meanwhile, YWT were having to put huge resources into defending what it genuinely thought -whether you believe that or not - would be the right thing to do for the future of Spurn NNR. The suggestion of anything else from profiteering to vanity, was simply bizarre and massively frustrating, and pretty devastating to all those involved. 

And now, with the Spurn Discovery Centre in place, has it changed Spurn? Was all that horrific nastiness worth it? Well, the Centre has changed the look of The Triangle undoubtedly (it is a bit stark, but I think it will bed-in with time), some of the views are altered and undoubtedly there may be a few well-loved paths that are now 'left to nature' but I don't sense it has had any negative impact on the birds or wildlife whatsoever - exactly what the Trust, RSPB, Natural England, Footprint Ecology and the Obs' own data predicted. Day to day, visitors are using the facilities. Families are visiting Spurn more easily. A range of people are being inspired about wildlife. The importance of the wider Humber area and North Sea for wildlife gains more prominence. Great. So, it has changed, yes, and for the better, and I don't think the level and intensity of vitriol was appropriate.

Given these things, Birdwatch editors, please tell me: where is the environmental harm here to warrant YWT's inclusion in this list? 

The terrible situation over the last few years has resulted in a very strained relationship between the Obs and YWT. This is massively sad. I look up the coast and see what Flamborough and Filey Bird Observatories are achieving through working together with YWT and it is great for all parties - but particularly for birds and other wildlife. The recent MigWeek up at Flamborough and Filey was a fantastic success, with YWT hosting many of the lectures, ringing demos and various other things at its Living Seas Centre. This is how it should be!

When I arrived back in Yorkshire after 15 years in the wilderness (well, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire), I was shocked about the situation at Spurn. YWT and the Obs didn't get on very well, the site needed some investement and we were even charging our own members to get in - bonkers!

I pushed to secure free entry for YWT members, the Obs committee and staff and to try and start to build bridges between the two organisations. After all, we all wanted Spurn's wildlife to thrive, even if our objectives were slightly different.

The efforts by Adam Stoyle, myself and others really started to make headway - people at the Obs seemed very keen on this too. I was delighted to be invited to join the Obs committee - a real honour for me! We got involved in the organisation and running of the very first MigFest. I persuaded Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and the BBC Autumnwatch team to spend a week at Spurn featuring both YWT and the Obs. Spurn on primetime national TV - it was great.

This felt like a new beginning. Yes, some of the old issues were still there - and many of the old characters - but it really felt that the future was bright and many of the problems could be overcome for the benefit of everyone, and especially the wildlife of Spurn, just by working better together.
And then, one afternoon, I was sitting in the YWT office in York and E.ON telephoned my colleague and offered funding for a new visitor centre. A major project began…

As the project rumbled on, the objectors to the centre did an amazing job of generating support from across the birding community. Petitioning birders from across the UK arriving to twitch the Easington Siberian Accentor was a master stroke. Nevertheless, planning permission was granted and the Discovery Centre has been built. 

But I think now is the time to bury the hatchet. The centre is built and doing its job. YWT staff are working hard to inspire visitors to Spurn about wildlife, trying to educate them to have a safe visit with minimal disturbance to wildlife. Exactly what they said they would do. The birds are still there; I see there was a Jack Snipe on Canal Scrape too. No change there then. Things seem to be definitely moving in the right direction, to be fair, but I still see unfair comments being posted on social media frequently. YWT gets the blame for everything, even the westerly winds this autumn!


A Jack Snipe on Canal Scrape, way back in 2013.

So, will anybody vote for YWT to receive the guano award? Of course - lots of birders will. I think there is a fair chance YWT will win this dire accolade, which compared with the catastrophic impact of the other nominees on wildlife, is quite perplexing to me. Think wisely when you vote.

Personally, I would nominate Birdwatch mag for posting out their lovely magazine in plastic wrapping. YWT doesn't do that....

Meanwhile, staff and volunteers at YWT will continue to fight for Yorkshire's wildlife where it is under threat. We will continue to raise money to fund projects to improve our rivers for wildlife. We will continue to restore thousands of hectares of upland peat, trapping carbon, slowing the flow of water into the lowlands and providing a home for upland wildlife. We will continue to increase the area of land we manage to provide homes for Yorkshire's wildlife. We may not have the resources to manage all of these sites to the highest standard, but we will do our best with what we have. We will continue to invest the money generously given to us in new facilities for birders and other visitors at our reserves - like the new hides at Wheldrake Ings, North Cave Wetlands and Filey Dams (coming soon). We will continue to try to be good partners to a wide range of organisations, big and small. We will desperately try to raise the money to maintain our charitable work. We will continue to work for a Yorkshire richer in wildlife for everyone, including Spurn.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Cape Yorkshire Tystie!

