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!

Monday, 25 March 2019

30 year old Sanderling and an unmemorable Shag

A 30 year old Sanderling? Well, not quite! After a lovely morning in Wykeham Forest buzzing with displaying Goshawks, a Peregrine and a surprise female Marsh Harrier that flew west, I had a late afternoon twitch to North Duffield Carrs for a Sanderling.

Yes, I know, Sanderlings are a common (but always lovely) sight on the Yorkshire coast, but birding is all about the context, and they are scarce in the York area, so this was a much-desired York tick for me (or so I thought). The little wader was hanging out with a Dunlin (smaller and browner than the Sanderling) on some VERY distant muddy mounds, which enabled a good comparison through the scope. Plenty of ducks were still present, but no sign of the Grey Plover reported earlier.

After enjoying distant views of this tiny white sprite, I headed home very pleased with my success. Later, I messaged my old Bish birding mate, Dunc Poyser about my Sanderling sighting, and he replied to say that we had seen one together at Wheldrake Ings in April 1989, near enough 30 years ago! So, not my first in the York area after all. Given waders live a LONG time, this could conceivably the same bird, but I guess that is highly unlikely, but you just never know.

Poring over my old notebooks was quite a revelation. I discovered that what I thought was my first York Little Gull last spring, was in fact my eighth! Wow, my memory is really getting bad! Even more bizarre, I apparently saw the second-summer Shag that spent a couple of months at Wheldrake, also in 1989. And Shags are really rare in the York area with only about nine records. I have no recollection of seeing this bird, but Dunc corroborated this too, although only because it was in his notebook.

I guess sometimes a Shag is not that memorable!

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Red-necked Grebes - like buses!

Until the Castle Howard Red-necked Grebe earlier this year, I had not seen this attractive species in the York area. But as with buses, you wait ages for one to turn up and then two turn up in a short space of time!

Yesterday, Duncan Bye pulled a delightful adult RNG out of the bag at Wheldrake Ings. I was due to have a meeting with my line manager during the afternoon and I (perhaps a little audaciously) suggested we could do this in the car/at East Cottingwith, and to my surprise he agreed, as he had some documents that needed signing by YWT's chair, who lives near there. Great!

We headed over in the afternoon and after a bit of searching I spied the compact shape of the grebe, resting on the water with it's head tucked back on to it's mantle as it slept - a tired migrant, with a long journey ahead of it.

The grebe was well on the way to summer plumage, through the red neck was still mottled. Nevertheless a very smart bird which obliged every so often by waking up and giving us a good view, despite the distance.

The grebe departed overnight, clearly keen to get back to it's breeding grounds, which may be in southern Sweden or perhaps Denmark. Safe travels!

Monday, 11 March 2019

York Birding - Club Field Trip - the LDV

With dreadful weather forecast, our planned venue for Sunday's field trip, Wykeham Forest, was ditched and we decided to head down to the Lower Derwent Valley, where at least we could take shelter in the hides if things got too bad...

Five intrepid souls met me in Piccadilly at 8am. It was already raining! We met Duncan at Bank Island, noted a Little Egret, and then headed out to do a clockwise loop of the LDV.

Our first stop was East Cottingwith, where we were able to scan the refuge at Wheldrake Ings. Plenty of ducks and Coot about, along with several Black-tailed Godwits. Intriguingly, a bird called distantly; I barely heard it but someone suggested Whooper Swan. Ears tuned in, it called again, and it was clear it was a Crane! Excellent. We walked down the Pocklington Canal in the direction of the sound, hoping the bird, or birds, would be on the ings towards Storwood. There were certainly plenty of birds on the flooded fields, and several Goldeneye on the canal. but sadly no Cranes. Two pairs of Willow Tits were wheezing in the willows, always nice to see/hear, and an adult Peregrine showed briefly.

The rain was increasing, so we turned tail and headed to Ellerton Church. We were foiled here, both by the lack of flooding and also by a guy exercising his two labradors on the ings = no birds. A Barn Owl by the church was the only bird of note.

A similar story unravelled at Aughton, with little flooding meaning few birds, besides a few rather damp looking Lapwings huddling out of the wind.

Bubwith and North Duffield Carrs held more water and therefore more promise. The rain was really getting heavy and the wind strengthening, so we welcomed the shelter of Garganey Hide. The wind had blown down a tree, blocking our path. I limboed underneath it, but some quick thinking by Neil and Noel removed the blockage and allowed the rest of the gang to pass by unhindered. Another Peregrine, an immature was sitting gloomily on the grass whilst a Buzzard sat stoically atop the Osprey platform, facing the gale. Shelducks joined good numbers of Pintail, displaying Teal and a scatter of Wigeon and Shovelers. The arable field behind the hide held a decent flock of Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Dunlin. A cuppa and a sandwich were enjoyed. To our surprise, by the time we had walked back to the car park, the rain had stopped and we could even see some blue sky!

A brief stop at Thorganby revealed a small skein of 20 Pink-footed Geese grazing on the ings; they soon flew onto the river.

Completing the loop, we arrived back at Wheldrake and headed down to the Andy Booth/Tower Hide. The sun came out! The wind was now pretty gusty, but the newly-boarded hide was cosy, and we enjoyed a good stint checking through the ducks. A Goosander flew along the canal and a piping piebald party of seapies (Oystercatchers) pitched in, looking splendid in their spring finery in the March sun.

Our brave party began to split up early afternoon, as hail storms pelted us from a blackened sky, followed by dazzling sunny spells. Few birds were added hereafter to the list, but an enjoyable day was had all told. Big thanks to Peter, Duncan, Noel, Neil, Alan and Bob who braved the weather and provided great company.

Today, two Cranes were discovered in a field at East Cottingwith. A coincidence? Maybe...

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Slow York

A drake Scaup at Castle Howard Great Lake was the highlight of a look round the York area this morning. Stacks of other birds around, but little else of note.


On Friday, took the kids to Wheldrake Ings for a walk. Plenty of signs of spring and the kids even seemed to enjoy themselves. They certainly liked the new interpretation that has been put up in the hides. 21 Whoopers on the main flood were presumably migrants heading north, as were the 22 Pinkfeet on the refuge. A singing Chiffchaff was by the Pool Hide. 12 Goldeneye also noted.


Nice to see this dinky male Sparrowhawk after watching the monster Goshawks in Berlin earlier in the week. A cracking little pocket rocket.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Goshawks of Berlin

There are lots of cool birds. And I have even seen some of them. But some birds are cooler than others. I am not sure why; it could be where they live, or their unpredictability, their behaviour, their enigmatic status, or that they are just hard as nails. Pomarine Skua is one of these birds, Great Grey Shrike another. But the prize in my view goes to Goshawk. 

Not many people see Goshawks in Britain, though many people think they do. Sparrowhawks are very common and displaying females can look surprisingly Gos-like even to experienced birders. Most 'out of range' Goshawks turn out to be Sparrowhawks. Goshawks do disperse and so can turn up anywhere, but their genuine rarity at migration watchpoints shows how rare they are away from their breeding areas. Sadly, as a top predator they are targeted - illegally- by gamekeepers and away from areas where they are protected they don't last long.

I have spent many an hour over the decades scanning the skies above remote pine plantations in the Brecks, the Peak District, Great Haldon Forest darn sarf somewhere and in recent years, in the Great Yorkshire Forest, in the hope of seeing this elusive predator. In recent years, my hit rate has been high, I'm pleased to say, as the population in the Yorkshire Forest seems to be doing ok, and going out in the right weather at the right time of year, to the right place has given me many sightings of these charismatic birds. Views, however, have usually been distant - reasonable through the scope - but mostly of flying birds. This has been great - I love seeing them display over the forest in early spring, but the only time I have seen them perched has been at great distance. Readers of this blog will have seen my laughable attempts at photos in recent years!


A few years ago, I heard that these spectacular hawks had colonised Berlin and had become accustomed to people, thus affording much closer views than in the UK. Over 100 pairs now nest within the city, with most parks, churchyards and other small wooded areas, hosting a pair. The birds feed on pigeons, rats etc and are doing very well. They are monitored by local scientists, who ring many of the birds (see here). Visits by mates - first Rich Baines this time last year (see here) and then by Mark Pearson in December (see here)- really whetted my appetite to make this trip. Berlin is also well renowned as a 'must visit' European city and it is clearly an attractive proposition for a family 'city break'. My good mate Philip Precey (see here) was keen to join us, so our plans were hatched and off we went. 

Our AirBnB was just east of Tiergarten, the large central park in Berlin which housed a number of pairs of Goshawk. I scanned mid-afternoon from our apartment window and briefly saw the distinctive cruciform of a Gos, as it circled over the monochrome woodland of the park in the bright afternoon sunshine. This was more the view of a Goshawk I was used to from Yorkshire, so hopefully things would improve when we entered the park at dawn the next morning. 

Central Berlin. The red 'Xs' show where we watched Goshawks in the Tiergarten.

Monday, 25th February
It dawned bright and cold. A steady traffic of cycling commuters headed through the park on various cyclepaths, paying us no heed. Remarkably few dog walkers were in evidence which made the experience more relaxing- and I didn't have to constantly watch where I put my feet! Woodpeckers were drumming all around (all Great Spotted) and the air rang to the calls of Nuthatches, Blue and Great Tits. Shortly, I heard the familiar powerful 'kek-kek-kek...' of a female Goshawk - not too far away. We walked towards the sound and there she was, a pale shape sitting bolt upright, two thirds of the way up a bare tree. Wow!

She really was unbelievably beautiful, yet fiercely terrifying at the same time, exuding power wrapped in grace and style.  And look at those talons! If I was a Woodpigeon or Red Squirrel, I would leave the park. Right now. I had to change my underwear.

And at the top end, a fairly rapacious looking beak. If the feet don't kill you, the beak will.