I have just about thawed out after enduring this morning's Arctic blast for four hours, complete with sleet, lashing rain and gale-force northerlies at Flamborough Head. Why would I do this? Well, fortune favours the brave and all that, and with the forecast looking terrifying, the prospect of some good birds in the North Sea was too good to miss. So, out east to Cape Yorkshire, meeting Dunc Poyser in a deserted lighthouse car park in pouring rain. Gear on, we headed down the track to the fog station. Remarkably, in the dawn light and dreadful conditions, Fieldfares and Blackbirds were arriving in off the sea. How do they survive this?


We hunkered in behind the fog station wall and began the scan. Ducks were coming north in good numbers, mostly Wigeon, Teal and Common Scoter, the former undoubtedly having been blown south of their intended destinations, and correcting themselves by heading back north into the teeth of the gale.


Common Scoters, battling into the fierce northerly.

Few seabirds seemed to be in evidence this early. A gang of Flamborough regulars arrived, settling in with us. While this was going on I picked up two small auks heading north. They were tiny; surely Little Auks. I found myself muttering, like the woman on the Jaws movie who sees the shark heading into the 'pond', but didn't quite get the words out; it was too late and they'd rounded the wall. Gone. Doh!  \Move on... A Short-eared Owl came in-off. More ducks. Among the commoner flocks, a dazzling drake Long-tailed Duck, a trio of athletic Pintail, a Tufted Duck, several Red-breasted Mergansers spearheading a Wigeon flock, three chubby Goldeneye and an aloof, solitary Velvet Scoter. It was very cool to see real wild Mallards migrating, looking superb in the morning light.

Flamborough Seawatchers. This may be the last time I seawatch out here - the new seawatching hide is underway!


We nipped off to put tickets on our cars, before returning to the fray. As luck would have it, Craig and Lee had just found a Black Guillemot, which fortunately for us had landed on the sea with a Razorbill. Surely it was still there somewhere! After a bit, I found the Razorbill and staying on it, up popped the Black Guillemot! Great - a new Yorkshire bird for me. After a minute or so, it took off and headed north and I managed a bit of sketchy phone-scoped video:

Tystie (Black Guillemot) heading north off the Fog Station, Flamborough


Seabirds were fewer in number; we had one Sooty and ten Manx Shearwaters, one Arctic, four Pomarine and ten Great Skuas, two Fulmars, and several Red-throated Divers. The group picked up two more north-bound Little Auks but sadly I didn't get on to them. Dunc had a date with a halloween party in Ely, so had to head off and the rest of the gang headed for shelter in South Landing, leaving Johnny Mac and myself to freeze to death on the clifftop. The wind had swung more northeasterly and was beating us up between heavy squalls that piled down the North Sea. By 11am, we'd both had enough so headed round to South Landing. Down at the beach, a smart first-winter Little Gull was feeding among the Black-heads and a couple of Mediterrean Gulls (first and second winter) were also blogging about. A Great Northern Diver was offshore, along with a good flock of Common Scoter. A couple of skuas went south far out, presumably Poms.


Little Gull, top (at the back of the flock), and second winter Med Gull (top left) South Landing


It was still raining and the wind was strengthening even more, so I decided to head for Castle Howard to see if anything had blown in. Duncan Bye beat me to it however, so I diverted to Hes East, which was bereft of birds, save two Snipe, two Pochard and several Tufties. Happy with my Tystie tick at Cape Yorkshire I headed home. I was still cold.

Post Script.
Then, to my simultaneous horror and delight, Dunc picked up two adult Pomarine Skuas heading over Wheldrake Ings just after 4pm. Boom! A first for York and much deserved. Well gripped, as I was in a shop in the Designer Outlet! Cutting short my shopping trip, I checked Hes East again, hoping desperately that the Poms might have dropped in for a drink, or to roost, but to no avail. Maybe tomorrow...



Saturday, 20 October 2018

Birding dawn 'til dusk

A long, enjoyable day at Flamborough, partly spent with fellow Bishopthorpian, Paul Brook. Good numbers of Blackbirds were the most noticeable feature, plus three Yellow-browed Warblers, a flyover Lapland Bunting, two Ring Ouzels and c20 Bramblings. Sadly, clear skies last night had enticed the Olive-backed Pipit to head south and the Barred Warbler failed to perform again, despite showing well first thing. The undoubted highlight of the day was meeting up with friends and listening to Captain Terrier Mark Pearson's excellent talk about the Champions of the Flyway, as part of the MigWeek 2018 and our winning of the Guardians award. Great stuff.

 Common Kestrel, New Fall


 Yellow-browed Warbler, Holmes Gut YWT


Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Ninja Sandpiper!

Check out the Marske Spotted Sandpiper catching sandhoppers with lightning fast reactions like a shorebird ninja!


Birdo Weekender: Flamborough 11-14th October

To be honest, the forecast didn't look great. Very strong southerlies on Saturday and rain and north-westerlies on Sunday. Nevertheless, after a relatively quiet Friday birding the headland (fewer birds than yesterday, though a handful of lingering Yellow-browed Warblers still), Team Birdo (Ben Green, Simon Patient, Mark Hawkes, Duncan Poyser and myself) convened in the 'ultimate luxury' at 3 Firecrest Cove, Thornwick, full of enthusiasm for a weekend birding the Great White Cape, at the start of the Filey and Flamborough Bird Observatories' Migration Week. Surely, these crazy winds would drop something from the south in?

Team Birdo, Thornwick


A caravan at Thornwick. Ultimate luxury...

Saturday

There was a bit of passage during the morning, with small numbers of Song Thrushes and Redwings 'in off', seven Yellow-browed Warblers in our circuit of Thornwick, plus a Brambling or two and three Ring Ouzels showing well in Holmes Gut.




Brambling

Birding was difficult in the strong winds, and we decided to head north to twitch the Spotted Sandpiper at Marske, just south of Redcar. After a rather arduous drive - thanks Mark - we were soon watching this confiding Yank wader on the beach just north of the village. It showed very well after a while, coming too close to focus my scope on! The bird was happily catching flies and sandhoppers among the detritus on the strandline. It had a curious habit of stalking a particular critter in slow-mo before shooting it's beak out and grabbing the morsel, ninja style. A very distinctive, short-winged, compact bird, with neat white eye-ring, strong supercilium, dark cap and bright yellow legs. Nice to see Mike Pratt at the twitch, Northumberland Wildlife Trust CEO - top bloke.







Juvenile Spotted Sandpiper. Without spots.

Heading back south, we stopped at Holbeck, Scarbados, to mop up an early returning Mediterranean Gull, a smart second winter bird, before returning to Thornwick. We did the northside again, with little new to be found, save a Whinchat and a Redstart. Headed to the site restaurant for beers and snacks. A top night, if not the most bird-filled of days, but great to bird with old mates.


Med Gull, and the lads at Marske.


Sunday...

...dawned golden and magical.

 
This didn't last long and shortly, the temperature dropped and rain arrived. We toughed out a walk round the north side and saw very little, save a single Yellow-brow in Holmes Gut. The highlight was Jim Morgan and Ana showing us some of the birds they had mist-netted, including Lesser Redpoll, Yellowhammer and a Redstart. A real treat and informative too, as Jim explained how he aged the birds. The birds' weights were all good, so Jim assumed they had been present a while and had had chance to feed and replenish their fat stores for their onward journeys.

Redstart

With the wind getting up and the rain getting heavier, we decided South Landing might be a good option. Wrong, it was equally wet and windy. Back to the caravan for much-needed bacon butties and tea, both providing welcome relief. Nothing was being found elsewhere to give us much optimism to brave out the wet for a few more hours, so we decided to cut our losses and head home, earning a few brownie points from our families.

...

A little after getting home, news broke of a Pacific Swift at Hornsea. Dammit! I didn't really have time to get there before the light went, although looking back I might have done it - just. Worse still, a little later, the news came that photos had shown the bird was actually the UK's first White-rumped Swift. What a gripper and a frustrating end to a rather damp day. Birding is just like that sometimes. So, a lesson learned the hard way. If you've got your passport stamped and it's October, stay out until dark- just in case!