But most of all, the eyes got me. A piercing, fierce stare, that burned through you with unblinking fire as if the hawk is working out whether you are prey or not...

Her mate arrived on the scene (colour ringed F16), followed by a third bird, an intruding immature female. No wonder there was lots of angry calling going on! The young female showed off her skills to the older male by chasing a Hooded Crow through the wood, twisting and turning among the trunks, like speederbikes on Endor, right on the screaming crow's tail. She let it go and beat a hasty retreat before the adult female could attack. Very sensible. Two German ladies walking dogs asked us what we were up to. They seemed amazed that we had come all the way from England to look at their Habichts! They told us there are Kingfishers around the lake sometimes.

We meandered west through the park, hoping for Middle Spotted Woodpecker, but to no avail. Hawfinches ticked repeatedly from the canopy; one or two gave good views.


One or two rather nervous-looking Red Squirrels foraged in the leaf litter, keeping eyes and ears alert for imminent death from above.

Photo by Philip.

Soon we came to a lake, complete with a few Mallards and a flotilla of Mandarins. Goshawks were calling again - perhaps another pair. We soon came upon the male in the top of a large ivy-clad tree, eye burning fire-red. Clearly smaller than the female, the male's head pattern was more clear-cut, with darker ear coverts and crown, contrasting with a white supercilium and plainer white throat.

Male Gos, photo by Philip.

Nearby the female was calling maniacally. We tracked her down, but this bird was shyer than the previous bird and moved on silently through the wood. It was interesting to note how the hawks spent most of their time under the canopy, usually perching between half and two thirds the way up the tree and flying through the woodland at the same height. Presumably the birds in the Yorkshire forest behave the same way which is why sightings are often brief, when the birds get above the canopy to display, or soar.

Female Gos, photo by Philip

Later, we explored the Tiergarten with the kids. Goshawks appeared and disappeared like phantoms, with lots of calling. Quite a surreal experience! Overhead, a huge V of White-fronted Geese headed north late morning, followed by two groups of Cranes, totalling about 40 birds, bugling loudly as they went.

Tuesday 26th February

I went back into the Tiergarten alone at dawn. Before I had even set foot into the woodland, the adult female came charging in, shouting her head off. She landed amid the branches, undertail fluffed out big style. She was clearly in the mood for love, or a fight. 

A large angry mob of Hooded Crows started a huge clamour nearby - it didn't seem to be the female that was upsetting them. And then I noticed that the F16 male had come in, unseen by me at least and had perched above my head. Crazy scenes! He nonchalantly relaxed on a branch, ambivalent to the Hoodies going bananas all around and keeping one cool eye on the big female, who was calling all the time. 


 The male suddenly noticed something behind where I was crouched on the forest floor.

He then flew fast and direct straight over my head. He called loudly as he went, I followed him. Soon, I discovered what he had been distracted by. The same big immature female we had seen yesterday. She was perched this time, glaring at the male, who was calling loudly nearby.

She was gorgeous. No wonder the male was getting distracted by her. Note the yellow, rather than orange eye, heavily barred upper tail (plain in adults), mottled nape, white bases to the mantle feathers and barring on the secondaries. After a bit, she powered off through the trees, the male in hot pursuit.

I decided to leave them to it. The adult female disappeared during the commotion. I was still hoping for Middle Spotted Woodpecker, but to no avail. A few Short-toed Treecreepers were a nice consolation.

A scream from a Hooded Crow and I turned to see a Goshawk whip in and miss a Woodpigeon by centimetres. The lucky pigeon shot off high; the Gos landed casually on the pigeon's perch and began preening. It was F16. He casually glanced over his shoulder at me. After a few minutes, he headed deeper into the park.

F16 preening.

And that, I thought was my last encounter with Berlin's Goshawks.

But no! Later on, after meeting some friends in Potzdamplatz, we wandered into the Tiergarten so the kids could have a play on the swings. I explained to our friends about the Goshawks and they were keen to see one. I said I couldn't really show them one that easily, but I knew where there was a nest nearby. To our surprise, a male was sitting sentry-like in the next door tree, so they got to see one! Round the back of the copse the female suddenly started calling. We walked round and the male flew round, landed on her back, mated and then flew into a nearby tree to preen. Amazing! The female then flew back over our heads carrying what looked like a pigeon carcass, calling her head off. My friends were left thinking this birding lark is easy! Spectacular stuff. I must return to watch these birds some more.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Hawk Season

Mild, sunny, mid-February, perfect for Goshawks. Headed out to Wykeham Forest and sure enough lots of Goshawk action between 9.30am and 11.45am when I left. Two adult pairs were showing, with lots of displaying and bouts of calling from in the forest. Two immature birds, a female and male were stirring things up and causing lots of territorial skirmishes - lots of fun to watch. Plenty of Crossbills flying about, plus a Red Kite, several Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk. The early spring air was filled with the songs of Mistle Thrushes, Coal Tits and Nuthatches.


Some of this morning's Goshawks. All grabs from phone-scoped videos.